Snow becomes political hay in Albany during election year

Snow becomes political hay in Albany during election year

Tuesday’s massive snow storm piled on 21 inches of snow on to Albany streets, leaving residents scrambling to dig out their iars in the past few days, and the city’s Department of General Services (DGS) scrambling to adequately plow the roads. Some residents are unhappy with the pace of DGS’s response.

“Usually, it’s not as bad as it was this time,” says resident Steve Pommer, who lives off North Allen Street. “We usually get a plow down the street earlier on, but this time, we didn’t see a plow until 1 PM on Wednesday. I had to take an extra day off work. I know they have to do the main roads and the routes to the hospitals first but they can’t do any side roads at all?”

At least one side road was given priority, as Common Council Member Judd Krasher was pointing out on Facebook. Marsdale Street, a dead-end street in the eighth ward, where Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Treasurer Darius Shahinfar live, was well-cleaned, throughout Tuesday and into Wednesday.

“What I saw was an inexplicable decision to clear the Mayor’s street while other streets were impassible,” says Krasher, who posted video, not taken by him, showing a clear and very driveable Marsdale Street — which stands in stark comparison to streets in other parts of the city which, as of Wednesday evening, had not yet been plowed. The preferential treatment was “blatant,” claims Krasher, who believes the “video speaks for itself.”

Frank Commisso Jr., a Common Council Member who is running for Mayor, agrees with Krasher that there was a “gross disparity” in the way that the Mayor’s street was handled as opposed to other streets. Commisso has a political ally in Krasher, who has promoted Commisso’s campaign events and fundraisers on his social media pages.

Pommer saw the video as well. “If the allegations are true, that’s really messed up,” he told The Alt. “My father was in the military and the first thing they teach you is that a good leader takes care of his people before he takes care of himself.”

On Wednesday, The Mayor’s office released a statement on Facebook calling Krasher’s allegations “lies.” In actuality, Sheehan claims, “the Mayor’s Office did not alter or otherwise change plowing protocol carried out by the professional staff at the DGS”.

And Brian Shea, Sheehan’s Chief of Staff, had harsher words still for Krasher.

“I would like to make it clear that this is a baseless accusation, and casts aspersion on the integrity of the hardworking DGS crews, who braved dangerous conditions to plow the city,” Shea told The Alt. “When we were made aware of the allegations I left Judd a voicemail to request a face to face meeting with the Mayor to address his claims, he didn’t give us the courtesy of a return call.”

Krasher was quick to draw a clear separation between the work of the DGS crews and the decision-making process at the top. “Rank and file blue-collar workers are not responsible for poor planning decisions made by the Mayor’s office.” He went on to tell The Alt that the city’s residents, who “are paying high property taxes or high rent, have a reasonable expectation that basic city services are provided equitably to city residents. Clearly that wasn’t done in this storm, which isn’t acceptable.”

Krasher has more complaints about the city’s response in general, beyond the question of an equitable distribution of plowing. “Instead of declaring a snow emergency after the snow has fallen, a pre-emptive snow emergency should have been declared.”

Shea defends the city’s response to the storm. “This was a once in a thirty year weather event,” insists Shea. “We received two feet of snow in the span of a day, which is atypical for the City of Albany. We are used to dealing with eight to ten inches. The dig-out was going to be longer than usual.” Shea says that the city took unusual steps to deal with the storm, including partnering with the County, which lent the city ten extra plows and operators.

Shea also disagrees with Krasher that a pre-emptive snow emergency should have been declared. “It’s generally accepted protocol for snow emergencies to wait for the snow to end before declaring one. In a storm like this, especially — where we had snow falling at three to four inches per hour, we didn’t want residents out in the weather event, trying to move their cars.”

When asked if this matter will be brought up at the next Common Council, Krasher seemed skeptical. “The majority on the Council are loyal to the Mayor. We probably won’t have a detailed review of snow removal practices this year.”

Mayor Sheehan is drawing flak from some Facebook commenters for what some see as a callous response to the snow emergency and Krasher’s accusations of preferential treatment. On the Mayor’s Facebook page, she posted a picture of herself hugging a resident on Eileen Street. Facebook commenters were unsparing in their criticism.

“This is a complete disgrace,” said a Facebook user named Jamey Curtain. “It’s 1 PM the day after a storm. Our street is the only one of the surrounding streets that hasn’t seen a plow in two days. Good thing you’re out hugging people, though.”

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