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Albany mayoral challengers plan and reflect

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Albany mayoral challengers plan and reflect

As spring begins to thaw the snow that has buried Albany in the past weeks, the city’s mayoral candidates are preparing for campaign season. Warmer weather brings outdoor events, community gatherings and door-to-door visits to constituents.

There have been three candidates to announce their plan to run so far, two are already involved in city government. In their hopes to be elected mayor in September, a few candidates are beginning to look at what they may leave behind.  

Carolyn McLaughlin (D) was the first to announce her candidacy, effectively setting off the mayoral race in January. McLaughlin told The Alt she had spent the previous three months working on her campaign before her official announcement. If McLaughlin is to win the election, she will be leaving her position as Common Council President–one she has held since 2009.

So far, McLaughlin has focused on what she sees as the most pressing issues in Albany. A focus, she says, she has practiced in her current role.

“The budget is obviously the biggest issue as we go forward as well as the impact that the federal government will have on our local government,” McLaughlin says. “There is also the matter of affordable housing and abandoned housing. I could give you a list of at least ten issues, but it’s hard to prioritize them depending on the person. The job as president is to look at all these issues and not have an opinion on them, while the people you work with are looking for you to have an opinion.”

In the position of Common Council President over the past seven years McLaughlin says she has learned the importance of keeping an open line of communication.

“Obviously, some members will be more receptive than others, as can be expected when you’re dealing with a body of 15 people. You’re not just covering one district, it’s the whole city,” she says. “You have to know the issues and know the council members. Know what matters to each person so when an issue arises, you can speak to them from their vantage point.”

The position for Common Council President has already drawn a number of candidates, including Timothy Carney and former Common Council representative of the third ward and two-time mayoral candidate Corey Ellis. Common Council President Pro Tempore, and Common Council representative of the sixth ward Richard Conti is expected to run but has not yet announced.

While none of the candidates are new to the game, McLaughlin advises the upcoming Common Council president to get to know the councilmembers and make sure to attend the meetings that address “universal issues that concern the city.”

“There are going to be conflicting views and council members are very territorial, as they should be,” she continues, explaining that each council member has particular issues that concern his or her ward. “The job is to find a common ground for all.”

Frank Commisso Jr. (D) announced in early March. Commisso currently represents ward 15 in the city’s Common Council. The councilman been a steadfast critic of the incumbent Mayor Kathy Sheehan–who has yet to announce whether she will run for reelection.

Like McLaughlin, Commisso was first elected in 2009, however his position does not have any candidates lining up just yet.

Over the course of several days, Commisso’s office did not return a call to The Alt for comment on his campaign, however his website reads outlines Albany’s biggest problems as the “high levels of property taxation and increasing poverty,” and that “City financial management over the past several years has been an outright disaster.”

The site also shares Commisso’s outline for his “first term as mayor.” It includes a plan to reduce property taxes by $1 million over four years and invest in locally-owned businesses among others goals.

While he will not be leaving behind a city government position, Green Party mayoral candidate Dan Plaat believes he can bring a different perspective to the race and to the city.

With goals to “build the economy from the bottom up,” Plaat currently works part-time at his local Shop-Rite and has put his side business in architectural consulting on the backburner as since he began campaigning. Plaat officially announced his plans to run in mid-February.

“The biggest issues are inequality and the lack of democracy in our city,” Plaat says. “We have to make a public investment in our community. We have an economy where many people are left behind–like myself–where the recession never ended.”

Like Commisso, the Occupy Albany activist has concerns about the way finances are handled in Albany and looks to make those decisions more public. Plaat advocates for campaign finance reform and a more participatory government, which he believes has been limited in terms of taxation and budgeting. He also plans to move the city tax planning from property- to land-based.

Long-term, Plaat hopes that Albany will adopt a more community-based government system.

“The mindset of a mayor-based government won’t carry us into the future, we need a committee based government from diverse backgrounds. It won’t change until the government is flooded with more perspective and participation from the citizens. Right now participation is limited in a lot of ways, right now it’s designed for the professionals, not the laymen. There has to be a respect for the stakeholders there, but that will mean rewriting the rules,” he says.

Like McLaughlin, Plaat says his priority is “to compromise [and] collaborate to find what we can live with.”

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