The afternoon sun is radiating off the concrete on Rosemary Drive in Albany where Frank Commisso Jr. waits patiently for a Ward 4 voter to open the door and greet him.
The Albany Democratic mayoral candidate has been at this since March 13, hitting the road by 10 A.M., seven days a week. He and his campaign volunteers start each day canvassing door-to-door, shaking the hands of the Albany citizens he hopes will soon be his constituents, and leaving personalized notes on campaign pamphlets outlining the major issues of city financial, infrastructural and communication reform of his focus for those who aren’t home.
“We’ve been doing this for five months, so we’ve had a huge jump on the opposition. They’ll go out walking for about 15 minutes, take a picture and put it up on social media and that’s it,” he says.
His opponents are Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin and incumbent Mayor Kathy Sheehan, with whom he has sparred throughout his political career and has no qualms criticizing when the opportunity arises.
Commisso has been a longtime critic of Sheehan and her administration, explaining that City Hall seems “out of touch” with their constituents’ day-to-day-lives.
“We find that in areas where people are living in out in the periphery of the city people feel a bit forgotten, feel a bit lost,” Commisso explains. “People feel that they’re not given a fair distribution of city services.”
Lifelong Albany resident Chris Godfrey, 69, told The Alt that Commisso’s accessibility is a major part of what won her vote.
“I showed the mayor eight photos of the cracks in our sidewalks four years ago. She promised she would look into it and only now, there is construction on Broadway and Main. I call that office all the time… I’m calling constantly, they’ll say, ‘What now, Chris?’ But that’s what it takes to get anything done. I don’t want to do this anymore,” she said.
As mayor, Commisso tells multiple residents along his walk, he’ll be dropping by as often as he is today and will be accessible by phone as early as 6 A.M. He also plans to better connect the city with residents by keeping up the Facebook Live Q&A videos he has carried out throughout his campaign, opening City Hall on Saturday mornings, and possibly revisiting Mayor Jerry Jennings’ radio show.
Commisso has also criticized the current administration on the financial state of Albany.
“We need a responsible, balanced and sustainable city budget,” Commisso said. “We would have more credible, decisive action locally–be that an audit of all [tax] exemptions in the city, be that actually having a traffic division that produces revenue for our city, be that having a growing, taxable economy.”
He has also repeatedly referred to recent third-party financial reports such as the state-funded PFM report and downgraded bond rating (to an A+) from S&P Global Ratings .
It should be noted that the PFM report states, “Sheehan has recruited a strong corps of senior personnel who have brought great enthusiasm to the challenge of day-to-day operations and long-term reform.” However, Commisso discounts the statement as standard language for a financial report: “PFM has to continue to find ways to get engagements, they do have to put in some customary language,” he says.
He has likened Sheehan’s policies to corporate welfare and has referred to multiple city programs as major burdens and “insults” to the people of Albany. If elected, he plans to reduce property taxes by $1 million in four years and do away with the trash tax completely –which he says he voted against three times in the Common Council–by creating revenue through programs such as housing incentives and a traffic division as well as his plan to “rededicate existing resources.”
Commisso looks to replace the red light camera program run by vendor GATMO USA, which Mayor Sheehan has touted as successful in managing public safety with no cost to residents and not a program that was supposed to provide long-term revenue.
“I plan to deploy real beat and traffic officers to go out and meet people and small business owners, to embrace the neighborhood associations and provide consistent, stable leadership,” Commisso said, referencing the three Albany police chiefs–current acting chief Robert Sears, Brendan Cox and Steven Krokoff–who have come and gone in the last four years. “We’ll have traffic cops issuing tickets and putting that revenue back into the city’s fund, not the red light corporation’s pocket,” he added.
The candidate is also calling for housing reform and infrastructure needs and plans to introduce a nine-year housing incentive for “young, tax-paying men and women who are looking to revitalize the city… and promote local wealth,” in January 2018.
“Many people are frustrated with the economic development approach,” said Commisso, who has also criticized the luxury apartments on Morris Street that he says are not taxable until 2038 and promote the “gentrification of Park South.”
He also says there is a need for “proactive” code enforcement in the city, and hopes the Albany Fire Department can help achieve that. “There’s such a backlog in code enforcement, it’s totally dysfunctional,” he said.
The candidate has been focused on the data-driven issues Albany faces day-to-day. While he tells The Alt social issues are just as important as financial and infrastructure woes, he seems to have shied away from addressing much of it in his campaign and in talking with a few of his followers, it doesn’t seem to be a priority to them either
Sheehan and McLaughlin have made a point to make social and cultural issues central to their campaigns and seem intent on making it known that they are a part of the diverse community in Albany–whether that be through campaigning in multicultural neighborhoods or holding parties in local LGBTQ hotspots.
Commisso’s stronghold is in the blue collar workers throughout the city, and the outliers that feel their concerns aren’t being addressed by the other candidates.
Since he announced his run, Commisso has won the endorsements of the Independent Party as well as the Albany Blue Blue Collar Workers, Afscme Local 1961, Council 66, of which both he and candidate McLaughlin are supporters.
“We’ve endorsed him on the Common Council in the past,” Independent Party Chairman Paul Caputo said, calling Commisso competent and accessible. “We have party members in his ward and he’s always treated them the same, regardless of whether they were an Independent, Democrat, whatever. He’s responsive to members of the community. [We support] his financial acumen as well. He has been a voice of reason from the financial standpoint.”
Commisso has spent eight years on the Common Council representing Ward 15 in the city where he was born and raised while serving as the director of municipal affairs for the Albany County Department of Audit and Control. In this role, he tells The Alt, he “achieved $2.5 million in tax rebates while working with 36 municipalities in a submitted government efficiency plan.”
His father, Frank Commisso Sr., has served as Majority Leader on the Albany County Legislature since 1983. When asked whether the subject of nepotism–subject of heated debate in recent months–would hinder his chances in the election, Commisso Jr. didn’t think the matter should affect his campaign. “I think my record and my merit stand on their own,” he said, highlighting his fluency in financial documentation and budgeting.
Overall, Commisso seems confident about his ability to win the race, despite the recent Spectrum News/Siena College 600-person poll that puts him at the lowest favorability rating at 37 percent–below his two competitors incumbent Mayor Kathy Sheehan (68 percent) and Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin (45 percent). In fact, the candidate and his campaign pay no attention to the poll. “It’s at odds with what we see on the ground,” Commisso says with a shrug.
Instead, they focus on reaching out to the residents the poll will never reach.
“She’ll never get polled in a Siena poll, she doesn’t vote,” Commisso said to The Alt after visiting with a resident in North Albany during his afternoon canvassing run. “She will vote for me though,” he grins.
Photos by Thom Williams
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