Photo by Thom Williams
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan handily defeated challengers Common Councilman Frank Commisso, Jr. and Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin in the Democratic primary on Tuesday night.
Sheehan received just over 50 percent of the vote. Commisso received 31.7 percent, and McLaughlin received 15.6 percent. But despite the incumbent’s comfortable margin of victory—in a city where the Democratic primary so often seems final—this year the competition may continue through November.
Addressing supporters Tuesday night at his campaign’s headquarters on Jefferson Street, Commisso not-so-subtly hinted that he may remain in the race.
“We’ll take a look here over the coming days and make some decisions about November,” Commisso said. “Because there’s still the same dynamics today that were in place a few days ago and a few weeks ago and a few months ago,” he went on. “You have a city government right now that…has worked against a lot of people including employees [and] rank-and-file taxpayers.”
As the celebration at Sheehan campaign headquarters at The Ramada Inn in Albany slowed down, many of her supporters and staffers noted that Commisso had not officially conceded. A number of Sheehan’s closest advisors expressed their view that a challenge from Commisso in the general election is inevitable. (His name will remain on the ballot on the Independence Party line, regardless of whether he actively campaigns.)
Asked if he expected Commisso to continue campaigning, Brian Shea, Sheehan’s chief of staff, said that if Commisso does, “We’ll beat him twice.”
Sheehan told The Alt, “Frank should respect the voices of Democratic voters. Even if they aren’t the Democrats he wants, or remembers from the good old days.”
Over the past six months, Commisso has tacked to both the right and left of the mayor, blasting her economic development policies as “corporatist” and “neoliberal” but also appearing more willing to comply with federal immigration authorities and possibly court conservative voters. His sustained focus on the city’s finances has cast the race as a battle of fiscal forecasts, with Sheehan pointing to the recent obtainment of $12.5 million in state aid as a sign her approach is working and Commisso wielding a state-backed consultant’s study to paint a darker picture.
Tuesday night, Commisso’s father, Frank Commisso, Sr., the longtime majority leader of the Albany County Legislature, told The Alt that he hopes his son stays in the race. “I think he has a lot to offer,” Commisso, Sr. said. Asked if such a decision would cause friction within the party, the Democratic legislator essentially demurred, saying it was “hard to tell” at this juncture.
There has been no love lost between Sheehan and Commisso. “Frank went negative from the start and he attacked my character. I decided that I wouldn’t get into that,” Sheehan told The Alt. “I wanted to focus on what we did and what we can do to move the city forward.”
The mayor has loaned her campaign nearly $400,000 this year, a move she has described as necessary for countering “mischaracterizations” bruited about by her opponent.
Other Albany races, the return of Corey Ellis
In down-ballot races, Sheehan and Commisso allies both scored victories.
In the race for city auditor, Sheehan supporter Susan Rizzo trounced Glen Casey, who supports Commisso. Another Sheehan supporter, Catherine Fahey, defeated Sergio Adams in the race for Common Council, Ward 7.
At his campaign headquarters, Commisso congratulated several Common Council candidates—Owusu Anane (Ward 10), Joyce Love (Ward 3), and Thomas C. Hoey (Ward 15)—who all won their respective races. He did not, however, mention Judd Krasher, a spirited supporter who may have lost in Ward 11 by a narrow margin, pending the absentee tally.
Another thread worth watching is the relationship between Mayor Sheehan and former Councilman Corey Ellis, winner of the Democratic primary for Common Council President. Ellis ran against Sheehan for mayor in 2013. This year, Sheehan, in a surprise announcement at the start of her campaign, endorsed Ellis for Council President—a position that in some ways exists to keep a check on the Mayor.
Onstage, amid the chants and celebration, Sheehan craned her head and said a few words into Ellis’ ear.
The Alt asked both of them afterwards what had been said. “I told Corey I need him by my side to do this together,” said Sheehan. “There are parts of this city that really need hope. And to be completely honest, as a Caucasian woman I don’t have credibility in some of these neighborhoods. Corey represents hope and I want him to help me bring the city together.”
Ellis was less revealing: “She told me we worked well together and wanted to continue to work together for the city.”
David Howard King contributed reporting to this story.