Less than two weeks before primary day, the Albany Democratic mayoral candidates were back on the dais last night, fielding questions on issues unaddressed in previous forums. For the first time, they were joined by Green Party candidates.
The invitation-only crowd at the downtown Grand Street Community Arts Center consisted of individuals selected from an email lottery. Democrats Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin and Common Council member Frank Commisso Jr. were joined by Green Party hopefuls Dan Plaat and Bryan Jimenez in the fourth of a series of at least seven scheduled "debates" that started August 17th.
In addition to hearing the Green Party point-of-view, the Democrats got to weigh in on new issues.
Mayor Sheehan says her focus has been on reducing the amount of garbage being dumped in the Rapp Road landfill so it can be kept open longer, so now it is slated for closure in 2023. "That has resulted in a significant increase in the price that we're receiving. We're now receiving $85 a ton for the garbage that is dumped there, and we close the landfill at 11 to all outside commercial haulers."
Commisso grabbed the opportunity to trash the trash fee. "Now, that trash fee of course, was all about right now. It was about leading up to a primary election and banking on certain people in the city not voting, those being renters. And historically, that would be a pretty good assessment, however, I'm hopeful, and I've talked to many people over the past five, six months and I think they understand what that fee, why it was designed the way it was designed, and it is not right. There's no reason why, when my wife and I put out a large amount of trash, as a homeowner, I do not pay a fee."
Commisso criticized the city for not having "a more robust recycling operation."
Plaat said as a tenant he sat through public deliberations over the trash fee and recommended the city look into building a composting facility. Fellow Green Jiminez, also a tenant, favors a plastic bag tax and a more deliberate recycling program.
McLaughlin recommended a "continuous education program" so people will understand the effects of what they put out at the curb. She said the trash fee is a bad policy, and recommended the city "make money on its garbage" through "curbside composting." "Those people that are going around on your trash night, going through, pilfering through your trash, looking for bottles, copper, metal... they're 'trash-banking.' We should think about trash-banking. Think of trash as currency."
Reminded the Albany school district has had four superintendents in the last decade, candidates were asked how they will work with the new one to achieve stability and academic achievement. Jiminez answered first. "I'm glad that we have a new superintendent. I hope she stays. But beyond that, I don't... It's really just really about kinda sitting down and working through different ideas. See what sticks, and if it works it works."
McLaughlin says as mayor she would be "at the table" with district officials when any significant initiatives are being talked about. Sheehan says she has worked closely with all of the superintendents. She has a meeting planned to speak with district officials about “dismissal time.” "How we're going to ensure that more of those kids stay at the schools and are involved in afterschool activities."
Commisso, who supports afterschool activities, criticized a lack of free programs offered by city schools and… "...the great disparity we have between student achievement for white students and students of color."
Plaat says power should be in the hands of those affected by those decisions. "The people who should be in charge of our schools are the students, the teachers and the parents." He says leave it to them craft the curriculum and programs they want and need.
Candidates revisited affordable housing, infrastructure and Albany as a sanctuary city. They also weighed in, with the Texas Hurricane disaster in mind, on citywide disaster preparedness. And there was one issue they hadn't addressed much before: Dontay Ivy, the mentally ill Arbor Hill man with a heart condition who died after being tased by city police in April 2015.
Plaat and Jiminez called for more police accountability, and favor strengthening a Citizens Police Review or Advisory Board, an idea the Greens share with Democrat McLaughlin, who said she marched with protestors after Ivy’s death. "I do believe that had he not been profiled, he'd still be alive today."
Sheehan says Ivy's death was the most trying and difficult event that occurred in her first term. "Now, it might have made people feel good to 'fire those cops,' but firing two police officers isn't going to change an organization and a culture.” She added the city likely would have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defending against the terminations with a strong likelihood the city would have had to re-hire the officers and give them back pay. She says she opted to transform the culture of the police department.
Commisso called for negotiating residence requirements for officers, ensuring all police cameras are operational, and declaring tasers as “lethal weapons.”