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Another option: Alice Green, campaigning at the Stewart’s on Delaware Avenue and Southern Boulevard.

Election Special:
Aiming for City Hall -
Alice Green and Joe Sullivan on running for mayor in an Albany general election

Photos By Teri Currie

Green and Growing
By Miriam Axel-Lute

Alice Green runs a mayoral campaign long on substance

Alice Green is a morning person, far more than most of the people stumbling into the Stewart’s on Henry Johnson Boulevard last Thursday (Oct. 27) at 8 AM. She and the volunteer with her (who is not a morning person, but got up for Green) say they’ve learned to wait until people get their coffee to approach them about Green’s campaign on the Green Party line for mayor of Albany, but their eagerness often defeats this principle.

“Do you vote in the city of Albany?” The young man Green has just approached gives a grin of having been caught without his homework done. “Naw.”

“Are you not from Albany?”

“No, I just don’t vote.”

“Well, we’ve got to get you registered next time.” Green gives him a playful punch on the arm.

“Oh, I’m registered, I just don’t vote.”

“Well, you can vote this time.”

“For who? For you?”

“Of course.” The pamphlet finally makes its way to its intended destination. He reads it over the coffee station, and later starts telling others, “You’ve got to vote for her.”

The Stewart’s crowd this morning is an apt cross-section of Albany’s population—nattily dressed state workers, laborers and contractors, uniformed hospital techs and people still in their pajamas; black and white, young and old. Many of them know Green, and joke with her as she gives them literature, saying of course they are voting for her. Others want to talk about concerns—development plans, parking. One young man is corrected in his erroneous belief that he couldn’t vote because of a past felony conviction. Plenty of others put on the steely mask of those who don’t want to be approached, but nearly everyone accepts the leaflet.

Every once in a while, however, a reminder of the dominant assumption in the mayoral race surfaces. One man with a trimmed white beard and DGS patch on his blue jacket waves away a leaflet, saying, “When you work for the city it’s kind of hard.” Green’s volunteer reminds him that the voting booths are private. “Oh, they don’t watch,” he responds, “but I just feel I can’t vote against my boss.”

Another opens his jacket and points to the Community Development Agency logo on his polo shirt, saying “I got the other man,” before wishing Green good luck and chatting with her about housing policy.

Alice Green, a former Deputy Commissioner for the New York State Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives and a former legislative director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, is best known in Albany in her role as founder and director of the Center for Law and Justice. In this role she is often found advocating for police accountability, improvements to the criminal-justice system, and more awareness of the impact of racism and poverty on people’s lives.

One of the things she’s enjoying most about her uphill, underdog campaign for mayor is the opportunity to step out of those boxes and talk about a wider range of issues that engage her interest, from environmentalism to grassroots democratic process to affordable housing. A self-described realist, she’s running a full-on citywide campaign that is full of issues that she feels need to be on the table more, without shying away from topics that may be uncomfortable for voters.

Her first press conference, which kicked off a series of at least one per week on specific topics at relevant locations (“Images are really important to people,” she notes), was held at the U-Haul building on Broadway, on the theme of stemming the flow of people moving out of the city. “I was warned that it might be negative,” she says. “I like this city. I’ve lived here all these years because I like Albany. . . . What I was trying to say is . . . how do we make it better, so we don’t lose people? I wouldn’t know how to talk about that without saying that we are losing people.”

Green has also come out firmly against the proposed convention center, calling it a financial boondoggle, and speaks frequently of two Albanys that make up a divided, segregated city.

But while she’s willing to broach the problems, no one can accuse Green of not proposing solutions. She has embellished her theme of “It’s all about families” with a wide range of detailed proposals, some laid out in full-length position papers. On the housing front, she has proposed an affordable housing trust fund, funded by a levy on developers, and an urban homesteading program that would turn empty buildings over to residents who would get to own them after a year if they maintained them properly. She has proposed a detailed Green City plan that would encompass specific waste-reduction measures, a halt to importing garbage to the Rapp Road landfill, and ending the use of pesticides in city parks.

“I’d like to have more people talking about issues, as a result of my focusing on them,” says Green. “It would be great if I could get people who are now in power to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do that.’ . . . I’m not on any kind of ego trip.”

Because of this particular goal for the campaign, she lists incumbent Mayor Jerry Jennings’ refusal to debate the issues as one of her “greatest disappointments” with the process. “If you’re going to run for office or you are in office,” she sdays, “you have a responsibility to listen to people and discuss the issues as you see them.”

Although Green is devoted to her theme of looking at every policy and project in light of its effects on the city’s families, it does seem that she is striking at least as much, if not more, of a chord with her emphasis on opening up the democratic process itself. Two weeks ago, her campaign staged a rally outside City Hall protesting Jennings’ refusal to debate, featuring a supporter in a chicken costume. Questions about the possibility of such a debate, and the electoral chances of the Green Party, dominated the press response to her Oct. 25 press conference with Ralph Nader (who has endorsed her) and Rensselaer County Legislature candidate Russell Ziemba, at which they had intended to focus on contrasting the convention-center plan with her plans to deal with abandoned buildings and create new housing.

But Green’s ideas on this subject go far past simple jabs at the incumbent’s persistent reticence. She’s been researching models of “participatory type neighborhood-based governmental structures,” where ideas for improving the city, budget allocations, and development decisions all bubble up from the neighborhood level, and city residents have input and feedback at times other than election day. “I see myself being more of a collaborative type of leader,” Green explains, saying that a leader needs to bring a vision, but has to be willing to be flexible in its implementation. She reiterates that one of the main concerns she hears from voters is “they don’t feel like they are heard in this city of ours.”

Having people more involved in the political process might have stemmed one of the unexpected problems now facing Green’s campaign. Thanks in part to an erroneous statement by a “political consultant” on Capital News 9 that Green would split the votes that might have gone to Archie Goodbee, who ran against Jennings in the Democratic primary, Green says she finds many people who are confused, thinking that she had already lost in the primaries or was competing with Goodbee in the general election. “You can’t imagine how confusing that was,” she says. “Today, two people said, ‘I heard about your loss.’ . . . I thought after the [primary] it would all be great, but a number of people still don’t understand it.”

True to the tenor of her campaign, Green chuckles a little when asked how she would plan a transition if she won, but proceeds to answer the question seriously, talking about her experience running large state agencies and nonprofits, and describing how she’d seek out experienced people in city government to give her an introduction to how things have been working and then build a team to help her implement the necessary changes.

In a city that still behaves as a one-party show, Green is enjoying the chance to run a serious campaign on a third-party line, without contending with the label “spoiler.” (Indeed, she barely acknowledges that there is a Republican candidate.)

Declaring that she’s not afraid of hard work, Green has hit the streets and the doors and the proverbial kitchen tables in every area of the city. “I’m a little surprised myself at how much people come up to me and say ‘I’m so glad you’re running, I want to have somebody to vote for,’ ” she grins. “I love the contact with people.”

For more details on Alice Green’s campaign and proposals, see nys.greens.org/alicegreen.


I Belong: Joe Sullivan.

Old-Fashioned and High-Tech
By Rick Marshall

Joe Sullivan’s politics of fear may recall days gone by, but his campaign has leaped into the Internet age

 

Sitting on the front porch of his New Scotland Avenue home, Republican mayoral candidate Joe Sullivan can’t help but crack a smile when asked how the campaign is going for the self-proclaimed “Lone Ranger of Albany.”

“Honestly, every now and then, I have nightmares that I’m actually going to win,” he laughs, running a hand through his white beard.

Faced with mainstream media’s reluctance to acknowledge anyone but the candidate they expect to win, a predominantly Democratic voting base, no war chest of political funding to speak of, and—to put it mildly—some controversial views on how to make the city a better place, the man whom a local newspaper once dubbed the “perennial candidate” in Albany elections says he’s fully aware of the uphill battle he faces. But, he says, that doesn’t mean a successful grassroots campaign has to remain the stuff of dreams—or, in Sullivan’s case, an occasional nightmare.

“Sure, every year [the mainstream media] always seem to announce that the race is over long before the general election,” he sighs, citing a recent Times Union story that included a line stating that the incumbent mayor is “virtually certain to win a fourth four-year term.”

“I want to tell them to stop it with that sort of thing,” says Sullivan, rolling his eyes. “It’s hard enough for someone to challenge an incumbent. Just give people the facts about the candidates and let them decide who they think is best for the city.”

Yet, thanks to the communication opportunities provided by the Internet (and the impressive speed at which word-of-mouth information spreads around Albany), Sullivan says this election is already different from many of those he’s been involved with in the past. Where politicians once had to rely on door-to-door visits and expensive mass mailings to get their names on the minds of the city’s active voters, now the average resident with a bit of computer know-how can not only determine where to find some of the most active voters on the Internet, but also send a message out to all of them. For the first time in Albany’s political history, contends Sullivan, the Internet may play a significant role in deciding who sits in City Hall come 2006.

And in the true spirit of practicing what you preach—as well as what you can afford—Sullivan says his campaign relies almost entirely upon the Internet to get his words into voters’ eyes and ears.

“[The mayor] and the Common Council hope you don’t bother to go to the polls and vote on November 8,” reads one of the most recent messages on Sullivan’s “Lone Ranger Albany” Web log—an entry dated Oct. 13 and titled “26 Days to Election. Is anybody Counting?”

“Then they, and their small band of partisan, partyline voters . . . who benefit from the status quo, will remain in power,” continues the message. “The rest of the 45,000 Albany voters . . . can go whistle dixie—even if that is not politically correct in this day and age.”

And while Sullivan claims to only have about a year of computer literacy under his belt, the level of exposure his statements are receiving among people whose interests lie in both the political and digital realms would seem to indicate that he’s taken to this new medium quite comfortably. Whether e-mailing weekly statements to local media outlets, posting and commenting regularly on popular blogs like www.democracyinalbany.com, or simply directing people to the online transcripts or recordings of interviews he’s done with local media, Sullivan has proven himself to be one of the most Net-savvy of this election’s hopefuls—many of whom rarely even update their Web sites.

The Internet, he argues, has become this election’s great equalizer.

“I’ve had more than 1,300 hits [on the Lone Ranger Albany blog] and much more than that are reading Democracy in Albany,” he says. “Now, think about the number of people reading those sites who have talked to other people about something they’ve read, and you can double or triple the number of people who know about me and my viewpoints.”

He says he doesn’t understand why other local politicians aren’t taking advantage of the Internet’s potential, adding that for his campaign, the decision to go the digital route was more a matter of economics than anything else.

“I can print out about a hundred flyers for $30,” he explains. “But it doesn’t cost me a dime to e-mail a statement to the newspapers or post it on Democracy in Albany and get people talking about what I stand for.”

And with no financial support coming from the county Republican committee or any other outside agencies, every one of those dimes is important, says Sullivan. Gesturing toward the “Vote Row A for Sullivan” signs posted on his lawn, he explains that these are the same signs he has used in previous campaigns, while the flyers he’s been handing out every now and then are nothing more than printouts from his home computer.

“I don’t have any fancy literature and I don’t send out literature where I don’t think I’m going to get many votes,” says Sullivan of his low-budget, targeted campaign strategy. “I don’t think I’ll get many downtown votes, because let’s be honest: Black people vote for black people.”

Looking decidedly low-tech when compared to the slick brochures that have become the norm during election years, one of Sullivan’s most recent flyers simply gives a rundown of his positions on various issues, including crime—“[The mayor must] clear the streets of drug dealers and runners, thieves, vandals, derelicts, insolent jaywalkers, unruly juveniles and other lower life forms”—and neighborhood safety—“Zero tolerance for blight, litter, noise, graffiti.” It also directs readers to various Web sites and interviews in which he has participated.

Sullivan says he also encourages people to print out anything they hear or read about his platform on the Web and send it to anyone else who might be interested—even if they don’t seem like the sort who’d support someone running on the Republican line. One of the things he says he’s learned this election is that fair shakes in the media can often come from unlikely places. He cites the admittedly “hard left” leaning Democracy in Albany blog as having provided one of the most balanced and open forums he’s encountered for communicating his platform. Similarly, he says both Metroland and WAMC, the local affiliate of National Public Radio, have stood out as the only local media not to prejudge the election.

“Here I am, a bona fide candidate, and I’ve been shut out in a lot of places that you wouldn’t expect to disregard my candidacy,” he shrugs, alluding to what he describes as a sort of “Oh, and Joe Sullivan is running, too” treatment in much of the mainstream media’s election coverage. “But what I’m encountering every now and then [in other local media] is the true meaning of ‘liberal’—not a lunatic, but a fair person.”

Yet, while Sullivan says some of his platform—such as his stance against the construction of a convention center in downtown Albany—has allowed him to make “inroads to the liberal bloc” locally, he acknowledges that his hard stance on other issues will likely prevent a significant crossover among Albany’s predominantly Democrat pool of voters. Nevertheless, he believes that the city’s voters should be given the chance to weigh his views against those of his opponents.

“I know I’m running with a very strong viewpoint,” he warns before discussing the “full-scale Operation Impact” plan he’d like to implement to reduce crime in the city. In order to combat the threat posed by “domestic terrorists” around Albany, he says he’d advise law-enforcement officials to shake down “people who look like they’re not fitting in around the neighborhood.”

For example, he cites a recent experience he had while walking around Buckingham Pond, the small pond near his home. While walking his dog around the water’s edge, a man with baggy clothes and dreadlocks emerged from the woods and began walking behind him. Sullivan says the man didn’t look like he belonged in the neighborhood, and was suspicious of what he had been doing in the woods—and what he planned to do.

“If you’re out there leering at people or look like you’re loitering, you’ll be prosecuted,” explains Sullivan. “If you’re dressed nice and walking down the street not bothering anybody, you’re probably OK.”

“After all,” he adds, “this is war.”

And while Sullivan contends that “it’s not outrageous to think this way” about crime and other issues facing city voters this election, he argues that it would be outrageous to discount his chances—especially with Green Party candidate Alice Green in the mix. Sullivan reasons that this is one of the rare scenarios in which a low voter turnout would actually hurt the incumbent, as the city’s Democrats will divide their votes between Green and incumbent mayor Jerry Jennings.

No matter how the ballots fall, however, Sullivan says that this year’s campaign has made one thing abundantly clear to him:

“If you have to run a campaign without any money, Albany is the best city in the world to do it,” he smiles. “Despite what the newspapers are saying.”

For more details on Joe Sullivan’s campaign see http://journals.aol.com/ lonerangeralbany/lonerangeralbany.


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