Jerry Jennings on the decision not to run

Jerry Jennings press conference

"I haven't lost my love for this city. I haven't lost my excitement about seeing and getting things done."

As you've heard, Jerry Jennings announced via letter Tuesday night that he will not run for re-election. This is a big deal -- Jennings has been in office for 20 years. And, at least in the last century or so, Albany doesn't get a new mayor very often. There have been just three since 1942.

The way the announcement came about was a surprise, too. As Common Council president Carolyn McLaughlin told the media this morning: "Very few people knew [that it was happening], even people close to him ... They were surprised."

So, as you might imagine, there were a lot of people packed into a conference room at city hall Wednesday morning to hear Jennings talk a bit about his decision.

Here's a quick scan of a handful of clips -- even one about tanning...

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Opening remarks

"It has been my privilege to serve as the mayor of this great capital city for 20 years. And it's about gratitude and love for the citizens, people who have worked for me. As I indicated to the committee last night, the time has come. "
"I made a decision, I weighed everything very carefully. I spent 20some great years in the school district, another 20 in this great job. But I have a lot of work to do over the next 7.5 months. So don't think we're slowing down because I've made a decision. There's a lot of things to accomplish."

Jennings thanked his department heads and staff, and the Common Council.

"We have built a better city. We looked and say what happened. I took over in 1994 and wondered now what do I do? I tried to do what was best for everyone, tried to bring this city together as one neighborhood. And we've had a lot of great success stories. Yes, we've had billions of dollars of investment, yes we've had a lot of new initiatives in the city of Albany. But there's still work to do." ...
"As far as I'm concerned, we have a lot to be proud of as a team. I want the people in the city to know that the good hardworking men and women of my administration really care about what goes on for each and every one of them."

On his decision to not run for a sixth term

"I've been thinking about this for weeks. And really I had a lot of discussions with my close personal friends, but most importantly my family. You know, a lot of energy, and a lot of hours and time... a lot of things I've missed with grandkids growing up. I said now's the time to take a step back. ..."
"I'm healthy. And that's what I tell people who come into this office upset: 'Are you healthy? Are your kids healthy? Stop. We can deal with any problem you have. And that's how you have to go through life."

On the financial future of the city

Maybe the most pressing issue facing the city is its longterm fiscal health. When the candidates running to be the next mayor -- Kathy Sheehan and Corey Ellis are the currently announced -- talk about their plans, listen for what they say about how they'll handle the budget -- it's maybe not as exciting as say, downtown development, but it's a central issue to almost everything that goes on. And there's probably no easy answer.

The city's budget has been balanced in recent years thanks in part to "spin ups" on payments in lieu of taxes made by the state for the Empire State Plaza -- they basically involved taking money off the backend of the arrangement and paying it to the city now.

A lot of upstate cites are facing a fiscal crunch. So much so that the Cuomo administration has proposed a "financial restructuring board" for cities.

Jennings said Wednesday that Albany is in better shape than cities such as Syracuse and Buffalo. But even so, "It's going to be a challenge financially."

Jennings took the opportunity to push an issue he's long focused on, lobbied state government on: That at large portion of the city is tax exempt (about 60 percent), and in his mind, it should be getting a fairer share of state aid:

"I've let it be known from the beginning that we've been treated unfairly, per capita, when it comes to AIM funding [state aid to cities]. We get minimal compared to Buffalo or Rochester or Syracuse. ... The system has been broken across the street [the Capitol]." ...
"What they really should do is review the formula for the dispensation of AIM money, and make sure we're all on the same playing field, that it's equivalent, that we're all getting the same per capita. It makes no sense the way it is."

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On the convention center

Jennings bristled at the notion that the long-proposed convention center project for downtown Albany was one of his "pet" projects. But it's been an ongoing focus of his administration. The plan has a large chunk of state money dedicated to it already, and it's been revised and downscaled (Jennings called it being "fine tuned") in an effort to actually make it happen. Lately, its prospects haven't looked good.

"That's not critical to what's going on downtown. It's important. It's part of a plan. ... We're going to come up with a plan for more convention space. There's no reason the state capital should not be able to accommodate large conventions. There's no reason we shouldn't create a couple of thousand jobs. And as far as I'm concerned, that's something I'm going to still continue to work on."
"The priority is to make sure that 60some million dollars that was allocated doesn't go to another city. What I want to do is invest it in our downtown, to make sure we get the best mileage out of it that we can. Because if we keep doing this, it's going somewhere else."

Schools

The mayor of Albany doesn't control the city's school district. But Jennings, a former vice principal at Albany High School, identified education as the biggest challenge facing the city:

"The biggest challenge that we have to fix in our urban centers is why 50 percent of our kids are not graduating from school. And the vast majority of those kids are minorities. And it's about time ... we did something about it. And that rests with people in positions like mine, and in school districts, to say, 'look it, we have to stop this.' If you educate the kids you'll take away a lot of the other problems that we have in our cities. And as far as I'm concerned, it's been too long. We don't have to evaluate any more, we have to do it."

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Looking back

"I was born in this city in North Albany. I haven't lost my love for this city. I haven't lost my excitement about seeing and getting things done." ...
"I didn't know what I was getting into. And I've made this what I feel is a full contact sport, and you have to be if you're a mayor because you want people to say, 'Ok, we're going to pay attention, we're going to do what's right.'" ...

Hope to remembered for? "Just that I was a guy who really cared for this city. And worked extremely hard, which I have."

Advice for the next mayor

Jennings said he would weigh making an endorsement for the mayoral race, but wasn't prepared to do so now. His advice for the next person:

"Get the right people involved. Stop divisiveness. Bring people to together. This is one neighborhood, not 15. It's one city, and everyone's the same. That's how you have to operate."

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What he's doing next

Jennings has a long relationship with Andrew Cuomo, so of course there was a question of whether Cuomo has offered him a job with the state:

"I don't discuss personal discussions. He has not [called] about a job. And being in government for 20 years, I'm not sure that's the right direction for me right now."

"The average person has always been struck that you have a 12 month a year healthy glow... "

And credit to WNYT's Bill Lambdin for asking the question everyone has wondered: How does the mayor maintain such a warm glow 12 months a year?

"This is high blood pressure and make up. (laughter) ..."
"I take one vacation a year. And if you'll notice at press conferences, you guys, I try to do it out in the sun, so when I'm standing there (demonstrates sunbathing)... I can get a lot of color. (Everyone laughing)
No, I don't have a tanning bed at my house."

Comments

I'm seeing a new meme coming from Skeptical Headphone Guy in the third photo.

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