Frank Commisso Jr. is running for Albany mayor

Frank Commisso Jr mayor announce

Common Council member Frank Commisso Jr. officially announced Thursday that he's running for mayor of Albany.

His announcement speech before a crowd at the Polish American Citizens Club focused largely on the city's fiscal issues and taxes. A clip:

The mayor's economic development policies are not developing Albany's economy. Instead of encouraging strategic investments and tactical investments in our city where we can make improvements, put people to work, create taxable revenue, the Sheehan model of economic development is irresponsible. It's become a system of corporate welfare. (applause) The mayor's argument goes that if we provide millions of dollars in tax breaks, it will benefit you and your neighbors and your families, that it will spur improvement in the surrounding neighborhoods. But that growth hasn't occurred, right? Even worse, Albany's largest non-tax-paying entities are enriching themselves at the expense of workers, seniors, small businesses, young professionals, and working class families more broadly. So there will be a lot of folks over the next six months who say Albany's economy is growing and it's growing well and we have all this great new development. Well, the reality is that none of that development is taxable. When those folks say the economy in the city of Albany is growing, you need to ask yourself -- or ask them -- who is it growing for?

Commisso, a Democrat, represents the 15th ward, on the city's west/southwest side. He was first elected in 2009. He currently works in the Albany County comptroller's office, and previously worked for the office of the state comptroller. His father, Frank Commisso, has been the majority leader of the Albany County Legislature since 1993.

Commisso joins Common Council president Carolyn McLaughlin, also a Democrat, as official entrants into the race. Mayor Kathy Sheehan has not yet publicly stated that she's running. The field will be focused on the September party primary, which has historically been the de facto election for the office because of the party's overwhelming enrollment advantage in the city.

Dan Plaat has announced his intent to run for mayor on Green Party line.

Commisso was introduced Thursday by a lineup of speakers that included Judy Logan, a candidate for city treasurer; Common Council members Mark Robinson and Judd Krasher; and county comptroller Mike Conners.

Here's video of Commisso's announcement speech...

Earlier on AOA: Carolyn McLaughlin is running for Albany mayor


I was surprised at the diversity evident at this event. The crowd consisted of a lot of "old Albany" but also lots of young people; lots of people of color; lots of city employees. Of course those last three groups overlap to an extent.

Big crowd and very, very energetic kickoff.

This guy has a shot.

Good. More political competition is better for the city. Not that I really like him either, but Sheehan has been a disappointment. She had the opportunity to do a lot of progressive things like better bicycle lanes but chose not to advocate for them.

I would expect that Mr. Commisso is very well aware of city affairs - he should be, as city councilman and county comptroller office employer. With that, I would expect a hint of a plan, not just buzzwords.
Corporate welfare? Great - but what that means in terms of actions of Major-to-be-elected? Attracting new developers under full-tax conditions? They are shopping for tax breaks, and providing breaks is de-facto the standard. And fierce competition for Harriman campus land speaks for itself Revoking existing PILOTs? Lawsuits... Charging non-profits? Are they willing to pay when asked, and under what conditions - or this is about changing state legislation?
Reducing city workforce? Great!. May I see department breakdown? Of course, this is about early retirement and not fully controllable - but are there target numbers? Which services would be affected, or how performance of city workers would be increased? It is not like you can have 1 cop out on patrol instead of 2, and say nothing changed.. We're talking about 50-70-100 jobs being eliminated to close $12M gap in current budget.

Disclaimer: my taxes go to other municipality, not to city of Albany - but these are the questions that need to be asked, I believe.

Paul, I think better bike lanes is toward the bottom of the list when it comes to the priorities of the city. Car traffic is already pretty slow moving, shrinking the roads further to include bike lanes would only add to the car traffic. And before you say that it would encourage more people to bike, let me get ahead of you and say that most of the car traffic is from people coming into the city from areas too far to bike.

@Mike good questions, you should go to his next event and ask!

I like what Mr. Commisso is saying, but I'd also like to hear specifics. Too often we get fed some progressive buzzwords and then end up on our knees for developers.

I’ve been slightly disappointed in Sheehan’s performance, but continue to roughly support her, given that she inherited a rough ship to right. However, she’s had close to four years and while I give her points for taking some policy gambles, I have to subtract some for poor follow-through and management of those policies. I do see strong value in having several voices in the ring, but I do hope those voices will actually articulate a sound plan rather than harp about Sheehan’s “botched” management and/or offer unconstructive buzzwords that sound sexy. While I haven’t always agreed with her policies (e.g. Ladder 1 cuts), and more so with her execution of those policies (e.g. trash fee), I’ll give her credit for entertaining the tough choices that need to be made, often leading to constructive dialogue, even if the original idea never gets executed. It’s easy for the Commisso’s (and Krasher’s) of the world to criticize these moves, but I never see specifics from her opponents on what their alternatives are. Either they don’t possess them, or more selfishly for the city, they maintain them as state secrets that they can hold close to the vest in order to run for office on; I have a feeling it’s the latter. Commisso (and to be fair to Commisso, Sheehan did the same during her initial run for mayor) offers a lot of nice buzzwords that I confess to like hearing, but I want the blue print. Even more, how will Commisso balance his pro-worker sentiments against his promises to reduce the budget gap? Labor accounts for 70% of the budget, how will he control those costs without alienating workers (e.g. the landfill will on be on the verge of closing during the next term, whoever the mayor is, which will equate to needing to scale back operations and job opportunities, meanwhile, loosing out on important revenues that support the budget; how will Commisso tackle this dilemma).

And, to undermine my thesis for how we tame the budget, I sincerely believe that at the end of the day, cuts to services or proposed fees shouldn’t have to be the menu of options, given that the city gets a royal shafting from the state and is a victim of Ponzi scheme suburban development. Nonetheless, in the short term, these forces do account for real budgetary strains, and somehow we need to accommodate. I’m hoping Commisso can offer some genuine answers, for I’d love to entertain an alternative option.

Sean - see my disclaimer... :)
But I can donate my questions to you, if you want!

Rich, you said a mouthful right here regarding Sheehan: "...she’s had close to four years and while I give her points for taking some policy gambles, I have to subtract some for poor follow-through and management of those policies."

Right. It's perfectly fair as a new mayor to blame your predecessor for the mess you inherit - and she did inherit a mess from jennings, there's no question about that.

But it is almost four years later and she owns those problems now. She's done very little to address any of them.

Her execution of her budgets and her management of departments has been horrible.

Her leadership style is horrifying. I hear too many stories of employees being screamed at. if you can't control your own emotions, you cannot lead others.

Most of all, although Sheehan came in full of promises, she hasn't delivered anything at all. I wonder what difference she has made, and I find myself concluding "nothing".

I like that Commisso wants to go after the nano "college" (which is really just a private business landlord disguised as a college) for property tax revenue. That's a great start.

Mike, were you being sarcastic "fierce competition for Harriman campus land" Really? last time the State put out an RFP (which was maybe a year ago?) they got zero bids.

Where is this competition of which you speak?

Nick: What city are you living in? Car traffic speeds are out of control in Albany. Also, why should city residents surrender to commuters from the suburbs? All of the most livable cities on the planet have a strong system of protected bike lanes and they also control and limit cars.

Jake, yes, cars go awfully fast in Albany. Speeds above 50mph are not uncommon at all on, say, Western ave or Madison ave.

On Central east of, say, Ontario st, the problem is the opposite. Cars go very slowly and unpredictably. I am constantly surprised.

And yes we should prioritze city residents above suburbanites. Suburbs need to pay their fair share for the services we provide.

It would be interesting to look at the City Council's minutes to see what legislative proposals McLaughlin and Commisso launched over the past 4 or 8 or more years to solve the problems. Or are they just as complicit in creating the same problems they complain that the Mayor (and her predecessors) didn't fix?

Clearly, the Governor's thumb is on the scale here---and one wonders if the decision to keep Albany's per capita state aid lower than other upstate cities, and not to pay PILOTS for the SUNY, ESP and Harriman properties is designed to weaken this Mayor's re-election chances.

@Wesley you are right, there were no bids for the harriman parcel nor the original convention site---both are desperately needed for the tax rolls. A large part of the lack of interest is the burdensome restrictions imposed by the Governor on what would be "allowed" development. Both the State and the City seem to lack a comprehensive plan for the two parcels.

Frankly, believe it or not, George Pataki was right when he suggested selling and developing the ENTIRE Harriman campus--there were some interesting plans for mixed use (including continuation of State Offices) and integrating the parcel into the City by breaking down the circular roadway, etc. that's a plan worth re-visiting.

All three candidates owe the citizenry a real "plan", and not just sound bites.

jsc: "Clearly, the Governor's thumb is on the scale here---and one wonders if the decision to keep Albany's per capita state aid lower than other upstate cities, and not to pay PILOTS for the SUNY, ESP and Harriman properties is designed to weaken this Mayor's re-election chances."

No, a thousand times no. State aid per capita has been very low for decades. Neither Cuomo nor Sheehan created this problem, they are merely maintaining it. Jennings arranged a PILOT for Harriman of, IIRC, $11M annually, but Patterson wouldn't pay it and there it sits....wonder why no one is coming back to that issue?

I do think that the State decision on the $12.5M will be very important in the election. But let's not delude ourselves here.

@jsc Here is an overview (but not exhaustive) record of Commisso's work on the Common Council. The fact that you said, "I wonder if he's been complicit like the rest of them" tells me loud and clear that you don't follow Albany politics or the goings on of the CC. If you did, it wouldn't take long to get a grasp of his reputation. Yes there's is a council majority that is notorious for their complicity with the bad policy decisions of mayor Sheehan -- Frank is the adversary of that council majority. The thing Commisso is known for is *not* being complicit and actually pursuing/putting forward policies that he believes actually benefit Albany residents. He and Judd Krasher have been running against the current on that council for years.

Link for above comment:

Kim - talking/voting against something is easy.
What about something positive to discuss?

@Mike - Ugh. I'm tempted to not even respond to this kind of remark since you shouldn't have only gotten "talking/voting against" from my comment which included "actually pursuing/putting forward policies that he believes actually benefit Albany residents." This makes me think you're just being a troll, but here's your Friday #positivepsychology anyway. (The link is already there but here it is again).
"Worked for..."
"Sponsored legislation..."
"Led an effort..."
"Fought for..."

Are these the kinds of positives you'd like to discuss?

Again, I'm presently a fence sitter, willing to be pulled to vote for someone other than the incumbent. Like Sheehan before him, I'm not seeing a lot of specifics on Frank’s website (except for the 3-1-1 plan he's proposing). I just see a lot of fancy promises with little to no specifics. I do hope that Frank, along with any other challenger, starts to dig into these specifics and communicate them to the public, because I think there are a lot of folks hungry to see potential solutions to some meaty problems. A lot of fence sitters feel underwhelmed by Sheehan, a blank slate with limited concrete answers when she ran, who seems to be far too reactive than proactive in her administration of the city. Unfortunately, her campaign makes it all that more difficult for her challengers, because we want specifics (and while great catches by Frank’s part, nit picking the mechanics of how Sheehan has managed the city’s debt financing doesn’t count as solutions).

Personally, I don’t need to hear complete solutions, but would be satisfied if someone like Frank opened a dialogue with the public about a menu of perceived options, allowing for a back and forth to flesh details out. I think it takes a strong leader to seek compromise and who is willing to work publically for a harmonizing solution, even if it walks them back from their proposed benchmark For instance, the trash fee was a bungled mechanism to get us to an end goal of extending the life of our landfill, while beginning to wean ourselves off of the revenue that will disappear from in it in 5-8 years. Sheehan would have been a stronger, more capable manager, if she had worked with the public, presented some options and sought a compromising path towards achieving those two end goals (i.e. extend the life of the landfill; find ways to substitute current landfill revenue, with alternatives, as to avoid a further hole in our budget). Instead, she plugged into the budget a solution that disproportionally placed the burden of meeting these goals on a subset of the community, instead of distributing the burden to all (because to be clear, we do pay a lot of taxes on garbage removal, but our landfill is an asset that subsidizes the city, and without it, we either need to make cuts somewhere or raise fees/taxes). Sadly, this method of managing has alienated key stakeholders and moved us away from discussing the true problem. Therefore, it may be too much to ask, but I’d like to see challengers to the incumbent start to have these conversations now, rather than after the election.

Kim - you didn't have to answer my question until you're paid by Commisso's campaign, but I appreciate the information and your effort. .
I looked up just one of the stories mentioned as huge achievement - redistricting of UAlbany uptown campus. Some news links I came across:
I don't have a horse in this race, but it looks to me as if a competition of two gerrymandering parties was won by Mr. Commisso. Well, congratulations to the winner! I don't see that as an achievement, though.

Here's a good interview from WAMC/NPR last week:

I want to point out that a very important consideration in choosing a city's mayor is what they have done if they are already mayor, and what they plan to do to build the city's tax base. From my perspective, the current mayor is bringing more and more tax free entities into the city and putting the tax burden squarely on the shoulders of the property owners.

I like what Frank says about this and where it appears that he is going. My thought would be to offer a fair tax to business owners, increase business in the city and fairly divide the tax burden between property owners and business.

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