Albany mayor 2017: Frank Commisso Jr

Frank Commisso Jr press conference 2017-07-12

Frank Commisso Jr at a press conference this past July.

Next Tuesday, September 12, is primary day. And it will be a big day in the city of Albany because the Democratic primary will almost certainly select the person who will be mayor for the next four years.

This week we're talking with the three Democratic candidates: incumbent mayor Kathy Sheehan, and challengers Carolyn McLaughlin and Frank Commisso Jr.

And we're posting audio of the conversations so you can listen when you like -- either streamed here at AOA, or downloaded to your phone or mobile device. We'll also be pulling a handful of text clips from the conversations if you'd rather skim and read.

Next up: Frank Commisso Jr., who's currently a Common Council member representing the 15th ward.

Interview audio

Download the mp3 to your mobile device or computer.

Text clips

These are just a handful of text segments from the full interview. The time stamps listed with each topic refer to when in the audio text appears, in case you'd like to dip into the interview and listen for yourself.

On why voters should select him ahead of the other two options (00:11)

We would change very much how city government feels to people in the city of Albany and change how it looks and change how people perceive it. What we have done here in this campaign is we've talked about issues that I think are very relevant here in 2017 here to the city of Albany. But from a accessibility and the point of view of the political process we've really gone out and talked to people starting out on March 9th we announced and we were out of doors March 13th. We have met a tremendous number of voters, many thousands, over that time period, over the past six months.

And I feel confident leading into September 12th that there will be those people that will reflect upon this process and they will feel that I would be a candidate that would listen to people that would be very accessible.

We've talked about opening the city hall on Saturday mornings again, which is a bit of a traditional feel to people. But we would really embody that feel that there's not this great distance between city hall and the public that is represented, that we actually in fact would be far more representative and there would be a number of people, too, many tens of thousands throughout the city that have been marginalized under the current administration, that would now have a role in forming policy at the city level and getting to know their elected officials and top level people in city government as well.

On concerns some people might have that he's a new face on an old system power and influence (03:35)

Well, I think the description you gave actually really embodies the current administration, right? You know, we're up against an incumbent that has considerable relationships with other elected officials, with developers of luxury housing, vendors and contractors for the city. Those are the relationships that this incumbent has built up. What we've actually done is gone out and met people at a grassroots level at their doors. And I think during the time period that had been on the Albany Common Council, and clearly we have a great level of support in the ward that I represent now, what should be indicative to folks that I would be an incredibly fair leader for the city that I would work with as many folks as possible.

On the Sheehan administration's handling of city finances, and his use of the $20 million projected deficit figure from the report produced by the outside consultants hired by the state. (5:29)

[You've mentioned that a number a lot. It's in the PFM report, that's the name of the consultants, PFM. And you know, if you read through that report they project that that is a possibility but there's a caveat in that it's like, well, this is what we're projecting -- if nothing else changes. And it details some of the things that can be done to be changed and the Sheehan administration has already said we've already implemented some of these things, we're working on these things. And that number also doesn't take into account state aid. So, do you think the number is still a fair one to use in terms of projecting for next year?]

Well, yeah, absolutely. It was created by a third party, an independent third party, and the Sheehan administration if nothing else has shown that they're unable to make those reforms and changes to city government that are needed. There has been an inability for them to, in any reasonable intelligent way, increase revenue. They have been unable to grow the taxable economy in the city of Albany and they've been unable to control expenses. In fact, just yesterday as we were sitting here interviewing today on Wednesday, but just yesterday on Tuesday, we had a mid-year report issued that showed that overtime is far beyond budget and this year that expenses are up millions of dollars over last year. These are things that again they've been unable to really manage city government. Now even with an award of state aid, which is not a given of course it's not at all assured, but even with an award of state aid to say the same as last year for a one-shot again of 12 and a half million there's still a deficit of somewhere between eight and perhaps 11 million dollars for next year which could result in service cuts, new fees and fines, or layoffs of employees. So, for the mayor to offer this presentation this year through her campaign that the city is in a good financial position I think is very disingenuous and I think a good leader would take head on those challenges that this city faces.

Responding to a question about hard choices he's willing to make (10:08)

I've talked candidly about the need to have an actual strategic attrition plan in city government. We will not be laying people off, but we will look at every opportunity when somebody retires or otherwise leaves city service to actually create savings. That's something that when we talked about that in this campaign and we were actually honest and really candidly spoke about that there were some folks that suggested I was crazy. They said how could you possibly say that in Albany, New York in a Democratic primary, but we did it. And I think folks many people respect that that have actually looked at this race that have said that is a very much a reasonable alternative. That's a way that you can actually start to provide fair levels of compensation to other existing employees in city government. It's a way to actually start to provide some relief for taxpayers by actually reducing the city's deficit so we've talked about that as well. ...

(15:15) The other thing we talked about is in addition to changing the way we pursue economic development but I do believe and many others believe that there is some systemic abuse of the charitable exemption in the city of Albany. And we've talked about reviewing all tax exemptions in the city of Albany, all 8.6 billion dollars next year and that's something as well that requires a level of courage and independence. You need to be able to stand up to folks that might be associated with the most wealthy, influential entities in Albany, like an Albany Medical Center or SUNY Poly.

On the police department and crime (11:02)

I think one of the big challenges we'll have going forward is how we reconcile, from a public safety perspective, we have a city that's had a tremendous spike in crime this year, we've had 26 shootings here to date, and how we would reconcile the need to have more proactive policing, but also then recognizing a larger, more national sentiment about needing accountability in police departments.

We've talked about having more police in the neighborhoods throughout this campaign so that we could actually reduce violent crime and property crime. But we've also talked about new accountability measures including the review of the CPRB and the powers of the CPRB, which is the Citizens Police Review Board of course. We've talked about the need to designate tasers as a lethal use of force. And we've talked about having just a far higher level of accountability in our police department more broadly. And for all our police officers that are well trained and well experienced in their work I do not think that would cause any problem whatsoever. So that is something as well that I think will be a challenge going forward and certainly we need to make improvement on as well. At this point we've provided a level of lip service to creating a community policing perspective. But there's no real evidence of that happening other than a few barbecues that we've had over the past several years.

[(21:25) What is your idea or theory about the roots of crime? What causes it. What prompts it, what causes it to propagate?]

I look at economic issues. And when you have a city where there is not opportunity provided to a large number of people many thousands of people are left out of any economic progress in your city. I think you'll have an outcome where crime is more prevalent, you'll have more property crimes. In some cases you'll have more violent crime. You need to provide people with good housing. You need to provide people with good infrastructure, good city services. Then you'll attract more people and you'll have better economic outcomes. Folks that are involved in the progress of the economy I think are far less likely to violate others' rights either through property crime and or violent crime. That's that's to answer a question from a theoretical perspective I think you need a strong economy before anything else.

Then in addition to that I think part of the solution as well and I'm probably going further than your original question on this but. You do need strong programs in place for young men and women so that not every instance of crime then becomes a policing and a matter for the courts. There's ways to actually divert young men and women beforehand so if you have some strong programming in place in July and August for children and all of the things that I was able to take advantage of many years ago back in the 1990s. ...

(24:13) There's property crimes throughout the city. And of course we've talked about the violent crime we've had with 26 shootings here to date as we sit here talking on September 6. This is not the right direction the city has taken and to gloss over that and suggest to people that crime is down is another piece of misinformation that has been well funded and well financed by the incumbent's campaign. But it's just not a real accounting of what's going on in the city.

[So let's just be straight about that. So when they report the crime stats you're saying that they are fudging the crime stats?]

What I'm suggesting is that crime has dramatically increased in the city of Albany. It's very apparent to anyone here in the city. I mean statistics can always be manipulated one way or another. They haven't really reported a whole host of statistics. They just seem to suggest that we're on the right track as it relates to policing in the city of Albany. You can't be on the right track when you have 26 shootings in September. You can't be on the right track when you have a rash of car break ins in a given neighborhood over the course of three weeks, like we've had in our neighborhood including our own. You cannot be on the right track then. What policing is very self-evident to people, regardless of the statistics you provide, the perceptions about crime are what is driving decisions amongst people.

On projects such as the Park South redevelopment and the idea that payment in lieu of taxes arrangements with developers generate more revenue for the city than otherwise would have come in (17:32)

The PILOT, the payment in lieu of taxes, is miniscule compared to what they would actually pay if they were a taxable property.

[But when it went through the IDA, the PILOT's worth I think about $11 million. And as the IDA, I think, concluded that was about six and a half million more than that property would have paid otherwise.]

Well, a few things on that. One is the IDA numbers and the IDA has developed a horrible practice now of actually reducing assessments of properties. They are now in the business of grossly reducing assessments of property. So when they say what the value of a PILOT is they always again undercount what those really would be. Great example is at 1475 Washington Avenue where of course a building that just took out a $28 million mortgage a few years ago has a $12 million assessment. So a big part of their tax break in fact over 50 percent of their tax break is in the form of something that is a horrible practice which is undercounting what the assessments should be. Additionally the analysis of that they're paying more than what was otherwise paid, that's a classic neoliberal model, neoliberal analysis that is done at the local level by mayors to never take into account what the cost of the services provided is. So when you have these new entities come in and they have a tremendous amount of traffic that is drawn into the city and people that are drawn into the city, it is very much the tact of folks that want to promote these projects that they will consistently not account for the cost of services provided. So that again is something that the current administration has done and very willfully done and they know that it's a ridiculous analysis and I think most people that understand economic development know that that's been one of the pitfalls in New York State is that there never is a true accounting for the cost of the services provided to those entities once they expand into multilevel more densely populated or more or draw more traffic and parking needs into that area.

On what he wants voters to remember about him on primary day (31:30)

Ultimately I want people to look at that honesty and candor that we've provided throughout and address which candidate they think is more positioned to address the challenges in the city of Albany. And if you can't recognize the challenges, and I don't think my opponents have been able to adequately address the challenges in the city of Albany or recognize them, then how could you ever possibly start to resolve those issues.

So, a vote for one of my opponents is a vote for, at best, mediocrity for the next four years. There will be no major successes of city government. What we can do with an administration, if I'm so fortunate to receive the most votes on September 12th, is really start building up the city, building up more neighborhoods, building up more people. We can get away from these corporatist policies, of these neoliberal policies, of the Sheehan administration. We can discard those promptly and move forward with some real policies that help working class people.

These text clips have been lightly edited.

Earlier

+ Albany mayor 2017: Carolyn McLaughlin (interview audio and text clips)

____

+ Carolyn McLaughlin is running for Albany mayor (with announcement speech video)

+ Frank Commisso Jr. is running for Albany mayor (with announcement speech video)

+ Albany mayor Kathy Sheehan is now officially running for re-election (with announcement speech video)

Comments

We need new Blood in Albany. It is the only way to see it grow and thrive like cities of Columbus, Auburn, Asheville, Austin, Tempe,

If we stick with same old Sheehan, you will get just that, nothing new, and no interest in growth.

Frank is the man to turn Albany into the next great growth city that everyone wants to go to.

Yes, because the Comisso family hasn't been in Albany politics for a very long time. He is not new blood, its back to the same old politics that led Albany astray. Sheehan is one term in and has made tremendous progress.

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