Albany mayor 2017: Kathy Sheehan

Kathy Sheehan mayoral announcement 2017

Kathy Sheehan had her re-election campaign announcement in April.

Updated with text clips for skimming.

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: Kathy Sheehan, who's running for a second term. We talked with her at her campaign office on Madison Ave Friday afternoon.

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 her instead of the other two options (00:07)

I think if you look at the record that I've established over the last four years of delivering on what I committed to when I ran for mayor four years ago, we have seen a remarkable transformation not only of city government but of community engagement and of how we look at every single neighborhood from a lens of equity. And the results of that have led to the rebuilding of parks that had been ignored for decades, the investment in infrastructure in neighborhoods that hadn't seen that level of investment in infrastructure. And we've started to solve the issues around the city's budget, modernizing city hall, and making changes that aren't just about numbers, they're about giving us the resources that we need to continue to deliver services to our residents and to be able to continue to provide opportunities for our employees.

On what she's learned about the limits of mayoral power (04:30)

You have to have the right people in the right places doing the right things and that takes time. And that sometimes can be frustrating, and particularly in government and in an environment where you have a number of competing interests that you almost have to triage and say, alright, I want to get to this particular point in our evolution with respect to for example code enforcement. But the reality was I didn't have a leader of that department that could get us to that point. And it took us a long time to find that leader. And so that's one of the limitations, that's where sort of ambition meets reality. And so no show of force is going to result in anything changing if you don't have the right leader in place. And then once we found that leader, the reality of OK, I understand what you want me to accomplish mayor, but in order to do that these are the tools that I need and it takes time to put those tools in place.

So I've always worked hard to be realistic and to set realistic expectations for our residents and to communicate the why, if we make this investment now, if we demonstrate some patience now, this is where it's going to lead us.

On the sense among some of her supporters that maybe her administration hasn't followed all the way through on some of the types of change they were hoping for (using the Madison Ave road diet and its lack of protected bike lanes as an example). (07:56)

I think that people underestimate how radically things have changed in three plus years. We've managed to rezone the entire city. We have we have taken a 1990s IT system and brought it into the 21st century. And those two achievements alone provide us the foundation to continue to engage in becoming the progressive city with the innovation and with the types of amenities that we want for our city.

When we talk about the protected bike lanes I think that that is a demonstration of my leadership style and I bring everyone to the table. And ultimately we drove our consultants to really give us apples to apples to apples comparisons of what was possible on Madison Avenue. And then I brought in not just the bike enthusiasts but the residents who live along Madison Avenue and the businesses along Madison Avenue. And the tradeoff was approximately 300 parking spaces along Madison Avenue. That was the tradeoff, we could have protected bike lanes, we were going to lose 300 parking spaces. And we also were going to have issues with respect to snow removal and use of those protected bike lanes in the wintertime. And ultimately the consensus was we wanted a successful project. And we didn't want the first project to fail because of that controversy and the firestorm that could have resulted from that loss of parking and also the very significant concerns of businesses along Madison Avenue about the loss of parking.

And so that's what leading and governing is all about there. And I understand that there will be people who will be disappointed but I don't think that that is a lack of vision.

On the sense among some people that her administration has been cold, or too corporate, or not open to outside ideas (13:51)

In the first six months that I was in office we were hit with a firehose. I think people had this idea that they could be they would be able to just come in and sit down and you know we'd be able to have a conversation and you know listen to their great ideas for what they wanted for the city of Albany and the reality is that you know I have a city to run and so. In looking at what we were able to accomplish in those first six months I think we accomplished a tremendous amount. But I know that there were ruffled feathers. There were people who felt as though they should have just had unfettered access. And I think if you if you had been in City Hall today as teenage boys from Green Tech charter school came in waves into city hall during a school project that they had called Pay it Forward, and having these, you know, big teenage boys come up and give me a big hug and you know, say hey mayor, it's good to see you. You always support us.

You know, I think that I am who I am. I followed a very slap-on-the-back, pat-you-on-the-face-kind of guy in Jerry Jennings. And I'm not going to apologize for who I am.

But to those who I encounter throughout the city I engage in very deep conversations with them about what they're concerned about from whether it's their block or their concerns about the city. [17.8]

And I'm just going to continue to do that and continue to be there for people. And, you know, I love this city. I love the people here. And I am here to ensure that people have an ear and have a voice in city hall and in my administration.

About red light cameras (17:08)

Well, they're installed and they're operating and they don't cost us any money. So as long as they are keeping intersections safer I think that it's a good public safety move. ...

From the standpoint of the revenue miss ... You know we've missed in prior administrations on revenue projections for sales tax by millions of dollars. This was a revenue projection that missed and we knew we were going to miss it. And so we managed to it. But I said from the very beginning and I meant what I said. It was never about the revenue. And our three year projections have revenue falling to de minimis amounts, which is where we are now.

This was about responding to an advisory committee that the police department put together that made this recommendation. It didn't come from me or my administration. This ball had already started rolling before I took office. And this was the number one recommendation from an advisory group of residents that was advising the police department. And the recommendation for red light cameras came out of the police department.

As a matter of fact, when I ran for city treasurer my Republican opponent talked about installing red light cameras as a way to get revenue for the city and I opposed it. I opposed it from the standpoint of doing it simply for revenue. That the only reason to install red light cameras is to enhance public safety, not as a revenue grab. And I said it. I said it over and over again. I meant it. And it has played out exactly as I anticipated. My Republican opponent when I ran for treasurer I thought was overestimating what the revenue would be.

I actually pushed really hard on the police department because they're the ones that provided the revenue projection and I didn't believe it. I allowed myself to become convinced of it and I chalk that up to one of those issues where I'm not going to let that happen again.

On why the city still has an acting police chief and her administration hasn't conducted a search for a permanent chief (24:05)

To engage in a search in the midst of the political environment that was created by this campaign I thought would not do service to our residents, to our current chief, and to an overall process of engagement that I want to see happen as we decide who our next chief is.

We have an incredibly competent acting chief who is doing an outstanding job. I am committed to a national search. Yet I felt very strongly that given the tone and tenor that was being set by my opponent in this campaign that it was just not an environment to do that because everything was becoming politicized. And that's just the honest, truthful answer for that.

On her administration's response to the death of Dontay Ivy, and healing some of the pain that still exists surrounding the incident (30:17)

I was encouraged when a group of ministers, probably about a year or so after the incident, did come to city hall and on the steps of city hall state that while they certainly were still concerned about what happened to Dontay Ivy that they believed that the department had done what it could and had been responsive to the requests that had been made for information and had been open and transparent about it and that it was important for the community to move on and to try to heal. And so I was encouraged by that.

I have, as you know, been called upon to fire the police officers who were involved in that stop. And I have said over and over again that my commitment to the residents of the city of Albany go beyond any two police officers. And that the commitment that I have in response to what happened to Dontay Ivay is to continue to transform the way that we police in the city of Albany.

And so in the face of a review by the US Department of Justice. An investigation by the district attorney's office and an internal investigation that found that these officers did not engage in any wrongdoing, had I terminated those police officers, they would have been able to sue the city and they would have gotten their jobs back. There's just, it is very clear that they would have been entitled to reinstatement.

That whole process might have made people feel better, but it would have cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars that we wouldn't be able to spend trying to transform this police department. And I think if you look at what we've done, whether it's the implicit bias training or the commitment to train all of our police officers on spotting and dealing with mental health issues, creating our own police academy, the continued investments that we make in community engagement and community policing.

That, to me, that is the work that is really difficult. That would not -- firing two officers would not result in the change that we have seen that we've been able to effect by committing to the community. That we've got to make sure that our officers are trained the way that our community wants them to be trained. And so that is the legacy and that's the commitment that I've made. And I completely understand those who are not satisfied with that answer.

About the impending closure of the city landfill (early 2023), and the budget and trash disposal challenges posed by it (34:39)

We are now at a point where we are far less dependent on the cash from the landfill than we were in the prior administration. That cash hid a structural deficit that had existed for years. So we have eliminated that. Now the revenue that we get from the landfill covers the debt service and the operating expenses. So we're no longer dependent on that landfill to balance the city budget because when the landfill closes the debt service will be paid off. And the operating expense of the landfill itself will be dramatically reduced from about nearly $4 million a year to approximately $70,000 a year, as we monitor it going forward.

That said we're going to have a new expense, right. We're going to have to dispose of our garbage somewhere else. And so that's the piece of this that we are methodically working at ensuring we can drive down to the lowest common denominator. That means we've got to get better at picking up garbage. That means that we've got to get better at recycling. And that means that we've got to look at what are the options that are available, particularly through a public private partnership, to dispose of our garbage, whether that's separating organics, partnering on a regional basis with an alternative to landfills.

But this is again where ambition meets reality and I'm not going to promise unicorns and puppies. The reality is that to site an organics facility, to site an incinerator or a burn facility or a waste energy facility can take a decade. We don't have a decade. And we've known that we don't have a decade, that would have had to have started well under way under the prior administration. And so we are going to have to be realistic about what the right approach is.

About what she wants voters to remember about her on primary day (37:24)

That I have committed to this city to change the way that we run the city of Albany, to change the way that we govern the city of Albany. And I've delivered on that promise. And that we are a city that has grown its tax base, that has tackled a lot of the challenges that people have wanted us to tackle, and that has tremendous potential. And that the focus of the next four years needs to be on connecting our residents to jobs and on rebuilding our neighborhoods. And that I've built the foundation to do that.

Now is not the time to move backwards. Now is not the time to go back to the old ways of doing things. It's the time to stay the course to continue to move the city forward. And I would be privileged to have their vote and to continue the work that we've done and the direction that we're taking this city.


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

+ Albany mayor 2017: Frank Commisso Jr (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)

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For a decade All Over Albany was a place for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. It was kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who could help you find out what's up. AOA stopped publishing at the end of 2018.

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