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Oh, SmAlbany!

Daily posts and occasional longer essays about politics, culture, and life in the Capital Region...updated M-F, midmorning


"I write this not as a booster of Albany, which I am, nor an apologist for the city, which I sometimes am, but rather as a person whose imagination has become fused with a single place, and in that place finds all the elements that a man ever needs..." -W. Kennedy, from O Albany!

Addicted to Garbage

"Albany, garbage addict": Alice Green released her platform yesterday. From the Times Union article:
"The solution to our city's waste crisis is not to turn the landfill into a cash cow like Jennings has done to raise tens of millions of dollars to cover annual deficits in the city budget. Instead, Albany has become a garbage addict," Green stated.
That's a poor statement, politically speaking, because:

#1) Voters don't like being told what is wrong with them. Welcome to mass democracy 101: don't insult the voters. No one wants to hear that they are stupid or closed-minded or bigoted or selfish. No one want to hear that they are a garbage addict and if they do want to hear it, they were already going to vote for you anyway. At least she said Albany was a garbage addict and not "the people of Albany," but still. Net gain: negative.

#2) It unintentionally makes Jennings' plan sound really appealing. The landfill has become a cash cow? It has raised tens of millions of dollars? And this has covered defecits in the budget? Sounds like we should build more of them! Obviously, Green didn't mean it this way, but that's how the average reader is going to interpret it. Net gain: very negative.

Here's a rewrite of the quote that would have worked much better:
"Mayor Jennings has ignored this city's waste crisis. Instead of trying to reduce the overall amout of garbage, he has simply looked for new places to pile it up. He just doesn't get it. When I am mayor, we will work toward solving this problem, not dumping it on our neighbors and children."
Not bad. I wrote that in 8 seconds. You'd think the Green campaign could do almost as good with a few hours work.

Whatever the merits of the Green candidacy, it is obvious that the Green campaign is being run by a bunch of amateurs. That's too bad. Although I'm pretty sure Jennings would whip her in a fair fight, this has become much a joke. Running a sloppy campaign like this is a death knell against a seasoned pro like the Tanman. He's not my favorite, but I guarantee you his political advisors would never let him come off in a platform interview the way Green did yesterday. Sure, it's subtle. But it's still a disaster.

And voters are smarter than you think. You might respond by saying something like, "It's just one silly quote, Matt. No one actually cares if Green puts her foot in her mouth politically in one interview." I disagree. It sends the signal that she's a political lightweight. Sure, the Tanman is fake and moderately hackish, but people know that he's also ruthless and cunning. Whether you agree with his policies or not, no one doubts that he has the political skills to win the tough battles. A mayor who represents your policy positions is still worthless if he/she is politically ineffective. I may not always agree with Jennings, but he usually gets his way. And that counts for a lot when you know the mayor will be dealing with all sorts of tricky political situations - the thicket of interests in city politics can crush you if you aren't careful. There are also the situations that pit Albany's collective interests against other locales in the state. Would you really want Alice Green sitting down with Pataki and Silver and Bruno to try to extract state money for Albany? Me neither.

P.S. What kind of newspaper informs the readers that a candidate has released their platform, but doesn't go on to describe the platform in any detail? It's like the TU wants you to think that Green Party candidates only put environmental issues in their platforms...
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At 1:50 PM , Blogger democracyinalbany said:

"Sure, the Tanman is fake and moderately hackish, but people know that he's also ruthless and cunning. Whether you agree with his policies or not, no one doubts that he has the political skills to win the tough battles. A mayor who represents your policy positions is still worthless if he/she is politically ineffective. And that counts for a lot when you know the mayor will be dealing with all sorts of tricky political situations that pit Albany's collective interests against other locales in the state. Would you really want Alice Green sitting down with Pataki and Silver and Bruno to try and extract state money for Albany? Me neither."

I agree with you that Jennings would be better at getting money from Pataki, Silver and Bruno. I also agree he is fake, hackish and ruthless.

A question for you?

How much of a mayor's job is actually running their own city and taking care of their residents and having an accountable police force and making sure your departments were being managed efficiently and working with citizens groups and LISTENING to the citizens vs. how much is spending time getting additional money from the big wigs?

Because we agree that Jennings has strong ties to Bruno and Pataki and that helps Albany get some funding(of course they will be gone soon). I think what you need to consider is that there are two very important parts of running the city. One is raising the money to run it. The other is investing that money wisely for what is best for the residents. I'm sure Alice Green can rely on Betty Barnette to still mail out our tax bills. The city will still get money. The question is, how will that money be managed. You want to let someone you call a fake and hackish and ruthless continue to manage that money even after there have been several recent reports showing that he isn't doing a very good job of managing the money at all. Doesn't seem like a very wise choice to me. I'll take someone who can run the city and serve the residents first and worry about them being able to get grants for redundant riverfront amphitheatres second. I'm sure Governor Spitzer won't have a problem working with the Mayor of Albany.

PS. Green's got some money connections of her own as well.    



At 2:40 PM , Blogger Matt said:

DIA:

"You want to let someone you call a fake and hackish and ruthless continue to manage that money even after there have been several recent reports showing that he isn't doing a very good job of managing the money at all. Doesn't seem like a very wise choice to me. I'll take someone who can run the city"

Here's my take: I don't like Jennings particularly. Neither do you. That's mostly because we tend to disagree with his policy choices. But I don't think Jennings is incompetent as a mayor. I disagree with his policy positions, but that's all. It's kind of like how I feel about Bush. I disagree with alot of his policies, but i'm willing to accept that he passes the bare minimum threshold for competency. If you disagree with that point, this is a non-starter, but i'll give it a shot.

The thing is, I'll ALWAYS take someone of minimum competency over someone who i'm not sure about their competency. And that's how i feel about Green. She's an amatuer, and she shows it everyday when she campaigns. I'm not comfortable putting amatuers into such important positions. It doesn't make me happy to say that, but it's true.

And this gets back to the "pie-in-the-sky" notion that we discussed earlier this week. (I apologize for using that inflammatory language, perhaps "idealist" would be better). It would be great if democratic politics was done by the thoughtful and considerate and well-meaning and nice, but it's not. It's simply the least worst form of government, and amatuers get eaten alive by the sharks. I tell you I wish it wasn't true but it is. That's why a competent hack who is cunning and ruthless is sometimes better than a well-meaning and polite amatuer. At least that's my experience.

And i don't mean simply in getting money from the state. The mayor faces constant political situations that require a lot of political skill. You have to contend with a veritable thicket of interests across a multitude of issues, and you have to know when to compromise and when to lay down the hammer. I don't see Alice Green as being capable of doing this. Jennings doesn't always do what I want him to do, but he almost always gets what he wants. That's important. Even if the mayor agrees with everything you say on policy, if he/she can't achieve it, it's worthless.

And I'd also suggest you tone down the "citizen-based democracy" rhetoric a bit. Alice Green doesn't represent "the people" any more than Jerry Jennings does. They each represent a different set of people and a different set of interests - Jennings more uptown/professional/white/business and Green more downtown/working/black/laobr. It can be packaged anyway they want, but in the end they are simply the figureheads of different coalitions of intersts and citizens, in my opinion. And that's fine. But I don't think you can pretend that Green represents "the people" and Jennings is simply "the man" who wins only because of money, connections, and the laziness of the people. Albany is a big city with diverse political views. To pretend otherwise weakens the legitimate arguments for the Green coaltion.    



At 4:24 PM , Blogger democracyinalbany said:

I try to keep it short.

This week the comptroller said the city was facing serious financial problems. This is after 12 years of jennings. The mayor hasn't said anything about this. Coming on some very unflattering audits of the city departments that Jennings runs this is not good news. That is failing to meet my minimum standard. I guess you don't see that as a big enough problem to hold him accountable for it?

the citizens vs. the man thing - I didn't say that. What i said was Jerry won't listen to people he doesn't agree with. I think Green might and I think politicians should. I'm a bit surprised that you don't think the Mayor should represent everyone and you agree that the Mayor doesn't and are ok with that (correct me if i'm wrong). Personally I think the mayor needs to represent the whole city but your point certainly explains the deterioration of several of the downtown neighborhoods during his time. From your viewpoint he doesn't representent them so why should he care.

Idealist? Hardly. I realize politics can be ugly. I just don't think that means you should cede control to the criminals because they are the best at ugly. I consider myself a realist (see my point about addressing looming financial crisis above) But here is why i'm optimistic about Albany's future. Jennings will get re-elected. He isn't planning on running again. Another 4 years of him running the show knowing he is totally unaccountable to anyone will be a bad thing for Albany. Bad enough that i think the majority of people who think like you do will wake up and say, "enough is enough" and will be looking for some serious change. I would prefer that he gets re-elected and does a great job but i'm not naive and that won't happen. I'm only hoping we can avoid the convention center.

See why i would vote for Green? Even if she ends up doing a bad job (and you know the first year or two would be a nightmare for anyone taking over after Jennings) even if she is horrible, I don't think she will screw things up worse than Jerry. And she won't build a convention center. And perhaps, she might be good.

So, I will take someone who i'm not sure of (and how could you really be sure until they get in the job) because I'm sure that Jerry is going to be bad for Albany. But, i'm cheered by the fact that I think in 4 years we will have some real hope. Jerry will win. Let's hope he doesn't do too much more damage.    



At 4:32 PM , Blogger Matt said:

Fair enough. I agree with you that there will be a good chance for a new direction four years from now.

I also agree that the mayor should represent the whole city. But I too am a realist, and I understand that politicians don't get elected on pure consensus, they get elected on coalitions that surpass 50%. This ineveitably means that they will favor some interests over others. It would be great if politicians simply did what was best for the whole city, but that's not how two party systems tend to work. Alice Green is no exception. If elected, she would simply tend to give more weight to a different set of interests and issues. Does this mean she doesn't care about the whole city? Of course not. But it's not like Jennings doesn't either. It's just natural that their beliefs about how to advance the city tend to coincide with the interests and people who support them.

Now, it may be the case that you think Alice Green or some future candidate will be able to unite the city under policies that are good for all. But this is just persepctive. I have no doubt that Jennings thinks his own policies are the best policies for everyone.

In sum, I don't give much hope to the idea that city politics is anything but a competition between competing interest coalition, each of which have their own view of what is the best way to improve the city. To think otherwise, is in my opinion, idealist.

However, i think you are right in your prognosis. Jennings wins this time, and the next four years set the stage for a real battle between a whole new set of competitors and a wide open playing field for future city politics.

cheers
matt    



At 6:10 PM , Blogger democracyinalbany said:

I don't think Jerry is a complete fool. I'm pretty certain that he knows that some of what he is doing isn't the best for the city or the future (e.g. landfill situation, convention center, appointing incompetent cronies, not speaking out against voter fraud). But his allies are getting rich off these choices and he thinks that is ok. And while he may scold some of his appointees for their incompetance in private, he lets them keep their jobs and says nothing publically. He has to know he could do better.

If you'd ever tried to work with him on some issues for the city and seen how he treats those he doesn't agree with, you might change your mind.

I believe its possible to elect someone who would manage the city like a business and make choices that result in the greatest good for all the business owners (citizens). Those people exist. Keep them around for more than 8 years and I'm sure they will start to change. Would they have a lot more challenges than someone willing to do what the developers and unions tell them to? Sure. But then again nothing worth doing is easy.

I agree that Green would have different plans and supporters than Jennings. Of course. It will never be perfect and some group will always get shafted. However, when you are given carte blanche like Jennings and no one holds you accountable you can easily ignore the opposition. If Green or anyone else was elected they would be subject to intense scrutiny. For proof just see exhibit A - David Soares. So, a new mayor would be better just because they couldn't ignore people they didn't agree with. They are going to have to try to make some people happy in both uptown and downtown if they want to get re-elected. If you can wait until 2010 you'll see what i mean. Its going to be a tough damn job to take over and clean up Jerry's house, just as it is for Soares to take over Clyne's shop. Here's hoping we get some real quality candidates.    



At 6:13 PM , Blogger Matt said:

Good points, well said. I agree that the next mayor will have more scrutiny, like Soares does right now. But it's not like Soares is the shining example of great leadership at the moment (i'll reserve judgement in total till he has a few years under his belt). And it's also true that people said Jennings would be unencumbered by interests when he beat Joyce. You can see how that turned out.

I'm certain that there are some candidates who could unite the city better than Jennings. I'm doubtful that the coalition being put together by Green - even if it could win - would be able to achieve this.

mg    



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