Albany mayor defeats foes after withstanding primary challenge
By JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST AND TIM O'BRIEN, Staff writers
First published: Wednesday, November 4, 2009
ALBANY -- If Mayor Jerry Jennings is to forge his legacy in the coming four years, he will do it surrounded by new faces in City Hall.
Jennings, 60, rolled to re-election Tuesday night, two months after having survived his most serious Democratic primary challenge from Councilman Corey Ellis, who continued in the general election on the Working Families Party line.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Jennings had 63 percent of the vote to Ellis' 29 percent and Republican Nathan Lebron's 7 percent.
Jennings won his fifth term as voters tapped two political newcomers and fellow Democrats to serve alongside him in citywide office: Kathy Sheehan as treasurer and Leif Engstrom as chief city auditor.
Sheehan will assume broad control of city finances after trouncing Treasurer Betty Barnette -- a Jennings ally -- in the Democratic primary, and Republican Mary Ann McGinn on Tuesday night.
Barnette, in her own estimation, became a victim of the controversy surrounding the revelations that some in the city were allowed to dodge parking fines -- the so-called "ghost ticket" scandal -- which despite Ellis' efforts never stuck to Jennings.
Engstrom -- who will shape the new office of audit and control charged with critiquing the efficiency of city government -- was all but assured of election, having won the Democratic primary and having no general election opponent.
Jennings' re-election comes as the Common Council is parsing his proposed 2010 budget, which administration officials describe as having walked a fine line to avoid layoffs in the nation and state's still-struggling economies.
Jennings' fiscal nimbleness will be tested as the state's payments in lieu of taxes on the South Mall are due to plummet some $7.8 million in 2011, even as Jennings contends the state should be paying more for its tax-exempt land inside city limits.
Jennings also has pledged to seek a similar PILOT payment for the Harriman State Office Campus, as well as to continue to lobby the state to release that prime land for private development that would put it back on the tax rolls.
The next four years will also figure largely in the future of the city's expanding Rapp Road landfill -- a fiscal and environmental flash point -- and the much-debated downtown convention center, of which Jennings has been a strong supporter.
Last week, Jennings convened a committee to help him pick his sixth police chief in his 16 years as mayor.
"We've had a lot of successes here, and there are challenges no doubt about it," Jennings told reporters.
With the current economy impacting municipal finances throughout the country, "we have to start getting real creative," Jennings said.
Asked how he would get along with Sheehan, he replied: "This has to be a team effort. I'm looking forward to it."
He later told supporters: "Shame on us if we don't work together for the benefit of the people of the city of Albany."
Jennings is poised to become the city's second-longest tenured mayor in its history, behind only Erastus Corning 2nd, who died in 1983 after 41 years in office.
Jennings defeated Ellis in September's the Democratic primary with 56 percent of the vote. But even in falling about 1,800 votes short on primary night, Ellis forced Jennings into the closest mayoral race since he first won in 1993, winning seven of the city's 15 wards as he assailed Jennings' record on blight and crime.
Ellis, 38, was elected to represent Arbor Hill's 3rd Ward in 2005. In January, he will leave public office.
Ellis' primary victories strayed beyond his home territory of the city's lower inner-city wards, spreading into Center Square and two midtown wards that make up Pine Hills.
Jennings spent more than $500,000 on his re-election, which according to a recent snapshot from the state Board of Elections accounted for 86 percent of all spending in the race.
Sheehan, backed by the some of the same forces that backed Ellis, said she plans to work "cooperatively and collaboratively" with Jennings.
Jennings, in an interview, also stressed a message of unity. "I've had discussions with Leif and Kathy, and I'm very confident that they want to do what's best for the people of the city of Albany," he said. These are no times for us to play petty politics and divide this city."
Councilwoman Carolyn McLaughlin was elected Common Council president.
McLaughlin, who for 12 years has represented the South End's 2nd Ward, handily won her Democratic primary over Leonard Ricchiuti in September.
McLaughlin, a veteran of Albany politics, has talked to Jennings about improving communication with the council -- a sore point with some members who complain Jennings' office does not share information.
"That's something he committed to next year," McLaughlin said. "It's really important we have direct communication with the mayor and the council works together to face some of the challenges."
Reach Carleo-Evangelist at 454-5445 or email@example.com.