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By Julianne Cuba
Former Bay Ridge Councilman Sal Albanese has thrown his hat into the ring for mayor for the fourth time. The Italian-born self-described political outsider, who now lives on Staten Island, met with the editors of Community News Group and NYC Community Media on Aug. 31 to discuss his Democratic primary challenge of Mayor DeBlasio. During wide-ranging discussion, Albanese — who has $207,781 in his war chest, but has not received any matching funds — had a lot to say about his disagreements with the incumbent, including Hizzoner’s handling of homelessness, affordable housing, and the failing transportation system. Albanese, who was a public school teacher for more than a decade before getting into politics, lost his bid for the Democratic mayoral nod in 1997, dropped out of the 2001 race when he couldn’t raise enough money, and lost the nomination to DeBlasio in 2013. But the mayoral hopeful, who served in the Council from 1982 until 1997 — and famously won his 1989 primary as a write-in candidate after a judge ruled his petitions were invalid — thinks this fourth time will be the charm, claiming many New Yorkers are fed up with the mayor.
On his qualifications and why he’s running:
Albanese, who immigrated to America when he was 8-years-old, is now an attorney and was previously a financial consultant. He also once ran for seats in Congress and the Assembly. Known for his trailblazing support for gay rights and passing the city’s first living wage law, which required companies doing business with the city to pay their employees $12 an hour, Albanese said he believes he has the gusto and the merits to oust the incumbent. He touts his life is a true New York City success story because he was able to benefit from numerous public services and wants to give back to the city that shaped him. Albanese said he hopes voters will chose him when walking into the voting booth on primary day on Sept. 12, instead of an incumbent mayor who has been repeatedly investigated and is known for his cozy relationship with lobbyists and developers.
“I was elected to the city Council in 1982 from Bay Ridge, which at the time was one of the most conservative districts in the city. I beat a Republican incumbent, it was a major upset. And on the city Council, I’m proud of a couple of votes — one is the Gay Rights Bill of 1986, which was pretty contentious at that time, I was one of the swing votes. I also passed the city’s first Living Wage law in 1995. I’m proud of the fact I had a reputation for independence and integrity, no one ever questioned that I was certainly an outsider. I’m running because I think that under this mayor, the city has become less livable. We also have, in my opinion, have one of the most corrupt periods in the city’s history since Ed Koch, where the mayor of New York City was on the front page of the Daily News labeled as ‘Mayor for Sale’ because of the nine investigations he was subject to. He was not indicted because the pay-to-play laws are murky. I think we need a higher standard for a mayor than just not being indicted. He says people don’t care about that around the city, I beg to differ. I don’t accept money from lobbyists or big real estate, not because I’m anti-development or anti-real-estate developers, but what we’ve had from DeBlasio is unfettered development, where we’re seeing the towerization of Manhattan. Neighborhoods are being overrun by these towers and their character has been altered so they are encroaching on public spaces like parks and libraries.”
On why he keeps running for mayor rather than another office:
This election will be the third time Albanese’s name is on the ballot for mayor, since he dropped out of the 2001 race before Election Day. But he said his previous losses aren’t deterring him because it’s his passion to lead the city.
“I don’t want to be a governor, I don’t want to be a president — I can’t anyway because I’m an immigrant — bottom line is I just want to be a mayor. The difference this time is I think people are tired of business as usual, and I think my proposals are very sound, and also people are beginning to realize that DeBlasio is a failed mayor and they are looking for an alternative. And in this election, the fact that I’m the only one standing on the stage besides DeBlasio has made me a viable option. The one problem I do have, the funding is not up to DeBlasio’s, because I don’t accept money from big real estate and lobbyists, and I’m considered ‘unreliable’ by those people given my history in the city Council.”
On being called the underdog:
Albanese said he takes issue with being called the long-shot mayoral candidate, and believes DeBlasio’s camp is using that characterization as a tactic to undercut his viability as an alternative. And he noted that in the last few weeks he’s gained popularity, especially after going head-to-head with DeBlasio during the debate, and stumping in neighborhoods across all five boroughs.
“People are beginning to recognize me around the city and know that I’m running for mayor. Getting my name out there is now starting not to be a problem because of the debate, there’s been a huge chunk of media interest. I can convince people I can do this job — and of course my experience is wider and better than DeBlasio’s. He’s been a professional politician — I’ve been a teacher, lawyer, got a finance background, people see that. I think we’re going to generate a better-than-average turnout because there are a lot of people that want DeBlasio out of office all over the city — people who deeply dislike him or are ‘blah’ about him. DeBlasio’s strategy is clear, he’s doing everything he can do dampen my candidacy by downplaying it. I think DeBlasio’s folks are out there trying to say, ‘Well he’s not a serious candidate,’ to dampen the turnout. I believe the race is going to be close, I really do. It’s hard to predict victory right now. I’m still an underdog, but I think the race is a lot closer than people think, and we’re going to do very well.”
On his relationship with Gov. Cuomo:
Albanese had worked with Cuomo back when he was a district leader and Cuomo was the campaign manager for his father’s 1982 gubernatorial race. He said he certainly does not agree with everything the governor has said and done, but believes establishing a cordial and respectful political relationship, unlike DeBlasio’s, is the key to successfully running the city.
“It would be part of my job to get along with Cuomo — you can’t take this stuff personally — it’s business — you really have to get along with the governor, that doesn’t mean you have to do everything that he says. I would be respectful, but very assertive. I think the relationship is toxic with DeBlasio.”
On being a sanctuary city:
Albanese did commend DeBlasio’s efforts to protect immigrants in the city, especially those who are undocumented, and said he would continue to fight against the White House to protect all of the city’s residents.
“I’m going to continue the sanctuary-city approach that we’ve taken for a number of years, and basically continue to criticize what’s happening in Washington. I’m not going to turn our police or health-care professionals into immigration agents. That would be a disaster. It’s morally wrong and also a public safety issue. I don’t know what more we could be doing, I think in this particular case, DeBlasio is doing a decent job at protecting the undocumented. But I’m open to suggestions.”
On police-community relations:
Albanese criticized DeBlasio’s relationship with New York’s Finest and said he unfairly politicizes the force. He said making sure that the men and women in blue look like the communities they serve is crucial for the safety and trust of the people of the city. And he proposed sending out trained mental-health professionals along with officers to handle cases of emotionally disturbed persons, where recently too many victims are being shot and killed.
“The police force is majority minority now, which is great, when I was in the city Council it was predominantly Irish and Italian cops. We need more African-Americans, it’s still not high enough. I think what the police officers resent about the mayor is the way he’s politicized policing. He’s demoralized the force. There are a number of people who suffer from mental illness in the city. I also want to explore the possibility of having civilian mental health workers respond to Emotionally Disturbed People incidents. EDPs are skyrocketing in the city, there are a lot. I’d like to see a team of mental-health workers respond to some of the jobs and have the cops as a backup because even though supposedly they are being trained, the average police officer I don’t think has the knowledge to deal with the EDPs. There are people who have mental-health backgrounds who can go in and actually defuse these situations and the cops will be outside, if they need to go in. I want to experiment with that as mayor because so many of these horrific incidents involve mentally ill people.”
On affordable housing:
Albanese wants a pied-à-terre tax — taxing luxury second homes in the city that are not a primary residence and often purchaed by international buyers, as opposed to DeBlasio’s failed proposal for a “millionaires tax” — to fund more affordable housing. He also pointed to one of Comptroller Scott Stringer’s 2016 reports, which found that the city owns more than 1,000 parcels of vacant land that could be developed into affordable housing.
“I want to build true affordable housing that the people in these neighborhoods can afford. The city owns 1,000 parcels of land. I want to use those parcels as the affordable housing. We can build about 67,000 true affordable units. We need to redesign this whole program and part of the reason we have this homeless crisis is because of his policies. DeBlasio’s tax-the-rich scheme doesn’t work because he’s rolled that out three times and it impacts thousands of New Yorkers. I’m also willing to spend capital dollars to get that affordable housing built because it’s so important to the city.”
Albanese called the subway system the lifeblood of the city, but said it’s crumbling, and hard-working New Yorkers are suffering. Albanese said he supports the MoveNY initiative — which includes congestion pricing in Lower Manhattan and tolls on all East River bridges, and which Hizzoner opposed — to generate revenue to repair the subway.
“We have a number of major issues that [DeBlasio] has not addressed, one is mass transit. I want to be the mass transit mayor when I become the mayor. For three-and-a-half years, this mayor has basically ignored mass transit. What I want to do is have a mass-transit summit when I get elected and bring all the stakeholders together and really plan short-range and long-range on fixing the signal systems and expanding parts of the subway service to parts of the city. We have to get people out of their cars. Traffic congestion is the worst ever, I support MoveNY by the way, which DeBlasio doesn’t, which would generate another billion dollars into mass-transit roads and bridges.”
At the end of the meeting, Albanese answered a quick series of questions.
• Is the media fair to politicians?: Yes.
• Does global warming exist, and if so, is it caused by humans burning fossil fuels?: “Absolutely. I believe that’s definitely man made, mainly caused by fossil fuels.”
• Fracking in upstate New York?: No.
• Should Fort Hamilton Army Base rename the streets within it named after Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson?: Yes.
• Where would you work out?: “I have an elliptical machine in my basement. I don’t care where [DeBlasio] works out but why would you drive 11 miles everyday to a Park Slope gym to sit on an exercise bike? You can do that at home, you can do that at Gracie Mansion, at City Hall. And he gets to work at 12 pm and he takes a nap, so he’s working half a day.”