Albanese Runs Empathetic Race Against Odds

Mayoral candidate Sal Albanese pushes his ideas on education, housing and development despite dismal poll numbers. (Photo by Jehangir Khattak/Voices of NY)

Mayoral candidate Sal Albanese took questions from reporters and editors at a Q&A organized by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. (Photo by Jehangir Khattak/Voices of NY)

Mayoral candidate Sal Albanese is still optimistic about his chances despite dismal poll numbers and little name recognition after leaving politics for the private sector 15 years ago.

The former Brooklyn councilman spoke about his campaign strategy, his opponents and his positions on a variety of issues from stop-and-frisk to reforming education during a Q&A session with reporters and editors from the city’s ethnic and community media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Albanese, who according to a Quinnipiac University poll released this week has the support of only 1 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, believes he can grow his candidacy by running on his City Council record while not accepting donations from lobbyists or developers.

“To be financed by lobbies, developers, people who do business with the city, when you [become mayor], you’re doomed,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to get anything done because you owe so many favors all over town. I don’t want the job under those circumstances.”

Banking that the upcoming debates will bolster his name recognition, he believes he’ll be one of two candidates in the runoff. (Albanese was not invited to participate in Tuesday’s televised mayoral debate.)

Asked about the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s decision last week to deny City Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu campaign matching funds, which has been criticized by Asian voters, Albanese said he did not believe the decision was racially motivated.

On the topic of Anthony Weiner, whose campaign has imploded after it was revealed that he continued sending sexually graphic texts after he resigned from Congress over the same behavior, Albanese proudly said he was the first to say Weiner should remove himself from the race.

“It’s not about the sexting. It’s about the fact that he has not been straight with voters,” Albanese said. “The fact is I don’t think he has the judgment or character to be mayor and I said that in the very beginning.”

And though he did not mention Bill Thompson’s name in the Q&A organized by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media, Albanese did take issue with the former comptroller’s comment that linked the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk to George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer acquitted of murder after shooting Trayvon Martin.

On the stop-and-frisk policy, which a federal judge ruled on Monday violated the constitutional rights of minorities, Albanese said he was against hiring an inspector general to oversee the department but wanted to train officers to better distinguish what constitutes a “constitutional stop.”

He declined to name possible candidates to be his police commissioner but outlined plans for the NYPD which include adding 3,800 more officers to strengthen community policing.

“We have to rebuild trust between police and communities because right now we’re down about 7,500 officers and we’re getting back to the days when cops are responding to jobs and that’s the only time they’re interacting with the public and that’s not a good thing,” he said.

Albanese served 15 years in the City Council starting in 1983. He was an early supporter of gay rights and campaign finance reform and passed a living wage bill in 1996 that was opposed by then Mayor Giuliani. He first ran for City Hall in 1997 garnering 21 percent of the Democratic primary vote.

When it came to minority issues, the Italian-born Albanese said he wants to allocate more city funds to advertise in local and ethnic media. He also supports offering halal food to students in public schools and closing schools for Muslim holidays.

“If we do it for every other holiday, we have to do it for the Muslim religion as well,” he said.

Albanese, a former teacher, outlined other changes he’d like to make on education, which includes merging all early childhood development programs and better teacher training through residency programs.

“I really want to be the education mayor. Bloomberg is a faux-education mayor,” he said. “It will be my top priority and I’ve got real plans to address it.”

He said tackling affordability is connected to education because children living in poverty are more likely to be disadvantaged in the system. He wants to add 210,000 more affordable units of housing and establish a 70/30 percent split between market and affordable units for new developments instead of 80/20.

Asked how he would fund these plans while also promising to pay city workers retroactively after not receiving a raise for five years, he answered that a combination of public and private partnerships, modernizing union pensions and savings through consolidating programs and medical plans would help make them possible.

“I want to be a mayor that people in every neighborhood will say, ‘Albanese cares about us’ and I think [Mayor Bloomberg] lacks that empathy,” he said. “Maybe when you’re worth $26 million it’s hard to empathize with average folks.”

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