After NYULocal introduced the mayoral candidates last week, longshot Democratic contender Sal Albanese volunteered to speak with us about his candidacy for City Hall and the current state of governance in New York City. Sal Albanese was a City Councilman from 1982-1997 and an NYU grad, having received his Masters’ in Health Science in 1976.
This kicks off our series of interviews with every mayoral vier we can get our hands on. He spoke freely and openly about a wide range of topics concerning Mayor Bloomberg’s time in office and his own experience as a public sector servant. Enjoy.
NYULocal: Why are you running for Mayor? Why now?
Albanese: I’ve had a deep interest in public service for my entire life. I was a schoolteacher for eleven years, on the City Council for fifteen years, and in the private sector the last fifteen. Public service is a vocation; it’s an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. There’s no better position than Mayor to impact people’s lives in every neighborhood. I feel as though this city has been great to me and my family, and I want to give future generations the same opportunities. I’m not a professional politician. I ran for mayor in 1997, got 22% of the vote in the primary and that was 15 years ago; with that said, I’ve enjoyed working in the private sector but now I feel like it’s the right time to come back into the public arena and run for this position.
The city faces some unique challenges. We have competition from other cities. As urban centers are popping up around the world, the competition will be stiff. We can’t wait for issues to hit us. We can’t rest on our laurels, but Sandy showed that we’re doing just that. We’ve been warned 10 years about a Sandy-like storm and yet we had no preparations. I use that as an example of reactive policymaking. We have to be proactive.
NYULocal: Given the breadth of the field running for mayor, why should New Yorkers vote for you?
Albanese: The most important characteristic that I bring is independence. The people I’m running against are part of a political class that is out of touch. If you look at who contributed to their campaigns, it’s a group of special interest folks. At the end of the day, you can spout a lot of rhetoric; but if you’re indebted to special interests, you can’t make decisions based on the merits. I’m basing my campaign on a grassroots effort which, thank God, we can do in New York. That’s because the campaign finance laws – which I helped write – match small contributions on a six to one basis.
The other aspect is my experience. I think I’m the most qualified person to lead the city. I came as an immigrant at the age of eight, and 40% of the city are immigrants. I have teaching experience – I taught for eleven years in the city schools, so I understand education from the ground up. I served in the City Council for fifteen years. I have a good understanding of the dynamics of government, so I know how to get things done. I also have significant private sector experience as an attorney and financial services professional. I’ve spent the last 15 years working as the managing director for a financial services firm, with experience in budgeting and organizational management. On balance, my experience is vastly superior to any of these people who are running. A lot of people talk about independence, I lived it. Examine my record and you’ll see that.
I never took any stipends. You get slush funds for City Council work but in the process you compromise your core values because you have to vote in a way that’s dictated by the leadership. Everything flows from being independent. You hire the best and the brightest; a lot of brainpower and talent in this city is there to be tapped into. If you’re a typical politician, you don’t have the ability to do that because some county Chairman will ask you to appoint XYZ person as comissioner or as a high-level staffer. You get handcuffed and can’t get things done for the people.
NYULocal: Describe your judgement of Michael Bloomberg’s record as Mayor and vision for the City. How does it contrast with your own?
Albanese: Mayor Bloomberg has a mixed record. This last term has not been a good one. First of all, he shouldn’t have run, and he’s taken his eye off the ball since he was elected. On the plus side, he’s done some very good things. I have a Masters’ in health from NYU and I believe in many of the health initiatives he’s put into place. I was a pioneer on those issues, like anti-smoking legislation, on the City Council. I think his economic development strategies have, on balance, been positive. The city has fared better than other cities during the recession. His emphasis on diversifying the economy is a positive one. Specifically, the Cornell campus at Roosevelt Island is going to be a major plus for the City going forward.
On the negative side, I don’t think he has much of an understanding of what most people in the City – and especially in the outer boroughs – who are middle class, or even poor… I don’t think he can relate. When you’re worth $26 billion, it’s hard. He thinks the minimum wage is a communist plot! So, on his ability to empathize with average New Yorkers, I give him an F. Unfortunately, that impacts public policy. There’s his lack of understanding of what teachers go through. I taught for eleven years, it’s a difficult but rewarding job, standing and teaching five classes a day. I don’t think he understands that he’s demonizing the teaching corps. He should have been in the room with the United Federation of Teachers to iron out an agreement over the teacher evaluation system, which might cost the city a half of a billion dollars! It’s irresponsible to not be hands-on. On balance, he’s not been a bad Mayor. He didn’t owe anyone anything, he kept his independence. I’ve been an independent Democrat, I have a record of independence, and am waging a campaign that is not indebted to any special interests.
NYULocal: How can New York keep attracting young people, given the cost of living?
Albanese: Well, you hit on a good point. One of the great attractions of New York is attracting young people who have tremendous energy and brainpower to the city. If they can’t find a place to live, if it’s not affordable, we’re going to lose these people. New York will always be an expensive city; most global capitals are. But we have to make sure that we have the ability to attract these young people. Affordable housing is an important component. One of the things we need to do is maintain our rent stabilization system that is an affordable option for folks and the other thing we need to do is build more affordable housing. There’s a lot of vacant land in this city, and the Mayor came up with microapartments, which isn’t… I mean I’m not criticizing that but we need to do more.
We can’t have a city that’s all rich people.
The interview has been condensed for length.