Culture Magazine

Democracy in Albany

By Fsrcoin

images-1The other night I attended a “meet-the-candidate” at a private home, for Albany mayoral hopeful Kathy Sheehan. (I’d already been to one, but this second invitation was from the estimable Bob Ward, so I couldn’t say no.)

Four years ago, the city treasurer, a political operative, was embroiled in a smarmy scandal. Sheehan, an outsider with a nonpolitical background in law and industry, ran and beat her in the Democratic primary. This year, Sheehan’s mayoral bid was probably a long-shot until the 20-year incumbent suddenly bowed out.

Kathy Sheehan is clearly a sincere, intelligent, serious-minded person who’s been attending many meet-and-greets like this, not just to get votes but also as a preparation for governing the city (I don’t think her primary opponents can win, and Albany’s Republicans are on the endangered species list).

Darius Shahinfar

Darius Shahinfar

Also present was Darius Shahinfar, another good guy, running for Treasurer. In conversation, he stressed how too often his fellow Democrats fail to understand how their policies undermine businesses, which we need for people to have good jobs. (One might almost think he reads this blog – but actually, his opponent is a conspicuous offender in this regard.)

Neighborly gatherings like this are fairly unique to American politics, and viewing it from the standpoint of an Olympian observer, I was frankly moved. Sheehan will be running a not-unimportant city, and here she was interacting unpretentiously, as equals, with fairly ordinary folks, interested in what they had to say. This shouldn’t be taken for granted even in today’s democratized world – indeed, especially today when cynicism about politics is so rampant.

Cover art by Jenness Cortez

Cover art by Jenness Cortez

In fact, the scene had special resonance for me. I told Ms. Sheehan I’m gratified that we’ll at last have a “normal” mayor. When I arrived in 1970, the city was ruled – and that’s the right word – by Erastus Corning, in the midst of a 41-year tenure, stalwart of an entrenched old-fashioned political machine. I spent several years battling hard against it and, in 1973, also wrote the book chronicling and dissecting that political machine. It weathered those efforts at the time. But I like to think I did make a contribution to the long historical process that ultimately disabled the machine and normalized Albany politics.

The individual making a difference is something of cliché. Well, maybe sometimes one can; but while almost no election is ever decided by a single vote, it’s the true essence of democracy that citizens collectively always make the difference. Blaming everything on “the politicians” is mistaken. It’s really we the people who have the responsibility.

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