Interview with Greg Aidala: Candidate For Mayor of Albany
1. What is your background and what motivated you to run for public office?
I grew up in the Capital Region and my family has long standing roots in the West Hill section of Albany. My grandparents came to Albany from Sicily more than 80 years ago, and my grandfather opened Quail Auto sales on Quail Street 78 years ago – where it remains to this day. I was fortunate to grow up in such a culturally rich and diverse area with a history that reaches far beyond our nation’s birth. As the grandchildren of immigrants I realize that everyone comes to our great nation with a dream of a better life, and it immensely saddens me to see what has become of New York’s Capitol City and how the failed policies of the Sheehan Administration are depriving this and future generations of participation in the American Dream.
I entered this race to become mayor of Albany because I witnessed one of my neighbors gunned down in the streets in the neighborhood I love so dearly. And Kathy Sheehan’s response was, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. This callous indifference, and acceptance of the results of her failed policies terrified me. What chance do we have to rebuild Albany if the mayor accepts violence as a daily reality? Albany is one of the most violent cities in America, but it hasn’t always been that way – it lies squarely at the feet of Kathy Sheehan. Our neighbor Colonie on the other hand has consistently been one of the safest towns in America. It left me with a question that there is only one answer to. Why can’t Albany be the safest, healthiest and smartest small cities in America? The tragic answer to that question is Kathy Sheehan.
2. I know that the out -of -control crime in Albany is a problem and only seems to be increasing. How will you curb it if you are elected?
This has been the central focus of my campaign, so I’m glad you asked. Until we get the out-of-control violence in check Albany will never come back. People in the sections of Albany that Kathy Sheehan has forgotten about will continue to fear leaving their homes. And with the random violence, and nearly daily shootings, more and more residents will see their walls pierced by errant gun fire as happened recently just a block or so from my home. The day care center located next door to my family’s business and Pastor Charlie’s former food pantry and soup kitchen around the corner from our business have also had bullets go through their walls and windows. Pastor Charlie had to move his staff from that building because they simply were not safe. Thankfully he still feeds and educates local children – but from a much safer location.
And it is not just residents living in fear of indiscriminate violence. Businesses are folding up shop and leaving in droves because they don’t believe their investments are safe in Kathy Sheehan’s Albany. Likewise, too many properties are becoming blighted and abandoned and need to be condemned for public safety – or brought up to code and put into productive use. Unfortunately, this won’t happen until the violence ends and City Hall instills confidence in the employers needed to create a strong financial base that allows stability. And make no mistake, the lack of jobs, opportunity and hope perpetuates criminal activity and violence.
My plan is straightforward:
- Fully staff the police and promote diversity within its ranks to ensure that the officer corps represents the communities it serves, bridging years of mistrust perpetuated by opportunistic politicians who benefit from division and fear the unity in community.
- Adopt a zero-tolerance policy from quality-of-life crimes and violations to felonies. “Broken windows policing” is proven to work, and once criminals feel the unrelenting pressure of law and order they will stop, just as they did in New York City in the late 90’s.
- Create an anonymous community tip line focused on the City of Albany that provides significant cash rewards for information leading to the arrest of criminals that prey upon our neighborhoods and our most vulnerable residents.
3. Will you hire more police officers if elected and where will you find the money to do so?
For 2021, the Albany Police Department is budgeted for 279 officers, 39 Sergeants and 16 Lieutenants. The ranks currently consist of 214 officer 32 Sergeants and 15 Lieutenants. Albany is down approximately 75 officers and is losing officers faster than they can replace them.
It’s not about adding more budget lines – although that would certainly be welcome – we need to first get to authorized strength. We need to stop the mass exodus by standing with our brave women and men rather than scapegoating them. Albany recently held an academy class that started with 30 officer cadets, only 15 made it through graduation, and 7 of the 15 immediately left for other agencies.
How can you bring an agency back up to full strength under such a scenario? To add insult to injury, Kathy Sheehan made no effort to recoup the lost training costs for these 7 officers which is approximately $100,000 and which Albany is entitled under state law to recover from the agencies that hired these graduates. We can’t afford to lose these officers and we certainly can’t throw money away.
4. Much of the tax base has left Albany, what will you do to get them to come back?
I will create safe communities that people want to live in, and businesses want to invest in.
I will get the abandoned and blighted properties back into productive use either by condemning them to create green spaces or seizing and auctioning them to first time homeowners under my “Bid It, Fix It, Live It Initiative” that will utilize micro-loans funded by federal stimulus money.
I will keep residents here by making residential property taxes less onerous – and for seniors making less than $100,000 a year we will eliminate their city property tax entirely, helping them stay in their homes with dignity.
With a stable and growing population, and safe streets, businesses will have a reason to make the City of Albany their home again.
5. What are you hearing from voters while you are out campaigning?
I am honestly hearing a lot of anxiety. Many of those who can afford to leave are planning to do so, and for those that cannot afford to leave I hear fear, apprehension, despondency and almost an acquiescence to “this is the way it will be” because Albany is a one-party town run by a political machine that is oblivious to anything but the desires of the ruling elites.
When they hear my message of hope, learn about my ties to the community and why I’m fighting their mood begins to change. I begin to see and hear hope from them and that pushes me to keep fighting. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m facing a hard uphill battle against deeply entrenched interests. That doesn’t faze me in the least because I know who I am, I know my values and I know who I’m fighting for and why.
6. In your zoom debate with fellow opponent Alicia Purdy, Mayor Sheehan claimed that she didn’t ‘recognize’ the Albany that you and Purdy have described. What are your thoughts on that? I am going to guess she does not walk through Arbor Hill and other problem areas of the city.
I have never seen Kathy Sheehan walk the streets of West Hill except for photo opportunities. Kathy Sheehan claims she lives in Arbor Hill, believe me, there are no homes like hers anywhere near my neighborhood. It is safe to say that there are no bullet holes piercing her walls and I know for sure that nobody bled out in front of her front door. This is just another pathetic attempt by the mayor to ingratiate herself with the voters by pretending to be something that she is not.
Kathy Sheehan doesn’t recognize the Albany that I talk about because she only steps out of her ivory tower to travel to city hall.
7. What are your favorite things about Albany and what would you like to preserve?
I love the cultural heritage of Albany that goes back centuries and pre-dates our nation’s founding. Even before Henry Hudson claimed what is today Albany for the Dutch in 1609, Native American tribes including the Algonquins, Mohicans, Iroquois and Mohawks called the lush and vibrant region home. Their contributions to our founding government are significant, and unfortunately, not recognized enough.
As our fledgling nation grew, the influx of immigrants found their way to our neighborhoods and created enclaves that allowed their traditions to flourish and endure. And these new arrivals showed us that our strength is in promoting shared values and experiences while respecting our diversity and unique contributions to a greater community. I love Albany and its people. I’ve traveled the world, but my roots and heart have always been here.
As the state of New York’s Capitol City Albany is a center of education, art and culture. That legacy is at risk, and as a patron of the arts and the grandchildren of immigrants I want future generations to appreciate one of our nation’s oldest cities.
8. Why should voters vote for you?
I’m not a politician, I’m a concerned citizen that has a history of identifying problems and building coalitions to solve them. I haven’t made a career of “public service,” I know what it is to struggle to keep a small business going in an environment that throws obstacle after obstacle at you.
I am beholden to no one, and I will enter office without political obligations or burdened by party apparatus expectations.
I don’t have all the answers and I’m not afraid to admit that. I will wake up every morning asking myself what I can do to improve the lives of Albany residents, and I’ll go to bed each night asking myself how well I did and what I could have done better.
I want to thank everyone who has offered me words of support during this journey. Win or lose, and I intend to win, I’ve grown through this opportunity by developing a better appreciation of the challenges, needs and hopes of my neighbors. I gained this appreciation by walking the streets that few venture to because they are too dangerous thanks to Kathy Sheehan’s disastrous policies.
And that is really what it boils down to. How can you fix a city if you refuse to see it is broken? How can you understand the plight of those most in need if you won’t venture into their neighborhoods to speak with them and ask how you can help? How can you think outside the box when you are trapped in a political bubble controlled by special interests?
It is time for change because Albany won’t recover without a fresh perspective and the commitment of independent minded Albanians who are willing to put party aside and vote for our common interests and future. I’ve always voted for principle over party, and that is why I declined the support of both the Democrat and Republican parties and am running as an independent.
If you share my vision, hope and commitment to making Albany the safest, healthiest and smartest small city in America, I ask for your vote. To learn more about my campaign and platform, visit: gregformayor2021.com
by Nancy Muldoon
You call yourself a New Generation Republican, like a lot of women did you start out being a Democrat or were you always a Republican?
I’ve always been registered as an Independent, until the past few years, but in New York State, the “Independent” party no longer exists. So, rather than being a “no party” voter, I decided to choose one of the major parties so I could vote in any primaries. Right now, only Republicans or Democrats can vote in primaries and, although it didn’t matter much to me in the past, I decided that I’d like to have the option going forward. I chose Republican because it was a closer fit to my personal values than the Democrat party, although I don’t consider myself to be someone who is accurately represented by any labels- political or otherwise!
Everyone who has ever run for office in Albany says they are going to change things. What usually ends up happening is they become part of the Albany machine. How can voters count on you not becoming part of the Albany machine?
From the first days of my campaign, I have very intentionally stayed away from the word “change”, because that word means something different to everyone. For some, “change” is simply a different candidate in the same party, which is what we currently have in Albany. Lots of “change”, but nothing actually changes. From day one, I have used the word “transform”. In fact, that is the acronym that guides my plan for Albany’s future under my leadership: “Operation: T.R.A.N.S.F.O.R.M.” I use the word “transform” and “transformation” frequently because a transformation is the creation of an entirely new thing, and that’s what I envision for Albany. In practical terms, that means we’ll transform the way we approach leadership- by putting people first. What are people saying? What things do people raise as concerns? Right now, in City Hall and largely on the Common Council, there are leaders who simply anticipate what people want, rather than finding out for themselves. They pass legislation that doesn’t accurately represent our city and call it ‘change’. I want to see Albany transform by raising up leadership from among the people, not hiring people to rule over the top of them.
As for the machine- I am not an entrenched politician with decades of public tax money lining my pockets. I am a seasoned journalist who has covered government and investments for most of the career. I come from a people-focused background and career, I am an average resident in Albany with a family and friendships and as a journalist, I believe that people must hold their leadership accountable and be empowered to enforce transformation if their government isn’t serving them well. No one has made me promises of money or power. My only political aspiration is to show people the power they have and enable them to use it for their lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness. I am as anti-machine as a candidate can be!
Albany is a tough place, what do you foresee as the biggest challenges for you in Albany?
The biggest challenge as a candidate has been engaging people who have become so disillusioned with the status quo that they’ve given up – on themselves and on their city. A lot of people I speak to see Albany as a “tough place”, but when you really dig in, you begin to realize that they feel Albany is “tough” because they’ve had no advocate in their government, no one who cares or pays attention, no one who listens or shows basic human concern. It’s mentally and emotionally draining and people are exhausted from bearing the weight of crime and death in the city, tax burdens and very real fear of the retribution of the current administration.
As mayor, I foresee my biggest challenge being untangling the mess and chaos left by the current administration. From policing and public safety to the filth in the streets, contract disputes, angry residents, and beyond, I know the job will be enormous, but I am determined and patient and I know we can transform how Albany is served by its mayor when we put people first.
Governor Cuomo is gone but the corruption has stayed. How will you fight against it?
As a leader, one of my greatest disappointments was the day I met Kathy Hochul. I was looking forward to meeting her and she slapped my hand away when I offered it in a show of friendship. She was walking down Lark Street and people were freely walking up to her saying hello, so I did the same. She was rude, pushed away my hand and ignored my pleasant greeting. As her new role as governor unfolded, I began to watch more closely and saw for myself that she is “change”, but that nothing will change in New York with her. She stayed silent when our beloved elderly residents were dying alone in their beds from Cuomo’s COVID debacle, which makes her complicit in those deaths. She has claimed she wasn’t aware of Cuomo’s widely known sexual proclivities, which means she’s either lying or too weak to take a stand- and our great state deserves better.
The incumbent mayor in Albany, Kathy Sheehan, the dear friend and political ally of both Kathy Hochul and Andrew Cuomo is part of the deep-seated corruption and she must be fired immediately- that will be the first step in fighting corruption in our state. Kathy Sheehan has allowed bullies from the state to funnel up into Albany and trample all over the everyday residents and use and abuse our resources, in exchange for money and power while the crime and blight that overwhelm us is ignored. Fighting corruption starts with a new mayor in Albany who will stand in direct opposition to the political game of thrones in our state. I am not afraid to push nor to stand firm and I’ll use every tool at my disposal (and some creative ones too!) to ensure people are put over politics in Albany.
Albany crime is out of control. How will you reduce it?
Reducing crime starts with upholding the laws and ordinances in our city, and that is my commitment. Over the past eight years our city has endured riots and occupations, aggressive panhandling, and a steady flow of drugs and shooting deaths. Tensions between the police and community are extremely high, with accusations flying both ways. As mayor, I will ensure that the laws and ordinances we have are upheld and that we use every resource at our disposal to help—that includes available grant programs and training, filling over 80 positions in the Albany Police Department, harnessing the power of updated technology, and utilizing programs already in place to support communities suffering from the failed policies of the incumbent mayor.
Currently, Albany’s Common Council, our legislative branch of government, is asserting legislation through the Common Council president that would “uncouple” policing and public safety in an attempt to address crime in Albany. I believe this to be another failed attempt at “change” that will further harm Albany. Policing does need addressing, but putting civilians in harms way during the deadly situations like violence and mental health breakdowns is a fantasy that will quickly turn into a nightmare for us. The incumbent mayor Sheehan has publicly said “We are a city of protestors,” and “We invite protestors to Albany.” She has also seized the power of an emergency order to shut down a veteran-owned small business as a “nuisance” because of violence and crime, when six shootings in Albany have taken place in the same section of the city over the past few months. She has slowly defunded the police without the knowledge of residents and repeatedly turned down offers to help our city from good people who care. Clearly, she doesn’t uphold the laws and clearly the crime policies in Albany aren’t working under Sheehan and clearly her approach to addressing crime have failed. My vision for Albany’s transformation in approaching crime includes harnessing the power of every available opportunity, every program, every grant, every resource and every person who has a vested interest in this city to pour in. Additionally, as we restore our police in Albany, we can address a more comprehensive approach like undercover units, comm-stat systems, and K-9 units.
Albany’s tax base seems to be moving out of New York State. New Yorkers are clearly fed up with high crime and taxes, how will you convince them to stay?
This issue is not just in Albany, but is happening across the state- a mass exodus due to failed bail reform policies and sky high taxes. The taxes in Albany are convoluted and extremely broad and produce nothing that improves the quality of life we all experience—in fact, things are getting worse daily! Blight and crime are two major issues that ruin the joy of living in Albany. To convince good families, younger people and small businesses to put down roots in Albany, crime and blight need to be addressed and “Operation: TRANSFORM” brings fresh ideas into the antiquated perspectives of the incumbent, but convincing people to stay will take more than that. I have committed to a one-year pause on raising taxes on Albany while our city regroups and combs through the budget, collaborates on crime and gets the blight under control. If Albany were thriving, the taxes would not be such an issue, but in exchange for the high taxes now, residents have nothing to show that they can be proud of. A new mayor will change everything! A people-focused leadership team will provide the hope that people need to stay and be part of our transformation. Businesses want to stay, but they’re driven out. Families want to stay, but the crime is filling them with dread and fear. Young professionals want to move into the city, but the cost of living is a huge obstacle. The incumbent has failed—across the board—and the corruption in how the money in Albany is brought in and put back out into the city has wreaked havoc and damage on everyone except the powerholders.
Will you be mandating city of Albany workers to become vaccinated?
Absolutely not! As Mayor of Albany, I have committed to no vaccine mandates and no vaccine passports in our city. I have also demanded to know if incumbent mayor Sheehan will commit to this as well. She has refused to answer. However, we’ve seen in her history that she has no qualms about declaring a state of emergency to use whatever power she sees fit, like a monarch, not a mayor. No government nor elected official should ever seize power of the body of another person. I will not mandate the health actions of any city worker, and I support the personal choice of each individual to make the right health decisions for themselves along with their healthcare provider.
Do you think your background as a journalist is advantageous to you regarding what goes on in the State legislature?
In the early days of my journalism career, I worked as a reporter for a small news company in the New York State Assembly and that is where I really began to see myself running for elected office one day. Later on, I had a boss who had spent his early career with the Carter administration and he put me through the rigors of covering government and taught me many of the intricacies of political journalism. One of the most stunning things I learned is just how much activity is happening in the legislative bodies of government that most people will never know about. As a journalist, government transparency is paramount, as well as journalists operating as a check and balance to government.
In Albany, the incumbent mayor Sheehan has, again, abused her power and defunded our local city TV channel, “Channel Albany” and does all city business from social media (Facebook, and YouTube), which is a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of the press. By removing funding from Channel Albany, Sheehan has handily ensured that no one neutrally positioned asks any tough questions. By moving meetings to Zoom, under the guise of COVID (while she has been see walking around Albany without a mask many times) she has prevented the people of Albany from accessing her and their elected officials. As a journalist, I am committed to holding government accountable, and as Mayor of Albany, I will hold myself to that. We will re-fund our public access channel and promote it, build it up and ensure that there are people in place to keep government in check.
Albany public schools are a dysfunctional mess, how will you change that?
In Albany, the city government and the city school board operate largely independently, which I believe is utterly lazy leadership. As a mother of five children, I see youth as the future of our city and I will fight for a greater place at the table in our schools. In many cities, there is mayoral representation on the school board and we that in Albany. Sheehan has shown no interest in our abysmal graduation rates, but I see the students in Albany as a tremendous resource to be poured into! I have spoken with many in Albany who are loved and respected and share my vision to provide job opportunities, training, education, enrichment, inspiration and a safe place to spend time after school—and they want to help! Addressing the needs of youth in Albany is imperative and it is also part of the approach to crime that I see going forward—everything from reopening the youth centers Sheehan defunded and closed to providing kids with resources they need to succeed. Parents also need support, especially in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic and a huge failure of Albany’s leadership is pouring money into legacy skybridges and not creating a support infrastructure around parents who need support with youth- especially those kids at risk for being swept into gangs. People are the path to transformation in Albany, but the first and most transformative thing this city must do is vote in a new mayor.
Albany has become visibly filthy, what are you going to do to clean it up?
Albany has become visibly filthy and yet taxes are sky high. Residents are embarrassed and ashamed of the blight, trash and filth yet feel helpless to do anything. Broken lightbulbs, overflowing garbage all over, metal sticking out of the ground, orange cones covering things up, potholes everywhere, old mattresses propped up against buildings, grass and shrubbery overgrown and the “red X” all over- especially in challenged areas. Many people think that addressing blight is fraught with red tape, waiting time, codes and permits and political agendas, and while that is true, here’s what I learned very early on in my campaign:
One day, I saw a decrepit building on social media, a horrible, leaning, broken building that had been vandalized many times. I went down to it and made a video, speaking out about the trash and blight, and the hidden drugs and the crime it was attracting, even as a man was prowling through a dumpster right behind me! I criticized the incumbent mayor Sheehan for her ongoing failures as a city manager and pointed out the many issues. A week later, I got a call from a friend who told me to hurry back to that building, near the Mansion district. When I arrived, the building was being torn down! It had been standing for 25 years and my informant said an “emergency order” from Sheehan had been issued to take down the building after decades of complaints about it. What I learned was this: If it benefits Kathy Sheehan to address blight, crime, taxes, housing, poverty, racism and policing, she’ll do it. Otherwise? She’ll continue on the path of personal power accumulation and leave the rest of us to disintegrate in our beautiful city.
To clean up the city of Albany, it’s largely about caring enough to do it. It is about putting resources and money into the things that improve the lives of residents. It is about listening to people, and about putting on a pair of work gloves and making sure it gets done, and about leading by example. Not only have I done that, I will continue to do it because I was born and raised in the Capital Region, unlike Sheehan who is from Chicago, and I have an abiding love for this city that compels me to honor it with all that I do.
I am running as Mayor of Albany because I am confident that the city is ready for a fresh set of eyes and new leadership that is people-focused. I live here and work here. I am raising my family here. I was born and raised in this area and my family has been in and around Albany for generations. My vision for Albany’s future is called “Operation: T.R.A.N.S.F.O.R.M.” and it starts with a comprehensive examination of each area in Albany that directly relates to the lived experiences of residents. Albany, NY, is the most influential city in America because we are uniquely positioned as the seat of power for New York State, and New York City, where the world comes to visit, live and do business. Our city has suffered for 100 years from the ravages of single-party rule and it is time for a TRANSFORMATION. A new mayor doesn’t solve all our problems, but it is the most significant first step in addressing them more effectively, focused on people as our greatest resource! http://www.TransformAlbany.com