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Preview: Albany 'State Of The City' Address

Albany City Hall
WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan delivers her State of the City address tonight. The stakes are high for this year's speech.

Sheehan’s third State of the City speech could be a precarious one: she has to navigate her way through the uncertainty of receiving state aid to meet a $12.5 million budget shortfall. Without it, city officials say the tax rate could swell by 22 percent. There have been no signs from the capitol that financial aid may be coming.

Still, Sheehan, a first-term Democrat, has plenty to promote, including a burgeoning downtown business and residential economy and the new convention center project, which will remake many blocks in the heart of the city. But as always, the city also has some major issues to address this year.

There's the Albany High School rebuilding plan, coming up for a second vote February 9th. There's been a lot of criticism over the date selected for the election to pass the revised plan, following a failed vote in November, which, according to Frank Commisso, longtime majority leader of the Albany County Legislature, may lead to yet another burden for taxpayers:   "You can't even get the answers on the project they're trying to put before the voters. And in a very short time, it's already rumored that they wanna do a middle school. So in addition to the increase they're gonna get on this project, there's gonna be another project coming down the pike in a very short time, which is gonna be additional money. When's enough enough? People just can't afford it and nobody's focusing on the seniors that have to decide whether they're going to put a slice of bread on their table or pay their school tax bill."

District officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Albany High, meantime, is grappling with a graduation rate of around 50 percent. School Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard was forced to resign her position last week, and that topic could also come up at tonight's address.  

And then, there's the elephant in the room: the Black Lives Matter movement's interest in the case of Dontay Ivy, an Albany man who died after being tased by police in April 2015. No charges were brought. After an initial call for District Attorney David Soares and the officers involved in the tasing incident to resign apparently fell on deaf ears, a November deadline activists gave Mayor Sheehan to fire Police Chief Brendan Cox predictably came and went as well.

Sean Collins is an organizer with Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration, which promises to appear at City Hall tonight.   "Members of the community are gonna come and rally at city hall and sort of raise an alternative to the State of the City that probably won't be addressed in the mayor's remarks."

Chief Cox, who was not yet head of the department when the Ivy incident took place, is on record saying the officers will not be fired. The Ivy family reiterated their demands in late November through spokeswoman Angelica Clarke.   "We demand the disarmament of the Albany Police, including tasers and firearms. The police have demonstrated repeatedly an inability to appropriately or professionally wield lethal weapons when faced with people of color or individuals with mental illness."

Last word from the police: Chief Cox insists his officers did everything "by the book" the night Ivy died. Mayor Sheehan has been unwavering in her support for the police department. Sheehan’s speech begins at 5:30 p.m.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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