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County BOE Commissioners Still On The Hot Seat Over Potential Move To Albany’s South End

Wanda Willingham at the podium outside the DMV on South Pearl Street, Albany.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
County Legislator Wanda Willingham at the podium outside the DMV on South Pearl Street, Albany.

Elected officials and civic leaders appear to be at an impasse over controversial remarks by Albany County Board of Elections officials about the city’s South End community.

Albany County Legislature Deputy Chair Wanda Willingham has been leading the call for Republican Board of Elections Commissioner Rachel Bledi to resign after Bledi called the neighborhood "a dangerous place." It came about when Bledi spoke out against moving the BOE to the county-owned Department of Vehicles building once the DMV re-locates to Central Avenue.  "With the comments that she made and wanting to feel a thing that she feel that the County Exec should meet her halfway in making a decision as to where the Board of Elections is located, I think her remarks are racist, I think it's not only that, it's insulting to not just the South End, but to all of Albany County. I'm calling for her resignation because I don't believe that she can make decisions clearly in regard to how the people of Albany County will be able to vote."

County Executive Dan McCoy says the people of the South End deserve an apology, not only from Bledi, but from Democratic Elections Commissioner Matt Clyne, who has remained silent on the matter. Clyne did not return calls for comment from WAMC.  "It's alarming that he sits there quietly and has not said anything. I was hoping that he would just speak up and say 'I do not agree with my fellow commissioner, and it's not a bad neighborhood.'"

Bledi doesn't appear interested in tendering a resignation any time soon.   "The concerns that I raised are shared by many and we did receive many calls at the Board of Elections this week by constituents and by inspectors, urging us to keep on fighting, because there is concern regarding security and lack of security measures at the DMV building itself and security concerns in the area itself."

Bledi cites "numerous articles in the Times Union" as supporting her stance.   "As early as 2016 of local residents complaining about concerns regarding activities, illegal activities, which is the exact term that they used in the article in the T-U, stemming from the DMV parking lot itself. Loitering and other such matters that local residents have expressed concerns regarding rising crime and just general quality of life issues."

McCoy invited Bledi and Clyne to "walk the streets of the South End" with him anytime. Mayor Kathy Sheehan says she would welcome the opportunity to work there.   "This would be a wonderful place to come very day, day in and day out, to see what's happening here. To get to know and understand the people who live here."

Again, Bledi:  "And I invite her to. But as of today we have not received any commitment from County Executive Dan McCoy or from Mayor Sheehan to actually move their offices in that location, and I certainly invite them to lead by example and to do so."

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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