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Albany's Conservative Voice Dies At 81

A high-profile candidate and activist in the city of Albany has died. Joe Sullivan was one of its toughest critics and most ardent supporters.

Sullivan was the self-appointed keeper of his neighborhood, acting as founder and sometimes sole member of the Buckingham Pond/Crestwood Neighborhood Association. He died this week at age 81 after a long fight with cancer. The New Scotland Avenue resident has been a fixture in local politics going back to the time Dan O'Connell ruled the Albany Democratic machine.

Focus on Albany podcast host Cynthia Pooler met Sullivan when both were volunteers for Jerry Brown's 1992 presidential campaign.   "I've always enjoyed the way he conversed and articulated so well. He was really smart. And of course there were a lot of issues that I disagreed with him on but overall I admired and respected his intellect."

Sullivan, a loyal Democratic committeman, slowly drifted right before registering as a Conservative in 2008.  He ran for several political offices, most notably as a candidate in a field of six vying for Albany mayor in 2013, when he took part in a debate at WAMC's Performing Arts Studio, The Linda.   "I think the Hudson River is America's Rhine. We have to re-develop our riverboats to bring tourists up, the waterfront you need a Quincy-type market. And also you need money to do a lot of these other things so, let's put a refinery in the port of Albany to refine the Baaken Oil that's coming in they’re now and being train shipped down the Hudson to other places and use that money to increase our tax base."

Kathy Sheehan went on to win that race and is serving her second term as mayor.   "Joe Sullivan was somebody who was very well-known around Albany. I think he ran for officer at virtually every level. At the state level, the federal level, I think he ran for Congress, ran for mayor and for common council. And he was also a neighbor. I enjoyed seeing him out walking his dogs and he was just somebody who really loved Albany. And so while we may not have agreed politically, his passion for his community was clear, and I'm sorry for his loss and for his family's loss."

Often referred to as "the perennial candidate," the Korean war veteran championed many city-centric causes often involving neighborhood development and rezoning issues, most recently the controversy surrounding installation of a Bioswale along Ramsey Place.   "Things are very inequitable in the city and the people that are on the short end of the stick are those of us who live uptown who pay the lion’s share of the property taxes that support city schools and city government because our homes are valued higher and are taxed higher. “

Sullivan expressed hope the turn of events on Ramsey would spur the residents to form their own neighborhood association.

Sullivan’s final run for office was as a longshot for the 109th state Assembly seat occupied by Democrat Pat Fahy. The candidate stayed true to form: defiant and provocative.   "Our country is facing very severe financial problems. The city of Albany is destitute. So we just can't keep pulling on all these poor people. America is a lifeboat adrift in a sea of world poverty and we can't solve all the poverty problems in the world. We gotta take care of ourselves number one."

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

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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