Local Politics Dominated Capital Region Headlines In 2019
Political scandal and personal turmoil that toppled Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse. An ongoing battle over declaring Troy a Sanctuary City. And the retirement of longtime Albany County Comptroller Mike Conners. WAMC's Dave Lucas takes a look back at the news stories that dominated Capital Region headlines in 2019.
Despite a series of controversial headlines and calls to step down, Shawn Morse, a Democrat whose first term became his last, said he remained proud if the city he grew up in as the walls tumbled all around him.
"There's so many things happening from historically having three straight years of zero tax increases, zero water and sewer fee increases, millions and millions of dollars of developments. Everywhere you go, every part of the city you see a shovel in the ground and work taking place," Morse said.
All that couldn’t save Morse, who denied multiple domestic violence accusations and blamed what he characterized as his wife’s drug addiction as story after story appeared in the Times Union about his family problems, his temper, calls from other public officials to step down.
The final blow: an FBI investigation that came to a head in August when Morse pleaded guilty to using campaign contributions for personal use. His sentencing is scheduled for January 7th.
Throughout 2019, debate over whether Troy should designate itself a "Sanctuary City" raged. After months of debate, the City Council voted 4 to 3 to pass the FACT act, formerly known as Sanctuary City Resolution 113, in July.
The measure was sent to Democratic Mayor Patrick Madden, who repeatedly told reporters he believed there is no meaning to the term Sanctuary City. "I'll sit down, I'll look at what they passed. The final version of what was passed. I'll sit with our police chiefs, I'll sit with our Corporation Counsel. We'll make that determination over the course of the next couple days."
Madden vetoed the measure the very next day, and the issue is likely to surface again.
In late 2018, Albany County Comptroller Mike Conners announced he would not seek a seventh term. "I've been here 24 years and it's been a tremendously blessed experience."
Albany City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar made his move: "In one of the worst-kept secrets in Albany political history, I'm announcing my run for Albany County Comptroller in the County of Albany."
Less than 24 hours later, fellow Democrat and first-term Albany Chief City Auditor Susan Rizzo followed suit. "I believe I have what it takes to do this job because I'm an accountant, not a politician."
The two squared off in a Democratic primary that saw Rizzo shut down Shahinfar's candidacy, eventually winning Conners' seat and becoming the first woman elected Albany County Comptroller.
Elected in 1995, Conners is returning to the private sector in 2020.
And in sports, Arena Football had a brief but triumphant return to Albany. The Albany Empire led the league in attendance in 2018 and 2019, won the 2019 championship in August. Here's Albany County Executive Dan McCoy: "This is the first Arena Super Bowl we've had in 20 years, you know since the Firebirds and 'Touchdown' Eddie Brown. It's so exciting and I'm happy for Coach Keefe and what he's doing and all the team players. It was an exciting build-up to this. Obviously, last year we didn't get this far. This is the second year that the Empire's been around and the fan base has just been through the roof."
In the end, that fan base wasn’t enough to save the sport: The Empire were shut down along with five other franchises when the league went bankrupt in October and officially pulled the plug just before Thanksgiving. Times Union Center General Manager Bob Belber told WAMC he was already in talks with a new sports tenant for the arena.