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Sheehan among Northeast mayors at winter conference in Washington

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan

Several mayors from our listening area are in Washington, D.C. for the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 90th Winter Meeting this week. The gathering is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and response among other issues.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan hosted a panel discussion today that also included Long Island Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Tom Suozzi. She spoke with WAMC’s Ian Pickus this afternoon.

This is an opportunity for us to really learn from other mayors about what is working and what they're doing with their rescue plan dollars, with addressing violence in their cities, with really looking at how we can help our working families to recover from the impacts of the pandemic. And then it's also an opportunity for us to talk to leaders in Washington about what's happening in our communities and policies that we would like to see put in place and funding that we would like to see made available to address those issues.

What are some of those policies that you've been talking about during this conference?

I just finished a panel where we talked about the child tax credits, and how amazing that program worked to lift children out of poverty during the pandemic. I talked a little bit about some of the things that I saw in Albany where not only did it help lift people out of poverty, but because it was received monthly, it really helped to destress a lot of the stressful situations that people can find themselves in where, you know, a flat tire on their car can mean the difference between keeping their job or not keeping their job. And so we talked about the importance of that, and the importance of a bipartisan approach to making sure that that is reinstituted in the way that was really working for American families.

People who were receiving that monthly payment, now in January, for the first time in many months, didn't receive that, because the benefit has expired, and President Biden's Build Back Better domestic agenda has stalled in the Senate. So it hasn't been renewed. Are you hearing from people who live in the city of Albany that not receiving that that monthly payment is having a deleterious effect?

Well, I think we're going to start to hear those voices, as people realize that that funding and is not coming and that it is no longer available. And it's really going to impact the decisions that particularly working mothers have to make about whether or not they can afford to work, whether they can afford childcare. And, you know, again, it's a program that was working, it was a program that had bipartisan support. And so one of the things that I'm here to make sure I lift up are the voices of those residents in the city of Albany who benefited from that, and who were able to really make the decision to work. We have employers, including the city of Albany, who are struggling to find workforce, how important that is. You know, over 94% of the people receiving that benefit work. And so it is a benefit that is really helping working families to be able to stay in the workforce.

What are some other topics that have come up among your fellow mayors as being pressing issues right now?

We're talking in our metro economies session about work from home and the impact that that's having on downtowns. And the fact that we still have about 45% of the workforce in this country who is either telecommuting full time or part time. And the large majority of those individuals want to keep telecommuting. So we're talking about a task force that is really going to focus in the next few months about how that impacts our small businesses, our downtown centers and our cities. It really impacts the tax bases of many cities across the country that are income tax based. So you know, this is a really important issue.

But we're also looking at what we need to do to build out the infrastructure in our cities to provide for electric vehicles. You know, we're thinking optimistically about all of the exciting things that are happening in our futures, as our cities all continue to grow. And as we see that there is an economic engine that is helping to spur growth. We've recovered so much more quickly than anybody anticipated or expected as we've come out of this pandemic. And we all are here willing, as a pandemic to be on the downside, and it is looking positive for that. And so we really want to build on that momentum. And that hope and that excitement that is happening in cities across the country.

While I have you, what was your reaction to Governor Kathy Hochul’s first budget proposal, and what does it mean for Albany?

Certainly for Albany, it means a recognition that the hard work that we've put into making the case that the capital city needs to ensure that it has funding to provide police officers and firefighters that are really serving the entire region and have that economic stability being reflected in the governor's budget. It is just so gratifying to see it. We have a governor who really understands local government, she comes from local government and really works to understand what are the issues that are impacting our families, we're closest to the challenges and we're also, I think, closest to the solutions. So we're really thrilled to see that capital city funding fully funded in the governor's budget. That's a first and it's a huge win. And I think it's just a huge victory for the amazing workforce that we have in the city of Albany.

Anything that I didn't ask you about that you'd like to add?

I just think that it's really important that mayors have the opportunity to come together and talk with those who are making these policy decisions. You know, we see the impact of that on the local level with mayors and county executives being able to talk to the governor about what it is our residents are feeling and the impacts that we're seeing so that she can craft solutions to help to address those challenges. And it's the same on the federal level. We need to make sure that those who are working here in Washington who hold big purse strings are focused on what is going to work in our communities. And that's what I'm here to advocate for.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.