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Albany's Sheehan says gun violence a major topic of U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering in Reno

 Police Chief Eric Hawkins and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Police Chief Eric Hawkins and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan

Local leaders from across the country are echoing calls by President Biden for Congress to pass new gun control legislation, including limits on semi-automatic weapons and expanded background checks.

Public safety is among the topics being discussed by nearly 200 mayors at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Reno, Nevada.

Third-term Democratic Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan has been attending the meeting and spoke with WAMC’s Ian Pickus.

What kind of conversations are happening between you and other mayors on the issue of guns right now?

Well, it is one of the topics that's been top of mind and discussed quite a bit. And I think that it says something about the state of our country when you have a bipartisan, nonpartisan group of mayors, you know, really almost in unanimous agreement that we need federal action to help our communities. You know, we have communities that have strong gun control laws like like New York State, common sense ways to make sure that guns don't get into the hands of the wrong people, so that we can keep people safe. And then there are other places where the rules of the road are very different. And we need a strategy nationally to get the these guns, these illegal guns off of our streets and to prevent them from continuing to flood our streets.

What specifically are you and the other mayors hoping Congress will do?

Well, we certainly are looking for that national background check legislation, closing the loopholes that New York state closed many years ago. And also, we know that red flag laws work. And so we want to see those happen nationally, because if you have somebody in a state that does not have red flag laws, they can get their hands on guns, we know that they can cross state lines, this is happening time and time again with these mass shootings. And we want to see these common sense rules of the road that helped to prevent guns from getting into the hands of people who would do harm with them to be enacted nationally.

Are you hearing ideas or best practices from other local leaders about what people on the local level like you can do while awaiting federal action?

Well, look, we have to continue to do what we're doing to prevent crime, we have to continue to look at the demand side of the equation, why are people choosing to pick up a gun and focusing on the efforts that are already well underway in our community, such as violence interrupters, you know, really focusing on our program that we have that works with particularly young men who are at risk of making decisions that might put them on the wrong path in life and trying to keep them on the right path in life. But we also need help in stopping the proliferation of guns getting into our communities.

What are some of the other top issues that have come up at this conference?

We've really focused a lot on workforce and the need for continued focus on workforce development. All of our communities have businesses that are struggling to fill jobs and to find people. And we're really focusing on how do we move our communities forward. There's been a lot of talk about the toll on people's mental health and emotional health through this pandemic. And we think that we as mayors, and as leaders of our community, can be an important part of bringing people together, giving them hope, helping people to focus on the positive things that are happening in our community, and ways that we can come back together and be in community again as we see the numbers go down. And as we learn and know of ways to keep ourselves safer, through this pandemic, you know, ways of being in community again, and we just think that that's really important. And that's been part of what we've talked about. And it's been great to be here with other mayors and really focusing on positive things that we want to be hoping for and achieving in our communities.

Well, we've talked when you've been at this conference in the past, and in recent years, obviously times were relatively dire. But given the federal infrastructure act and the American Rescue Plan Act investments are cities in better shape than the last time you attended this conference.

Well, they certainly are in a position to meet the needs of their residents in really impactful ways, and it's really inspiring to see what different cities are doing with their rescue plan funding and with the work that they're doing with respect to their communities. I'm really proud of what we've done in Albany. As you know, we've gone through a process that was very much driven by the community, did a lot of outreach, and we are about to be awarding $25 million. 75% of that money is going to go into our communities that have been hardest hit, our lowest income census tracts. And you know, we are also going to be getting money out to small businesses, to our hard hit travel, tourism, entertainment businesses, as well as some really exciting projects and infrastructure projects in the city. So it's wonderful to learn what other communities are doing. And, you know, I also am really proud of what we've done in Albany. And I think that, you know, other communities are learning from us as well.

While you've been in Reno, the New York state legislative session came to a close, at least for now. Were you satisfied with what Albany got from the state legislature this year?

Senator Breslin and certainly members Fahy and McDonald did a great job for the city of Albany. We're going to see, you know, a real study of 787 because of the hard work of Pat Fahy. We're going to see much needed investment in our communities. And we passed common sense, again, common sense laws to help keep New Yorkers safe. I thought that Governor Hochul was phenomenal this morning. I was able to watch her speech from here. I wish I could have been there at the bill signing. But I'm really proud of our legislature and the message that we are sending across this country that there are common sense ways that we can keep people safe. And that is what our moral obligation is, and I think the governor said it really well and I'm just so proud to be a New Yorker.

Playing any slots while you're there?

I have not. I have tried to make very good choices here. I'm not a big gambler, but I you know, the mayor of Reno has really rolled out the red carpet for us mayors. She did a phenomenal job with this conference. And you know, it's been a really great experience.

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.
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