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Albany’s Sheehan says U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting brings opportunity for city

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan
Dave Lucas

Leaders from across the country are gathering in Washington at the U.S Conference of Mayors winter meeting, where they are meeting with Biden cabinet officials and members of Congress. The agenda for the four-day meeting includes everything from infrastructure to climate change to the uncertain economy. Once again attending the gathering is Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who is leading one session about the impact of female leaders.

What's been the focus so far in your time at the conference?

Well, attending this conference is really about setting up our city for success and accessing the federal funding that's become available. So, there's been a lot of talk about the American Rescue Plan Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, all of which we know are having positive impacts in the city of Albany. And there are a number of sessions here, helping us to navigate the opportunities that are going to continue to be available as that funding is released over the next three years.

You have spoken to us from this conference in the past. What do you get from going to it that you bring back to the city?

Well, it is a real opportunity to learn from other cities to see what they're doing and what is working to learn about initiatives that have been able to garner funding and support and been popular and successful and other communities. And so, it is a really great opportunity to learn from other mayors. It's also an opportunity for Albany to put itself in the spotlight. We were actually featured in another mayor's session today, talking about the success of our Breathing Lights public arts challenge that we won a number of years ago from Bloomberg, and other cities are looking at what we did and asking how can they put together a winning proposal to bring a public arts challenge to their community.

As I said in the introduction, this is a chance to meet with a lot of officials from the federal government. What do you think the city of Albany needs the most from the federal government right now?

Well, two of the things that I'm focused on are access to funding for housing. That's a really important issue in New York State and in the city of Albany, and really understanding what is coming down the road with respect to being able to ensure that we are creating housing at all levels, market rate housing, as well as affordable housing. And then another area that I really want to ensure our leaders here know is important to us, is the building of the new Livingston Avenue rail bridge, so our centuries old bridge that gets the Amtrak trains and other trains across the Hudson is slated to be replaced and I want to make sure that they understand that that's a priority project because not only is it going to allow us to reconnect with the river, have bike and pedestrian access across the river, but it means jobs. And it also means that the incredible resources that we have in the city of Albany and the access to our city is going to continue to be top notch. So, you know really wanting to stress how important that project is to our city.

You mentioned that another presentation mentioned the city of Albany as an example. What other cities do you learn from or other mayors during this type of conference? Are there specifics that you've jotted down?

Oh, absolutely. Mayors across the country are really doing some incredible things. I was speaking with the mayor of Santa Fe, New Mexico, who has taken some innovative approaches to the challenges of homelessness and really not only providing the physical shelter, but tapping into much needed social service resources, mental health resources, because all of us are struggling with how do we bring that to our community? Because, you know, we need more mental health professional professionals and more caseworkers. So, learning from him about some resources that he's been able to navigate and tap into looking at the future. I attended a session today where the mayor of Reno Nevada talked about the metaverse, that it's coming and that we need to be thinking about our City Hall not just as a physical place, but as a virtual place that people will want to access. So, lots of very interesting ideas and innovative mayor's here.

Let me go back to something you talked about a moment ago and that's housing. What do you think of New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s announced plans to bolster housing statewide?

Well, I think it's great aid that she wants to really jumpstart and get focused on how do we build the housing that we need for the workforce and for the jobs that are here, because we are in a position to be able to attract and retain people from all over the country coming to New York State for the opportunities that are here. But we need to make sure that we have affordable housing, you know, Albany has done its part. The city of Albany will not have any issue. I'm not concerned about meeting the 1% growth target. But our surrounding suburbs need to do the same. We need to ensure that housing and affordable housing is addressed as a regional issue, we cannot continue to concentrate it in our city centers and expect a different outcome.

So, it sounds like you're worried that some of the suburbs around Albany would not be welcoming to affordable housing projects being built there?

Well, we certainly have seen that there have been a number of even senior affordable housing projects that have been shot down in the surrounding suburban areas of the city. So, we need to recognize that this is a regional issue, that access to affordable housing is something that every community needs and that we have to get serious about density and about building housing along bus lines. We have seen tens of millions of dollars invested in bus rapid transit, and we need for housing to follow bus rapid transit so that people can live near where they can access that transportation.

Just one more thing, Mayor Sheehan. A lot of the projects that have been highlighted at this conference and that you've talked about were passed in a different Congress. The CHIPS Act, the ARPA funds. Now that Republicans are in charge of the House and Democrats have held the Senate, there's divided government in Washington. Are you concerned about how that might impact cities like yours going forward?

Well, this is a very nonpartisan organization. There are Republican mayors here, Democratic mayors, you know, we work very, very well together and we understand how important it is for us to work across political lines to get things done for residents of our cities. And so, I think we've demonstrated that we are good stewards of taxpayer money. We believe that we have made the case for these investments, and that these investments are helping cities in blue states and red states and that the American people will be the last to speak on this because I believe that they are going to demand that we continue to invest in streets, roads, bridges, schools and in building up our communities.

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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