Three candidates vying for a key Albany Common Council seat participated in back-to-back forums this week.
As the June 22nd Democratic Primary nears, Jeff Mayo, Gabriella Romero, and Susan Pedo discussed homelessness and overdose deaths on a forum hosted by VOCAL-NY. The session focused on incoming councilors helping build a "caring and compassionate" city. With deaths from drug overdose at an all-time high, candidates were asked if they support overdose prevention centers, where drugs could be used under supervision.
Mayo, who volunteers with Joseph's House, says he supports the concept.
"In addition to the housing that Joseph's House and Shelter operates now, which admits people with a primary diagnosis of alcoholism, there should be similar housing available for people whose primary diagnosis is opiate abuse, opiate dependence."
Pedo agrees shelter should be available for people with all kinds of conditions and challenges.
"We need to expand the Good Samaritan law, we need to expand access to Narcan. And we need to make sure that medicated ways of dealing with addictions are available in jails."
Romero suggests the city partner with a private organization that would be able to provide substance use treatment.
"I think it's really important that we, in this public and private partnership, specifically with supervised injection facilities, but also just in treatment centers, that we're making sure that we're really funding the right training for people and in a way that's trauma informed and community centered."
The candidates were back online a day later for a forum whose co-sponsors included the League of Women Voters of Albany County and Capital District Latinos. They were asked if they believed their individual "leadership styles" differ from those displayed by current councilors. Mayo defined leadership as an opportunity to help people and serve the community. Romero described her leadership style as "strong and unapologetic," while Pedo characterized her style as "collaborative."
Asked about advocating for 6th Ward residents, Mayo vows he'll listen to and work with them.
"It's important to be teachable. It's important to be humble. I think my favorite part about this campaign is, you know, I've knocked on everybody's door multiple times. And everybody always wants to teach me something. And I really appreciate that. I appreciate the ability to learn something. And I appreciate when people get passionate and excited about something that they want to share with me."
Romero promises she'll continue to meet with residents on their doorsteps.
"I'll meet you on your stoop and we'll talk, when it was really cool, you'd bring bring some hot cocoa. And I've loved that, that has been the most fun part of this campaign is sitting on people stoops, and sometimes talking about the campaign, but really just listening to them and the stories that they have and sharing experiences about why we love this neighborhood and why we love the city. "
Pedo agrees and notes folks in the 6th Ward aren't shy when it comes to airing their views.
"People don't hold back here, they come to you, when they have a problem. They come to you when they see a positive outcome, and they are willing to work toward solutions."
The 6th Ward includes the Center Square neighborhood, encompassing Washington Park on its west side running from South Lake Avenue southeast to South Swan Street, bordered on the southwest by Myrtle Avenue and on the northeast by State Street and Washington Avenue.
What are the biggest challenges facing 6th ward neighborhoods? Mayo says quality of life.
"Trash, along with panhandling, these are, these are issues that I hear, I would say the most about from people here in the community. I also want to focus on code enforcement. I've always wanted to see Albany with a stronger code enforcement department."
Romero sees local street walkability and accessibility as the biggest challenge.
"The Lark Street revitalization plan is going to allow for a new design of our luxury corridor. But the Washington Park traffic study is also going to give us really, really wonderful data about what we specifically can do to make that safer."
Pedo says healing police-community relations is priority one.
"As I well, walked door to door, I did hear a very consistent concern that people who called the Albany Police Department often felt disregarded and disrespected, often from the moment that they call the station and things often seem to get worse when the officers arrived on the scene."
Pedo is calling for exploration of how city police are funded and organized.
The 6th Ward is represented by Richard Conti, elected in 1997 and one of five senior Albany Common Council members re not running for another term this year. Richard-Olivier Marius is also running, but did not participate in either forum and has not returned calls for comment.