An effort to address systemic racism in the city is getting a boost from Albany Common Councilors and the mayor.
Common Councilors have drafted a resolution creating a citywide equity agenda. It’s a system involving a data-driven response to help Albany treat historically underserved communities fairly.
The package is in line with policies second-term Democratic Mayor Kathy Sheehan's administration already had in mind: "When I became mayor I had asked a group of people to put together a transition team report for me, and one of the things that came out of that was, really a call across the board for equity and really looking at our underserved neighborhoods and what we needed to do to create a city where every neighborhood works and every neighborhood has access to good schools and quality housing and that our places are safe," said Sheehan.
Common Councilor Dorcey Applyrs and Council President Corey Ellis are leading the equity agenda effort. Here’s Ellis: "The agenda came out of a meeting that me and Councilwoman Applyrs and a couple of other council members had with the mayor after the rash of violence that was happening this summer. And we looked at the systemic issues of poverty in the city, systemic issues of racial discrimination in those communities. And as legislators it is our job to figure out how we can legislate meaningful changes to the system that won't allow those neighborhoods to continue to fall behind. When we talk about equity, most people believe equity is equal. Equity is about recognizing the lack of investment in certain neighborhoods for decades, which allowed those neighborhoods to fall behind when it came to resources, when it came to resources about parks, when it came to resources about streets, sidewalks and also economic opportunities, working in city government or county government or local businesses. So we put together a package that will begin to change the systematic way that people of color have not been able to move up, so to speak, as the city moves forward, their neighborhoods need to grow as well."
Ellis says the legislation was introduced at a Wednesday committee meeting and is being fine-tuned to get the language right and determine whether it should be an ordinance or a resolution. "An ordinance is more binding, that tells the whole city, citywide departments, this data you're gonna collect and this data you have to report to the Human Rights Commission."
The measure would assure equal treatment for residents across the city, independent of race, income or political connections. Ellis put it in historical context. "Decades and decades and decades in the city of Albany used to be your sidewalk would get paved or your street would get paved if you knew the mayor, if you were friends with somebody high up in city government. It wasn't about 'well my street needs to be paved' or 'my sidewalk needs to be done 'cause it's really bad,' it was about who you knew."
Sheehan believes the equity agenda will augment her initiatives and become part of her legacy. "This evolution into the council's actually creating a resolution, and really in some ways, allowing this work to really continue and exist beyond this administration or any current council member is something that I'm really excited about."