Candidates Night at SPB

Three Candidates for Common Council President
Tell Us About Themselves

by Lynne Jackson

All three candidates for Common Council President spoke at our August dinner to an attentive audience. Rezsin Adams introduced the candidates in alphabetical order.

Gregory Burch spoke first. A lifelong resident of Albany, Burch is a newcomer to politics. He got the political bug six months ago, feeling that things need to be changed. "We are off-course," he said, "The silent majority is over-burdened. We need an independent council." He feels the president of the Common Council should be the middle-man for the people. He is not beholden to anyone.

In response to questions from the audience, the Madison Avenue resident said that we must go to full-value property tax. In response to a question about bonding to purchase more Pine Bush and a moratorium on Pine Bush development, he stated quickly he was in favor of both. Burch said that he is single, grew up on Peyster Street and works for a big corporation. He stated that he is not a joiner, but likes to do things quietly and privately.

The three priority issues for Burch are absentee landlords being able to get away with allowing their properties to decline; that the city is hostile to small business; and police and drug issues.

Helen Desfosses was up next. She began by saying how pleased she was to be at a Pine Bush dinner. She said she had moved here 20 years ago with her son. Looking for things to do on the weekends, she took her son on a Pine Bush hike, and found a Karner Blue butterfly. She credits her son's becoming an environmentalist on the Pine Bush. The Pine Bush is very important to her.

Desfosses, a political science professor at SUNYA, became involved in her neighborhood when she saw a for sale sign on the YWCA on Colvin Avenue. She realized that 8-10 for sale signs had gone up on the buildings on Colvin Avenue and she became very concerned with the changes taking place in her neighborhood. She got involved and began to co-chair the Colvin Avenue Neighborhood Association.

Describing the Common Council President position as a "Stealth Missile Position", she began to explain how important this practically unknown position is. The President is the legislative leader and should reflect the views of the citizens, not just the mayor. Desfosses feels the Common Council President should be a city-wide voice for the citizens. Should something happen to the mayor, the president seceeds the Mayor, which is how Tom Whalen became mayor. She stated that Albany has one of the weakest Common Councils anywhere. She wants to bring this position to a "we position." She said as part of her role, she would make sure that interested groups know what is on the agenda. She is concerned about the environment, about access to information and about the City.

She also believes that full-value must happen. She says we must bite the bullet, that not having the assessment issue resolved is a ticking time-bomb for investors because no one knows how much tax a certain property will need to pay. She said that we need to have neighborhood forums to explain the process.

For Desfosses, the three priority issues are: neighborhood development, separating the school system from City Hall, and reassessment.

Desfosses was in complete support of a moratorium on development in the Pine Bush and for bonding to purchase more Pine Bush.

Last up was Robert Van Amburgh, candidate and current Common Council President. Van Amburgh began his political career as a committee-person helper, eventually moving up to committee person, to alderman, to president pro tem and finally to president of the Common Council upon the untimely death of the former Common Council President, Joseph Lynn. He has been on the Common Council for 15 years.

Van Amburgh listed his accomplishments during his term as president. He says that he has been pursuing his leadership agenda of giving back to the people. He has bolstered the effectiveness of the Common Council Committees. The Common Council has begun networking dialogs with members of the Troy and Schenectady legislature. He helped organize Saturday morning breakfasts with members of the Common Council to enable council members to get to know each other. He believes the City should use the internet to get out information about meetings. This year is the first time that a budget request has been made for a desk, file cabinet and fax machine for use of the common council members.

As to the question of the Pine Bush, Van Amburgh said that in effect there is a self-imposed moratorium on development. He could not support a bond issue unequivocally; he would need to see the numbers first. The three most important issues for him are public safety, the quality of life and planned development.

The Democratic Primary is Tuesday, September 9 from 12 to 9 pm. In Albany, where there is only one viable political party, the person who wins the primary, wins the election. This is why it is so important to vote!

Printed October 97


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