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Twenty-four years after he gave up the Brooklyn City Council seat he'd held for 15 years to make his first of three runs for Mayor, Sal Albanese is looking to return to the Council, this time in Staten Island's 50th District.
And the move across the Verrazano Bridge, to a borough where he notes many of his children and grandchildren live, is one that is actually less-dramatic than the way the Council has changed over the past quarter-century.
From Middle to Right
"When I was a Councilman in Bay Ridge," Mr. Albanese remarked during an Oct. 28 phone interview, "I was considered a liberal because I was in favor of gay rights, I was pro-choice."
But he fit within that largely conservative district because he was also a strong advocate for law-enforcement—sometimes too strong as far as top Police Department officials were concerned. Mr. Albanese used to go out on patrol with cops in his district once a year, and helped the late Bob O'Brien, who was then a reporter for Channel 5, expose the lack of police patrols on the midnight shift in parts of the city.
He was also known for occasionally clashing with Council Speaker Peter F. Vallone Sr., particularly in refusing to support a budget deal with then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani that he didn't believe was in the city's best interests.
"I've always been a strong proponent of policing," Mr. Albanese said, but in those years, that was fairly common among Council Members.
Under the current Council, which is expected to move even further to the left next year, that is far from the case, and still speaking out on behalf of cops, he said, means "now, you're considered a throwback."
'Main Reason I'm Running'
"The main reason I'm running," Mr. Albanese said, "is I'm angry with the Defund the Police movement and the way police have been demonized. If I'm elected, I want to explain to people the dynamics of that job," and why the enactment of a law in July 2020 that left officers liable to criminal prosecution if they compressed the diaphragms of people with whom they were struggling was such a terrible idea. (It has been shelved because of a court ruling several months ago.)
His positions on law enforcement, he said, are the prime reason that he has the endorsements of every city police union except the Captains Endowment Association, as well as the backing of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association, both city fire unions, the two-largest sanitation unions, and civilian-employee groups including the United Federation of Teachers and Teamsters Local 237, as well as many building-trades unions.
To counter that labor support, his two opponents have called him a carpet-bagger and played on his old "liberal from Bay Ridge" label, as well as the fact that he's not a native of the borough and the seat he's seeking has long been held by Republicans.
'Unions Very Influential'
"I don't think it's been very effective," Mr. Albanese said of the attempts to portray him as an outsider, five years after he moved to the borough, or someone whose political views don't fit there. "I feel relatively confident. It's a very-competitive district, always won by Republicans, but the unions are very influential out here."
He is seeking to succeed Steven Matteo, the Council Minority Leader, who is giving up the seat he's held since 2014 due to term limits.
The Republican nominee is David Carr, Mr. Matteo's Chief of Staff, the position—in his case working for then-Councilman James Oddo—which the Minority Leader used as a springboard to the job in the same 2013 election where Mr. Oddo became Staten Island Borough President.
George Wonica, a businessman, has the Conservative Party ballot line.
During an Oct. 14 debate televised by NY1, all three men expressed a distaste for Mr. de Blasio.
Led Down Wrong Path
Mr. Carr said in his opening statement, "We're at a crossroads in the city, and we've been walking down the wrong path for almost eight years because of Bill de Blasio."
Mr. Albanese noted that after an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in the 2013 primary that was captured by Mr. de Blasio, he tried again as a huge underdog four years later because he was so bothered by the incumbent's performance during his first term.
Mr. Wonica, who is making his first run for office, positioned himself as the one candidate in the race who could not be blamed for how the city and Staten Island have fared, saying, "If you want government to act differently, you have to vote differently."
Early in the half-hour debate, there were some sparks when Mr. Carr accused Mr. Albanese of voting against a police-funding bill 30 years earlier while serving as a Councilman representing Bay Ridge.
A Policing Expert
Mr. Albanese, who in his opening statement said, "I am the law-enforcement candidate in this race, period," told Mr. Carr he didn't know what he was talking about. During his initial stint as a Councilman, he was considered an expert on policing who sometimes clashed with Mayors and police commanders because he argued that the size of the force was not as true a measure of its crime-fighting abilities as patrol strength—the number of officers available on any given day for street and squad-car patrols.
One subject on which all three candidates agreed was the Mayor's vaccine mandate, which at the time of the debate applied only to city Teachers and health-care workers.
Mr. Albanese said he had been inoculated and "I encourage everyone to be vaccinated," but criticized the Mayor's "heavy-handed approach. It polarizes people...People get angry, they get their backs up, and it doesn't work." He added that he favored instant testing for the coronavirus.
Mr. Wonica, who said he survived a bout with the virus five weeks earlier, said he had not been vaccinated, and "I don't believe we should have businesses on the front lines as the COVID police.
Mr. Carr said that both he and his father had been stricken by the virus last November, and that he had since been vaccinated, but "I am absolutely against these vaccine mandates."
A Different Perspective
Mr. Albanese's best showing in three runs for Mayor came in his first try in 1997, when he got 22 percent of the vote while finishing third in the Democratic primary behind Ruth Messinger—who lost the general election to Mayor Giuliani—and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
That was the only one of his three tries, he said, where he raised enough money to buy TV ad time—for one week, thanks to matching funds from the Campaign Finance Board.
This time around, Mr. Albanese said, with the Democratic nomination, the large number of union endorsements and greater name recognition than his rivals, "We got our message out. Everywhere I go, people know me."
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