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The Comeback Skid: GOP's 'Island' Wave  Wipes Out Albanese


Sal Albanese's bid to return to the City Council after a 24-year absence, running on a pledge to be a counterweight to anti-police sentiment among fellow Democrats in that body, got washed away by the Republican wave that swept much of Staten Island and propelled his Republican opponent, David Carr, to a shockingly easy victory.

Mr. Carr will succeed Steven Matteo, the Council Minority Leader, whom he has served as Chief of Staff. The race for what has traditionally been a Republican seat was considered a key battleground this year because Mr. Albanese, who spent 15 years as a Councilman representing Bay Ridge, Brooklyn before launching his first of three unsuccessful runs for Mayor in 1997, had major union backing.

Labor Power Not Enough

Foremost among that support were the endorsements of four of the city's five police unions, led by the Police Benevolent Association; both fire unions; the two-largest sanitation-worker unions, and the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association. His  civilian-employee endorsements included those of the United Federation of Teachers and Teamsters Local 237, and he also had the backing of numerous building-trades unions.

 A few of our stories and columns are now in front of the paywall. We at The Chief-Leader remain committed to independent reporting on labor and civil service. It's been our mission since 1897. You can have a hand in ensuring that our reporting remains relevant in the decades to come. Consider supporting The Chief, which you can do for as little as $2.25 a month.

But his popularity with labor, even in a district which has a rich supply of city workers, could not overcome anger within iteven among some Democrats—about Mayor de Blasio's vaccine mandate, which starting the day before the election placed employees who had not yet been inoculated on 30-day unpaid suspensions.

And while Mr. Carr's victory was not considered an upset, his margin of victory was stunning, as he got 61 percent to 32 percent for Mr. Albanese and 7 percent for George Wonica, a businessman who had the Conservative Party ballot line.

"We got caught up in a tidal wave that totally changed the dynamics," Mr. Albanese said in a phone interview the morning after the election. "The anti-Democratic feeling is at a fever pitch out here: Biden, de Blasio," alluding to the President's falling approval ratings in a borough where Donald Trump defeated him by 14 points in last year's election.

'Massive Mandate Rallies'

"There were massive rallies against the de Blasio mandate," he added. "I was for the testing option, but that didn't matter. Mark Murphy got trounced by Fossella," referring to the Borough President's race in which former Congressman Vito Fossella got a similarly wide victory margin in had been expected to be a close race.

"The overwhelming feeling was anti-Democratic" among voters he encountered during the final weekend of the campaign, Mr. Albanese said. "They were yelling about immigration; people were yelling about the mandate. I was collateral damage."

What was particularly ironic, he said, was that while most law-enforcement unions lean Republican, his defeat will probably hurt their interests in the Council, despite the fact that the party will pick up at least one seat in that body, after capturing a seat in Brooklyn with Trump supporter Inna Vernikov vanquishing Steven Saperstein, and retaining another one in Queens when Joann Ariola, the GOP Chairman in that borough, easily won the seat being vacated by Eric Ulrich, one of three incumbent Republicans on the Council.

Queens GOP candidate Vickie Paladino appeared to have defeated former Councilman Tony Avella, while in two too-close-to-call Brooklyn contests, the Democratic nominee held a two-point lead in one and Republican Brian Fox had a one-point edge against Justin Brannan, although Mr. Brannan, who had been considered a serious candidate for Council Speaker, predicted he would prevail once absentee ballots were counted.

Dems Retain Big Edge

Even in a best-case scenario regarding all the undecided contests, however, Republicans would have just seven seats on the 51-member Council. That was why, Mr. Albanese said, the PBA had poured a reported $300,000 into his campaign, believing that as part of the Democratic conference he could wield more influence than even Mr. Matteo's likely successor as Minority Leader, Joseph Borelli.

Mr. Albanese had said shortly before the election that he believed actions taken by the Council last year were detrimental to public safety, from cutting the NYPD's budget by $1 billion to passing a billwhich was signed into law by Mr. de Blasio 16 months agoallowing cops to be criminally prosecuted if in subduing someone they compressed that person's diaphragm. He called that part of an effort to demonize the police, and had pledged to be a voice for law enforcement at a time when the progressive additions to the Council include Tiffany Caban, who has called for phasing out the police.

PBA President Patrick J. Lynch declined to respond to questions about whether the vaccine mandate accounted for some of the Staten Island results, but he issued a statement that reinforced Mr. Albanese's contention that the union had hoped he could be a voice of reason in heading off efforts within the Democratic conference to further hamstring law enforcement.

"Sal's experience and independence would have been a real asset in the City Council," he said. "Our streets aren't going to get safer without members of the Democratic majority who are willing to stand up within their own party, work across the aisle and put common-sense solutions ahead of political gamesmanship. Even without Sal, we're hopeful that enough members of the next Council will recognize the need for a new approach."

His Final Run?

Mr. Albanese, who is 72, was uncertain whether this would be his last campaign, even though the history of Council elections suggests that as an incumbent, Mr. Carr would be more difficult to defeat four years from now, regardless of the political winds.

"I'm probably not gonna run again," he said, noting that he needs neither the job nor the salary, having worked for years as both a financial adviser and an attorney, whose clients include Local 237, for which he handles grievance cases.

But, he added, "I never say never."              

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