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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Interview with Sal Albanese - The Outsider Who Wants to Be Seen Inside

Before I even managed to utter a word, Democratic mayoral candidate Sal Albanese smiled and asked me: "So, you are going to ask me about the Quinnipiac poll?" which, honestly, was my intention to ask in the first place. Despite the media exposure he has received over the years in public office, Albanese, who is running for mayor for the third time, was excluded from the Quinnipiac's polling question in a poll released today on the Democratic mayoral primary. In the latest Marist poll released two weeks ago, Albanese pulled in a mere 2 percent of support, falling short from the 21% he got in the 1997 primary. "I am only 7 points behind John Liu," he laughed.

"At what point will you have to break through to be taken serious by voters, pollsters and debate organizers," I asked at the start of an extensive interview, I conducted for NYC Elects 2013, at the Bay Ridge Diner in Brooklyn, which he calls his mini campaign HQ's.

"I have to be honest, I was kind of shocked that Quinnipiac didn't include me in the poll," he said. "Marist did so, and I was at 2 percent. Since that time, we have generated a lot of press. I have introduced a number of well received proposals. So, I don't understand why Quinnipiac didn't include us. I think we are beginning to gain traction. I wouldn't be surprised if we were at 4% at this point, 6 and half months before the election," Mr. Salbanese added.

"It could very well be the Quinnipiac folks were lobbied not to include me in the poll," he charged. Adding that in the previous poll, the reason why he wasn't included, according to the pollster, was because he had just announced his candidacy and he has not been in the papers yet. "Well, we are getting covered by all the press, I am on TV. I am  on the radio. So I don't understand what their story is, It makes no sense. They could have been influenced. They are real political insiders."

"I hate to be conspiratorial in this process, but there a lot of people that don't want to see me in this race," he explained. Touting his Independent standing on various issues during his political career and the perception that he's not part of the mainstream political class, Mr. Albanese believes that the Democratic candidates don't want him to participate in the debate "Because we tell the truth, and I am not indebted to special interest groups."

"We are really focused on getting the message out," Mr. Albanese's Communications director Tom Brogan jumped in. "The polls are out there, but we are really not paying attention to them yet. It's kind of early."

"We are going to prove the skeptics wrong," Mr. Albanese put a stamp on the issue, indicating that Quinn is his target since she's the frontrunner with the most name recognition but her policies are less known to the public.

Sal Albanese is a terrific schmoozer. The conversation went on and on, addressing almost every political issue,  for over an hour before his communications director signaled me that they were expecting another one-on-one meeting at the diner. Interestingly enough, Mr. Albanese did find some connection to the Jewish community, a theme sticking to the many GOP candidates. Raised in Park Slope and advancing his public and political career in Bay Ridge  Like Adolfo Carrion, Mr. Albanese says he can describe himself as a cultural Jew. He was even called by some of his friends in college, back in the years, 'Saul'.

As a matter of fact, he points out: "I am the first candidate in this race that went to Israel (in 1986) as an elected official, long before it became the popular thing to do in nowadays just becuase they are running for office to appeal to the Jewish vote."

"I had an interest in Israel, and the Jewish community before these folks were involved," he added.

Expressing confidence in his candidacy, "Who's you base?" I pressed. "The Majority of voters who don't vote in these elections," was his answer. "I want to compete in every neighborhood in this city, adding the Brooklyn is the start off. "I plan to compete heavily in the Jewish community too," he went further in a plan to expand his appeal. "The things that we are saying will resonate well among Jewish voters."

As an Immigrant himself, who didn't know a word of english the first year he came to the United States, Mr. Albanese believes he can relate to the Asian and Latino community which has a large population of immigrants. "My message of Economic development, Education and public safety are something everybody relates to," he said. As a matter of fact, in the latest Marist poll, Mr. Albanese's favorability number were the highest among Latino and Asian voters.

"New Yorkers are better off now than 20 years ago" Mr. Albanese said before explaining where he thinks Mayor Bloomberg (who he refers to as 'Bloomy') went of track as he criticized the latest State of the City speech as 'out of touch'.

"In his first two terms Bloomberg focused on his job, but in his 3rd term he checked out. He spends more time in Bermuda and in London and is engaged on a national level with the gun control issue. He's basically ignoring the people effected by hurricane Sandy, the teachers... he's not paying attention. His third term has not been positive. He's in Lala Land."

Mr. Albanese didn't shy away from taking shots at his opponents de Blasio and Thompson. Mr. Thompson, he claims, stole his original proposal of hiring additional cops as Albanese was the first candidate in early January to do so, (3800 in Albanese's plan and 2000 in Thompson's proposal). "We were at a forum in Harlem two weeks after I announced my plan. Thompson gets up and says 'by the way, I think we should hire more cops,' and that's it. He has got no plan, zero."

Bill de Blasio, he labels as an hypocrite for criticizing Thompson's plan. "At the same forum in Harlem Mr. de Blasio said he agreed with Mr. Thompson's plan, and two weeks later he criticized it," Mr. Albanese pointed out. "Let me tell you, these guys will say anything. Bill de Blasio will go into one neighborhood and say one thing, then go to another neighborhood and say another thing." he added.

Mr. Albanese also took a shot at Mr. de Blasio for taking on the city Consumer Affairs and Health Department in an election year, when he was in the council for many years to do so. He also is in favor of eliminating the Public advocate office, as former councilman Simcha Felder suggested so in 2009, claiming its a waste of money since the city council should be the public's advocate. "Yeah, let's eliminate the Public advocate office, and get a couple more million dollars to play with," Mr. Albanese suggested.

Speaking about Jewish issues, Mr. Albanese is opposed to school choice vouchers and would not override Mayor Bloomberg's regulation on Metziztah B'peh if elected mayor, seeing it as a sole health issue reason. Hence, he would not be against looking it over.

Mr. Albanese "would love to" organize a campaign rally on 13th  in Borough Park, just like Mayor Giuliani and Mayor Bloomberg did. "I'm gonna do it. I am going to campaign in Borough park aggressively  "he said.

Mr. Albanese said he recently met with councilman David Greenfield (who he thoroughly admires for his twitterverse interaction) to discuss the recycling issue in Boro Park and consider a 2 day service. He also promised to move the sanitation garbage pick up from Saturday to a weekday. "I would accommodate with the religious needs, and also a dress the tonnage of recycling in a growing thriving community like in Borough Park/Flatbush."

Following the Hikind Blackface controversy, Mr. Albanese doubts he would even reach out to Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who's considered being the Kingmaker in the Jewish Community (?), saying he was disappointed as to what he did. It was poor taste. As a matter of fact, Mr. Albanese statement was the harshest condemnation out of all the mayoral candidates. "I strongly condemn Assemblyman Hikind's tasteless attempt at humor and suggest my opponents stop begging for his endorsement. In a city as diverse as New York, there's no place for this kind of behavior, especially from an elected official," the statement read.

When asked why he criticized Mayor Giuliani, in 1997, for his media covered visit to Israel as reported in the CSMonitor. "I think the mayor was grandstanding. He could have gone there very quietly instead of taking a crush of reporters with him," said Sal Albanese, a Brooklyn Democrat and City Council member.  "When? Wow. Why would I do that?" was his immediate amazed response. In which he later on clarified that it was probably, because "he made a media spectacle out of the visit. Giuliani was a master of PR. It may have been blatantly political, that's why I criticized it."

Mr. Albanese might not even reach the 21% he got in the 1997 primary, but as of now he's pumped to defy the skeptics, and as he sees it there's only one definition to success, from his part: Winning the primary.

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