A Fresh Start to a Stately Relationship as Albany’s Sheehan Takes Office

A Fresh Start to a Stately Relationship as Albany’s Sheehan Takes Office

A Fresh Start to a Stately Relationship as Albany’s Sheehan Takes Office
September 26, 2014

When it comes to Kathy Sheehan taking over as Albany mayor, the talk has mostly centered on her being a first.

But when it comes to state policy and the city’s relationship with those at the Capitol just across the street from City Hall, the fact that she is a fourth might be more important.

Sheehan was sworn in as mayor during a two-hour ceremony Wednesday morning, officially making her the first female mayor in the city’s history. The day also marked the city gaining just its fourth mayor in 72 years. By contrast, the state has had more than 10 governors during that span.

Sheehan is taking over for Jerry Jennings, a 20-year mayor who had hit-and-miss relationships with the state's governors. Regardless, Jennings did receive a parting gift of sorts from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the form of approval for a convention center in downtown Albany.

Even when a project isn’t on the table, the relationship between Capitol and capital city is a crucial one, said Jack McEneny, a former longtime Albany-area assemblyman.

“Like all capital cities, it’s not a love-hate relationship, but there are burdens placed on the city because it is a capital city,” he said. “And at the same time there are some real assets. So it’s always a balance between the two.”

Albany has had a decent relationship with the state. In the past 20 years, McEneny said that Jennings prided himself on lobbying the Legislature and the governor, and was valuable in lobbying Gov. George Pataki, who took office two years after Jennings.

Sheehan comes with a background in law, finance and education. Her start in community involvement was through a local Catholic church and school PTA. She later became a lawyer for the city of Albany before joining a medical device company just outside the city. There she served as vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary.

McEneny said that he believes Sheehan’s background in law and government finance will be positives for the relationship she has with state leaders.

Sheehan has a state policy mentor in McEneny, who has co-chaired her transition team. Assemblyman John McDonald III is also a co-chair for the intergovernmental cooperation subcommittee of her transition team, and state Sen. Neil Breslin is a member of the transition team’s economic development and job creation subcommittee.

Sheehan also has an old friend in the Legislature in Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy. Both women have children in the Albany school system and backgrounds in Albany school PTAs.

“When she comes to ask for things, it will be with knowledge, with data and with facts and with a good reputation because she is a known entity,” Fahy said of Sheehan.

While Sheehan does not have a wish list for state officials, she has plans to target high property taxes, which she said have driven homeowners and businesses out of the city, and the depletion of the city’s fund balance. The latter is something Sheehan advised against using while city lawmakers debated the 2014 budget, but in the end they adopted a spending plan that uses $9.8 million from the rainy day fund.

With Cuomo in New York City for Bill de Blasio’s mayoral inauguration, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy was in Albany to deliver a keynote address that touched on city relationships with the state. Duffy, a former mayor of Rochester, said that the state needs to invest in its cities.

Matthew Hamilton