Campaigns & Elections

Six candidates are running to replace Assembly Member Pat Fahy

The Democratic primary for Assembly District 109 features four Albany Common Council members and two county legislators.

Clockwise from top-left: Albany County Legislator Dustin Reidy, Albany Common Council Members Gabriella Romero, Owusu Anane, Ginnie Farrell and Jack Flynn, and Albany County Legislator Andrew Joyce

Clockwise from top-left: Albany County Legislator Dustin Reidy, Albany Common Council Members Gabriella Romero, Owusu Anane, Ginnie Farrell and Jack Flynn, and Albany County Legislator Andrew Joyce Courtesy of the Reidy, Romero, Anane, Farrell, Flynn and Joyce campaigns

Six Democrats are running to represent Assembly District 109 this summer, and with less than two weeks to go until election day, there isn't a clear front-runner. As if that’s not jumbled enough, most of the candidates currently represent parts of the district – which includes Albany, New Scotland and Guilderland – in city or county government, working together while simultaneously running against each other. In a generally good-spirited contest, the gaggle of candidates are working on getting their corners of the city to turn out to vote while chipping away at their colleague's bases.

Assembly Member Pat Fahy is vacating the seat after Albany County Democrats nominated her to replace retiring state Sen. Neil Breslin in the overlapping 44th state Senate District. Voters could be forgiven for a sense of déjà vu. When Fahy won the Democratic primary to replace retiring Assembly Member Jack McEneny in 2012, she defeated a similarly packed field that included establishment picks, progressive champions and candidates looking to shake up the status quo.

This year, Albany Common Council Majority Leader Ginnie Farrell, Council Members Gabriella Romero, Owusu Anane, and Jack Flynn, and Albany County Legislators Dustin Reidy and Andrew Joyce are all in the mix. Based on their campaign war chests, organizational support and geographic advantages, Romero and Reidy seem to be leading the pack, though Farrell is Fahy’s favorite. 

Whoever wins will face Republican Alicia Purdy in the Nov. 5 general election. Early voting begins June 15. 

Suburban strongholds

Campaign consultant Alec Lewis told City & State that Romero and Reidy are currently the two clear frontrunners, but the race isn’t a done deal.

“Everyone has a real chance to win because it's so wide open,” he said. “Given the nature of how many candidates there are, this is all about ground games, this is all about who is really able to get their voters out to vote, even more.”

He said that Reidy is in an interesting position where he can unify the suburban vote and find a path to victory picking off voters in Albany. Reidy knows it too. 

“I live in Guilderland. I've lived here for over 15 years,” said Reidy. “(In) the district – the City of Albany, the vast majority of Guilderland and the town of New Scotland –  I am the only candidate running from the suburbs.”

Reidy has the support of organized labor – with endorsements from 1199 SEIU, Teamsters Local 294, DC 9 New York, Bricklayers Allied Craftworkers Local Number 2 and CWA Local 1118 – and is an experienced campaigner.

He has managed campaigns for Rep. Paul Tonko for years, and in the 2018 election cycle, he organized progressive groups in the 19th Congressional District to support former Rep. Antonio Delgado, who flipped the seat blue after defeating Republican former Rep. John Faso. Now Reidy is turning that organizing know-how inward. 

“He probably has the most experience out of any of these people running who really understands grassroots campaign management firsthand,” Lewis said.

For Reidy, the key to victory likely lies outside of Albany, with Guilderland’s 11,315 registered Democrats and their 2,853 registered Democrat neighbors in New Scotland. If Reidy can unify the suburbs, Lewis said, it really could be that simple. 

“I think how Guilderland turns out is probably going to define who really wins. If Dustin (Reidy) is really cleaning up in Guilderland and the rest of the candidates are kind of splitting up the city, Dustin really might have a strong path and that's the concern of all these candidates,” said Lewis. “How well are they able to do beyond the city of Albany?”

Progressive pick

But Romero, who nabbed an endorsement from the United Auto Workers, has an ace up her sleeve.

“Politics,” Lewis said, “Increasingly, it's about owning a lane and defining it and getting your voters out, and there's no other candidate in the race that has a clear progressive lane the way that Gabby does and that is helpful in a primary.” 

Although Reidy fancies himself a progressive as well, Romero has the support of the state Working Families Party. Lewis said the WFP may be tempted to go all out in supporting Romero because candidates who win the seat tend to stay there for some time. Fahy served in the Assembly for 12 years and McEneny for 20 years.

“I'm really proud to be the progressive in the race that's able to bridge that gap between tenant and homeowner, for an example, to really bring everyone together and to bridge that divide, to show that this is a unified district,” said Romero. 

She said that Fahy’s race is a useful template for her, noting that Fahy – who had a background in educational advocacy and experience on Capitol Hill – was able to mobilize her supporters into an effective volunteer field operation.

“The way that she ran her race, she went to her base of support, she said, ‘all of y'all are gonna be on my field team and we're going to disperse you into the district’ and they did,” Romero said. “Very similar to what we're doing, which is flipping supporters into volunteers and volunteers into field leads.” 

Reidy also has an edge in fundraising, pulling in $246,543, including $168,236 in matching funds. Romero is not far behind, with $224,688 in contributions, including $175,000 in matching funds. But unlike Farrell, neither has an endorsement from Fahy. In 2012, former Assembly Member Jack McEneny didn't even endorse his eventual replacement Fahy until after the primary.

Fahy’s favorite

Farrell, now the majority leader of Albany’s Common Council, got her start in politics by advocating for Albany public schools. She was involved in Fahy’s successful run for the Assembly seat 12 years ago, and she recently picked up Fahy’s endorsement.

“I'm voting for Ginnie Farrell because she's the candidate I want to work with in the state Assembly,” Fahy said in a statement. “Ginnie was one of the first people around my kitchen table helping me to win the 109th Assembly seat back in 2012 and continued to work with me in my first four years in office.  She has continued to work in the Assembly and brings the most legislative policy experience to the table. She is ready to hit the ground running on day one.”

Farrell currently serves as the majority leader of Albany’s Common Council, where she has presided over Albany’s first and second attempts at enacting “good cause” eviction. She previously served as the president of the Albany School Board, a position Fahy also once held – though the current Albany School Board president just endorsed Romero.

Favors from old friends aside, Farrell said that there has not yet been much mudslinging thus far in the race. Candidates have been more focused on explaining what they can do for the district than what their opponents can’t.

“I think the main thing to do with any campaign is to focus on your own campaign and why you believe you're the best candidate, what your vision is, what your message is and how you can best reach the voters,” she said. “So no matter how wide the field is, you should be working really hard to get out there.”

But that collegial attitude might change once the candidates begin their second debate, hosted by Spectrum, on Friday night at 7 p.m. – particularly if Fahy’s endorsement spooks other candidates.

A packed field

Lewis, the political consultant, said that each of the candidates have their advantages.  

He called Flynn a “dark horse” candidate since he represents Albany’s 8th Ward, a middle-class area that has historically had high voter turnout. Accordingly, Flynn starts every day with two hours of door-knocking. “I like to talk to people,” he said. 

Flynn made a point of not accepting state matching funds, believing that taxpayers shouldn’t be contributing north of six figures for political campaigns. He entered the race relatively late and conceded that his odds of winning aren’t great, but he hopes that with the amount of candidates, voter turnout ends up being larger than usual for a Democratic primary.

“At the end of the day, we hope we have a 50% turnout rate,” he said. 

Anane sits on the Common Council and is a public school teacher representing Albany’s Pine Hills neighborhood, which has recently seen the closure of the College of Saint Rose and other community mainstays. If he wins the election, he will be the first Black person to represent the Assembly district.

Unlike Flynn, he has embraced the state matching funds program, which he said has allowed him to do more than just spend all his time raising cash for the campaign.

“Candidates like myself, we don't come from a big family, come from a big name or come from wealth,” he said. “Most of the time in these types of races, we'll be focusing on raising money, whether it's from a lobby of special interests or residents of the city.” 

The matching funds program means he can focus more on “going out there, meeting voters and letting them know our message,” he said. 

For several candidates, the biggest issue on this year’s ballot is public safety. Joyce, who is running a campaign focused on economic development, protecting the environment and public safety, said concerns about public safety are what he hears about the most while knocking on doors.