Sal Albanese walks out of his law office in Manhattan’s Trinity Place and stops in front of the church next door. He is hoping to find a New Yorker with whom he could discuss his upcoming bid for mayor, but he greets a tourist instead, shaking hands with her and introducing himself as her baby sits beside her. Casually shooting the breeze with a grin, it’s clear despite the suit, tie and campaign pin on his lapel, he’s a man of the people.
He is also an experienced politician. Albanese is in the midst of his third run for the Democratic mayoral nomination, and he said that despite lacking funding from lobbyists or big money, he’s hoping to make a breakthrough. “I’m sensing that this time around, people are looking for integrity in government," Albanese told Metro. "They’re looking for politicians that are not indebted to special interests. … We’re doing it differently, and it’s hard to do it this way, but it’s worth it because if you get there with a real good government base, you can make these kinds of changes.”
Albanese represented Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in City Council for 15 years, ending his term in 1997, when he made his first run for mayor. He ran unsuccesfully against de Blasio in 2013 for the Democratic nomination for mayor, coming in eighth place with just below one percent of the vote.
But now he is ready for another shot, with the Reform Party's endorsement already under his belt and transportation as a major item on his agenda. Albanese said the long-term solution to the subway crisis lies in fixing signal systems dating back to the early 1900s. He’s already asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to meet him halfway, hand-delivering a letter to one of the governor's aides stating he would increase funding from the city in an effort to work with the state to pay for improvements.
However, he argued that de Blasio’s newly released tax plan to raise funds from the one percent won’t cut it, calling it a PR ploy. “It’s already been declared dead on arrival by people up in Albany,” Albanese said. “He knows it’s not going to go anywhere, I know it’s not going to go anywhere, and most of the people who follow government know it’s not going to go anywhere, so it’s a failed plan.”
Albanese wants city officials to ride public transit more often, and claims he shamed de Blasio into taking the C train last month after press noticed him standing outside of the mayor’s Park Slope gym holding a MetroCard. “As the mayor of the City of New York, where the bulk of the riders are your constituents, you’ve got to be a leader,” Albanese remarked. “You can’t sit back and say it’s not my job.”
But whether the third-time candidate will be able to put his money where his mouth is remains another question. Without the financial backing enjoyed by the incumbent de Blasio, the odds may be against him, but he says his campaign funding is on the upswing. De Blasio's campaign has some $4 million in its war chest, while Albanese just hit the $174,225 fundraising threshold on Friday that qualifies him to debate De Blasio on Aug. 23. (De Blasio previously agreed to participate in a primary debate, regardless of whether Albanese met the funding threshold).
Despite Albanese's confidence, de Blasio's staff say the incumbent is ready for a fight. “Mayor de Blasio expanded ore-K for every 4-year-old and will do the same for every 3-year-old," said De Blasio's re-election campaign spokesman Dan Levitan. "Crime is at record lows, jobs are at a record high, New York City is building affordable housing at a record pace, and rents were frozen for more than two million tenants. That is the mayor’s record, and we are happy to compare it against anyone.”
Albanese will run on a platform of better transit, affordable housing initiatives and political reform that aims to cut down on partisan politics and pay-to-play. His mission is simple, he said. He wants to be a full-time public servant. “I want to devote all my energies to the job,” he said. “I’m not looking around for president or governor. I just want to be mayor.”
Attacking in court
Albanese isn’t just taking on the incumbent in the political arena; he’s also attacking him in court, too.
On August 6th Albanese co-filed a lawsuit along with Guardian Angels founder and Reform Party chair Curtis Sliwa and Frank Morano, a radio host, to stop de Blasio from charging taxpayers a roughly 12-million bill he incurred in legal fees. The mayor racked up the charges defending himself during a probe into his campaign fund-raising for the 2013 election. The lawsuit argues the public shouldn’t foot the bill.
“The mayor and his aides were involved in political activity that’s not within the scope of their employment, that’s outside the scope of their employment, and they deserve legal representation but they should get it on their own,” he remarked. “He owns two brownstones that are worth four million dollars. He could’ve paid his own legal fees.”