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The Race Is On

Albany Councilman Corey Ellis throws his hat into the ring to run for Albany mayor

Published on 3/5/2009 written by David King

The realities of the 2009 Albany mayoral race became clearer Monday morning as Common Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3) announced that he will run to unseat four-time incumbent Mayor Jerry Jennings. Now the stage seems to be set for a three-way primary showdown between Jennings, Ellis and Common Council President Shawn Morris. Morris told Metroland she expects to announce her candidacy on Sunday at 2 PM on New Scotland Avenue. Jennings, who had indicated he would not seek another term during the last mayoral race, has reversed himself.

Ellis was joined Monday by fellow council members Barbara Smith (Ward 4) and Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) as he announced: “If we truly want to change direction in this city, if we truly want to create the roadmap that will allow us to face our challenges head-on, we need to elect a leader who understands that the people need a voice.”

Ellis was born in Arbor Hill and also lived in the South End. He left Albany to attend Fordham University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science.

It’s only been about three years since Ellis, who had worked diligently on Albany County District Attorney David Soares’ first campaign, sat at a crossroads in his political career. Having lost an extremely close primary to Jennings’ ally, incumbent Councilman Michael Brown, Ellis was unsure of whether to challenge Brown in the general election. Ellis eventually decided his future was in politics and was elected on the Working Families Party line.

Ellis has been an outspoken voice on the council since taking office, and has recently earned tremendous publicity for calling for an investigation into the ghost-ticket scandal. Whispers about Ellis’ possible run began last winter when the councilman started working as chairman of Albany for Obama.

Ellis enjoyed much attention for his work on the Obama campaign and appears to be translating that into his campaign. During his announcement speech, he said, “If we are going to take advantage of the new leadership coming from Washington, we need new leadership here in Albany.”

Perhaps the most telling part of Ellis’ announcement was his introduction by Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro.

Calsolaro was responsible for initiating meetings over the past year to try to unify opposition to Jerry Jennings. The meetings eventually yielded Albany Neighborhoods First, but it did not provide a singular candidate.

Calsolaro said that he saw in Ellis someone “fresh—who can grow with the position, who is not an entrenched politician.” Calsolaro said that his introduction should be seen as a wholehearted endorsement of Ellis.

Morris said she is not “focusing on who is with me for the announcement but more on the people who live here. Part of the problem in Albany,” she said, “is the insider’s game.”

Ellis said that Calsolaro’s endorsement means more to him than “just some name endorsement.” He said Calsolaro’s work on the council has influenced his approach as a councilman and his outlook on what it would mean to be the mayor. In his remarks, Calsolaro said that he was happy to have Ellis join him on the council as an outspoken voice of opposition.

Calsolaro is a popular figure among local progressives. While constituents and city residents still call for him to run for mayor, Calsolaro said because of his physical condition he felt it was unfair to residents: “I wouldn’t be able to go door to door.” Calsolaro said he thinks Ellis has all the tools necessary to be mayor. And Ellis said that he hopes those who supported a Calsolaro run for mayor will see that he and Calsolaro share a vision and will support his candidacy. “I’m just happy to know that Dominick is saying, ‘You’re the guy who should run the city.’”

One council member who was conspicuously missing Monday was Carolyn McLaughlin (Ward 2). Some insiders say McLaughlin, who announced Tuesday that she will run for Morris’ soon-to-be-vacant council presidency, was expected to be at the announcement but did not show. The Times Union later reported that McLaughlin had decided it was in her “best interest” to stay neutral in the mayor’s race. “I’m staying neutral at this point. I’m going to see how the campaign unfolds,” she told the TU.

“Just call me Colin Powell. I will be watching as the campaign evolves and weighing things,” said McLaughlin, reached later by Metroland. “Barack Obama told us to be the change, and that is what I am trying to do. I will be looking to support candidates who do the same.”

Ellis said that McLaughlin hadn’t been “confirmed” to attend his announcement.

Morris, who served three terms as the council representative of Albany’s 7th Ward before becoming council president, said she thinks her advantage comes down to “depth.” “I think it’s my depth of experience, my depth of involvement that will make the difference.”

Ellis said he thinks it’s important that he began his candidacy so early in the year. “There was a need for us to get out early because I am relatively unknown. There is time now for anyone to come onboard. And it will let them know that I made my decision to run based on what I want to do for the city, not on who is or who isn’t in the race.”

—David King