Democratic voters who show up for the primaries on September 10 might see the name of a mayoral candidate not as familiar as the rest: Sal Albanese. The Italian-born Brooklynite represented Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst in the City Council for 16 years, until 1998, after he came in third in the Democratic primary for mayor. But he’s running again this year, acting as “a thoughtful contributor to this long, lively campaign,” according to the Times. Still, the uberprogressive candidate is polling low, and he wasn’t invited to the first major televised mayoral debate because he hadn’t raised enough money to qualify for matching funds. Since ABC wouldn’t check in with him, we did.
You’ve been out of office and the public eye for a while. Why run for mayor now?
Two reasons, really. I was inspired to step back into public service when Barack Obama first ran for President in 2007, 2008. While a lot of the city’s political class was getting behind the establishment, I got behind the underdog because he’d taken such a strong stand against the Iraq War. Then, last year, Sandy hit. Watching how unprepared the city had been and seeing how long it took to take action afterward really irked me. We have had a reactive government for far too long, and it was time for someone to step up and offer a real proactive vision.
What do you see as the issue most seriously affecting specifically Brooklyn residents in this election cycle?
No matter where I am—Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, anywhere—the single biggest issue is affordability. Brooklynites can’t afford the rent or college or even the transportation they need to get to work. New Yorkers deserve better. That’s why I’ve focused on creating living wage jobs and putting the interests of neighborhoods before developers. If we want to thrive, we need to make sure that those who grew up here can afford to stay and those who move here can afford to lay down roots.
Several mayoral candidates this year have tried to position themselves as “The Brooklyn Candidate.” Do you have any claim to that title?
A lot of my opponents have a Brooklyn connection, but they don’t really represent the Brooklyn that I know. I was born in Calabria, landed in Brooklyn in 1958, and have never lived anywhere else. I went to school here, got my law degree here, taught at John Jay High School, represented southwest Brooklyn in the City Council, raised my daughters here, and have lived in the same house in Bay Ridge for 40 years. And have you heard my accent?
Are you pissed about not being invited to that debate?
I’m not someone who dwells on this stuff, and I’ve been in debates since, but, sure, I was mad. It wasn’t that they left me out so much as their criteria. They set a standard purely based on money, which is obviously a problem, and then they made exceptions for half of the candidates anyway! I can’t complain too much, though. It’s not everyday that the New York Times takes up your cause.
You’ve been polling low. Why should progressive voters worried about a Christine Quinn mayoralty vote for you instead of, say, Bill de Blasio?
I have an unblemished record of political independence and of getting real things done for New Yorkers. I authored the city’s first Living Wage law and first campaign finance law. I haven’t taken a cent from big developers in this campaign. I stood up to help save Long Island College Hospital months before it was popular. And I haven’t wavered on bike lanes. Bill, on the other hand, has 12 years of saying one thing when the cameras are on, then doing something very different.
Can you sum up your plans and positions regarding the issues important to our readers? Like, bike lanes?
They’ve made our streets safer and people healthier. I’m for them, love them, and think we need more. But they are just part of a much bigger plan that I have for transportation, which you can read on my website.
My mother-in-law had a little chihuahua named Joey, and I’m convinced that he helped add years to her life. This is New York. We’re a sophisticated city, and we have the means to treat animals humanely. We need more shelter space in places like Queens and the Bronx. We need to transition away from horse carriages in Manhattan. And we need to push to get people to adopt animals in need.
As a City Councilman, I brought the ferry to the 69th Street Pier in Bay Ridge. As a candidate, I’ve spent plenty of time on the Staten Island and Rockaway ferries, and I’m convinced we need more. I want to expand service between the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts, to the South Shore of Staten Island, and make the Rockaway ferry permanent.
More than anything else, this is what I hear about from Brooklynites of all backgrounds. I’ve got a plan to build and preserve 210,000 units of affordable housing and finally—finally!—hold developers accountable. I also plan to define “affordability” by local median income so that prices reflect what people are actually able to pay. The bottom line: if our people can’t afford rent, we’re going to lose a lot of creative talent to cities like Austin and Portland.
Hipsters get a lot of flak, but at the end of the day they want what everyone else wants: jobs that pay the bills, an apartment that they can afford, and, of course, local access to artisanal pickles!