Posts Tagged ‘Kathy Sheehan’

Our New Year’s Inaugural Diversity Bath: A Great Country Altogether

January 2, 2014

imagesYesterday, I was an invitee at the inauguration of Albany’s new mayor, Kathy Sheehan. After 43 years here, it was the first time I didn’t feel like some kind of outsider. Indeed, what struck me about the event was the broadness of representation (especially the great number of blacks commingled): not a segment of the city, but the whole city, as it were, come together as a community celebrating our new day.

I sat next to a former black elected official, outspokenly left-wing; but she recited the pledge of allegiance, and even sang along with the national anthem, without irony.

Much was made of Sheehan’s being our first woman mayor, and in her speech she spoke of diversity’s virtues. “E pluribus unum” (“one out of many”) is our national motto; and I take it to heart, as one who is here only because some other country had a very different attitude. The Albany inaugural event was an embodiment of that motto’s spirit. While the simultaneous mayoral installation in New York City was striking a different note: not of inclusivity but divisiveness, all but declaring some citizens the enemies of the rest; to me an echo of that other country.

Before

Before

At the reception I was glad to encounter newly elected city councilman and community activist Mark Robinson. I told him my name and that I didn’t think we’re related (he’s black). Then I said, “I only know about you from the newspaper. But I think it’s a great country altogether when you could go from where you’ve been to where you are today.”

He seemed deeply appreciative. Where he’d once been, in fact, was prison, for drug dealing. Was it F. Scott Fitzgerald who wrote, “There are no second acts in American life”?

“A great country altogether” is actually another line from literature, the penultimate line from Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. He said it about America, upon his arrival here at last, for something seemingly frivolous that greeted him. But that surface frivolity bespoke something far deeper about the character of this country that, again, was much in evidence at our inaugural event. We are a free people; and a community of free people. The two ideas are not antithetical.

Pertinent to this theme, with another attendee I compared notes about the New Year’s Eve party we’d both been to, hosted by our mutual friend Geraldine, formerly Gerald.*

“I think there were only three males,” I said, “best I could tell.”

“Well, let’s see: you . . . Jack . . . and Melissa.”

“So Melissa is still a man? OK; but what about Ryan?”

“Ryan is a girl.”

“I thought so too, until he was introduced to me as Melissa’s son.”

“That’s because Ryan is becoming male — while her father is doing the opposite.”

Melissa’s wife was there too; as well as another cheerful married female couple, of whom one had apparently started as  husband.

Welcome to Twenty-first Century America.

Not that all this is exactly normal. But the better word to use is common. It isn’t common, of course, but it’s up to the individual to choose how to live, and that includes the most essential aspects of our identities. And in this country, in this time, at long last, glory Hallelujah, people can do exactly that. There were some straight people at the party too but we all had a fine time together.

And after the mayoral bash, my wife and I went to the annual New Year’s party of a local activist poet, yet another convocation of non-conventional people, rounding out our diversity immersion.images-3

Isn’t this a great country altogether?

‘Tis.

*The names in this story are changed.

Democracy in Albany

July 3, 2013

images-1The other night I attended a “meet-the-candidate” at a private home, for Albany mayoral hopeful Kathy Sheehan. (I’d already been to one, but this second invitation was from the estimable Bob Ward, so I couldn’t say no.)

Four years ago, the city treasurer, a political operative, was embroiled in a smarmy scandal. Sheehan, an outsider with a nonpolitical background in law and industry, ran and beat her in the Democratic primary. This year, Sheehan’s mayoral bid was probably a long-shot until the 20-year incumbent suddenly bowed out.

Kathy Sheehan is clearly a sincere, intelligent, serious-minded person who’s been attending many meet-and-greets like this, not just to get votes but also as a preparation for governing the city (I don’t think her primary opponents can win, and Albany’s Republicans are on the endangered species list).

Darius Shahinfar

Darius Shahinfar

Also present was Darius Shahinfar, another good guy, running for Treasurer. In conversation, he stressed how too often his fellow Democrats fail to understand how their policies undermine businesses, which we need for people to have good jobs. (One might almost think he reads this blog – but actually, his opponent is a conspicuous offender in this regard.)

Neighborly gatherings like this are fairly unique to American politics, and viewing it from the standpoint of an Olympian observer, I was frankly moved. Sheehan will be running a not-unimportant city, and here she was interacting unpretentiously, as equals, with fairly ordinary folks, interested in what they had to say. This shouldn’t be taken for granted even in today’s democratized world – indeed, especially today when cynicism about politics is so rampant.

Cover art by Jenness Cortez

Cover art by Jenness Cortez

In fact, the scene had special resonance for me. I told Ms. Sheehan I’m gratified that we’ll at last have a “normal” mayor. When I arrived in 1970, the city was ruled – and that’s the right word – by Erastus Corning, in the midst of a 41-year tenure, stalwart of an entrenched old-fashioned political machine. I spent several years battling hard against it and, in 1973, also wrote the book chronicling and dissecting that political machine. It weathered those efforts at the time. But I like to think I did make a contribution to the long historical process that ultimately disabled the machine and normalized Albany politics.

The individual making a difference is something of cliché. Well, maybe sometimes one can; but while almost no election is ever decided by a single vote, it’s the true essence of democracy that citizens collectively always make the difference. Blaming everything on “the politicians” is mistaken. It’s really we the people who have the responsibility.