De Blasio's rivals: Sal Albanese weighs in on the mayor

De Blasio's rivals: Sal Albanese weighs in on the mayor

De Blasio's rivals: Sal Albanese weighs in on the mayor
January 23, 2017

Inside the bustling Jing Fong Restaurant dining hall in Chinatown, Sal Albanese introduced himself to business leaders snapping photos and exchanging business cards – or their digital equivalent.

He was markedly more reserved than other politicians at the inaugural gathering of an international Cantonese business networking alliance last month. Only when an aide to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams beckoned did Albanese leave his seat and join a throng of elected officials and other attendees posing for photos. Later, a handful of politicians finished addressing the crowd, and handed off the microphone one by one. It appeared that Albanese had to privately clarify why he was there before organizers gave him the microphone. He then neglected to mention he was running for mayor.

“I came here as an immigrant, like most of you, and I know the importance of living in New York City,” said Albanese, who moved from Italy to Brooklyn as a child. “You’ve got over 1,000 people here. That is impressive and points to the tremendous influence of the Chinese-American community in New York City.”

Bashfulness aside, Albanese is familiar with the mayoral campaign circuit. After serving as the city councilman of Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst, Albanese ran in the 1997 Democratic mayoral primary, securing 21 percent of the vote. He tried again in 2013, but failed to garner even 1 percent.

Albanese blamed his 2013 loss on a late entry to the race and his dislike for fundraising. He did not qualify for the city’s public financing program. And without the funding most of his opponents received, he said he struggled to broadcast his message, attract the media’s attention or get invited to debates. This time, Albanese aims to raise $1 million – including anticipated matching fund payments from the public financing program – by May. Albanese said he will drop out if he falls short.

However, there is a benefit to his aversion to asking for money, Albanese said. He has long shunned contributions from lobbyists and “political fixers,” an approach he contends holds broad appeal in an era when many believe the political system is rigged. As a city councilman, Albanese said he never chaired a committee because he was too independent for the speaker’s liking.

If elected, Albanese said he would institute reforms to ensure others can more readily adopt his approach to fundraising – even if it requires convening a Charter Revision Commission and putting the matter before voters in a referendum. Albanese said he would push for nonpartisan elections. He envisions a campaign finance system that adds spending by independent groups to the expenditure limit of whichever candidate benefits from that spending. And he wants the city to provide registered voters with contribution vouchers they can put toward their preferred candidate’s war chest.

Albanese, who has worked as a teacher, a lawyer and in the pension fund industry, also aims to remove the city’s pension funds from the comptroller’s purview and create an independent agency to oversee them. The agency, according to Albanese, would then hire “top-flight” financial experts, rather than paying outside firms to invest money.

“Bill de Blasio is pay-to-play on steroids,” Albanese said, referring to multiple reported investigations into the mayor and his allies. “It has a real impact because you only have a certain amount of energy on that job. You’ve got congestion problems; you’ve got the demoralization of the police department; you’ve got homelessness, which is really badly mismanaged. All of that stuff is the result of diversion and distraction, where the priority of the government is based on what the big money donors want, rather than what’s good for the city.”

Sarina Trangle