Citing enormous fundraising difficulties, Brooklyn blue-collar progressive Sal Albanese has bowed out of the 2001 mayoral race, City Limits has learned. A principled outsider in the New York City political scene, Albanese simply couldn’t round up the big-donor cash that his competitors have already mustered. “We had over 2000 contributors, but still can’t compete with the millions of dollars raised by the other candidates,” Albanese told City Limits last week. “I am not going to lead my supporters on a suicide mission.”
Albanese’s campaign, independent of traditional party machine politics, was rooted in idealism and what many characterize as a genuine desire to help the city’s poor, improve schools and universities and help out small businesses. But he had to pay a price for that platform.
Albanese said he’d raised $280,000 so far, and almost all of it has been spent. His Democratic competitors, by contrast, have already raised huge purses: City Comptroller Alan Hevesi leads the pack with $4,779,304. Mark Green, the city’s Public Advocate, has $2,806,052, Council Speaker Peter Vallone has raised $2,688,037 and Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer counts $2,470,053 in his coffers. “My track record of being independent did not attract large contributors,” Albanese said.
He instead solicited donations from the blue-collar workers, teachers, professors, and working class homeowners in Brooklyn where he grew up. The strategy proved too time-consuming, and according to Albanese, he had no time to do what he wanted to do–get out his message.
“The last few months were all about money,” he said. “Instead of talking about free tuition for CUNY and how to repair the university system, you are constantly out there with your hand out. I just did not have the constitution for it.”
Colleagues and political veterans lamented the decision. Albanese, who was a City Councilman from 1982 to 1997, is widely admired for his conscientious philosophy of public service. An atypically self-effacing politician, he was far more comfortable hobnobbing with his Bay Ridge constituents than attending galas thrown by city fat cats. This was his second attempt to head City Hall. “It is terrible that someone so good-hearted and so reform-minded cannot get support,” said Charles Juntikka, a Manhattan lawyer who fought alongside Albanese for campaign finance reform.
Flushing City Councilwoman Julia Harrison, who had been his colleague in the Council for more than a decade, said the mayoral race would be the poorer for Albanese’s absence. “He is so highly principled and really knows the issues,” she said. “He would have forced the candidates to address issues they normally wouldn’t have.”
As a Councilman, Albanese helped reform the city’s campaign finance laws. But even those reformed laws are, he now says, “inadequate for running a citywide race.” The campaign finance laws allow candidates to get four dollars for every dollar in personal contributions, matching funds that apply to contributions up to $250. Albanese would have received a lot of money in matching funds–but the money will not be released until August. By then, his campaign would be lagging far behind the others.
Juntikka said he hoped Albanese would remain on New York’s political landscape. “I really hope this is not the last we’ve seen of him,” he said. “I want Sal to run for City Council. With all the newcomers there, and his knowledge of the city, he’ll be king.”