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First published: Tuesday, January 9, 2001

Albany Times Union

Whalen was responsive to city's neighborhood associations

As chairman of the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations during Tom Whalen's 12 years in public office (his two years as president of the Common Council and 10 years as mayor), I offer a somewhat different point of view than that expressed by Paul Bray in his Dec. 12 column dealing with recent mayors as having a patroon mentality.

During the Corning years, neighborhood associations were tolerated at best. While Mayor Corning would address neighborhood association meetings, we always felt that it was a form of noblesse oblige. All requests for city services had to go directly to the mayor since department heads apparently were not permitted to deal directly with the public, or chose not to do so.

While we were often advised to seek help from local committeemen, neighborhood associations did not take this route since we felt that public services were to be provided by government as a right and not as a favor by the political party in power.

Accordingly, there was a disconnect between city residents involved in nonpartisan neighborhood associations and city government, as represented by Mayor Corning.

There was a change in attitude once Tom Whalen became Common Council president in 1982, when he agreed to address the January meeting of CANA and to respond to questions following his prepared remarks. Those in attendance viewed the meeting very favorably. Whalen continued to address CANA's January meetings, the following year as Common Council president, and for 10 years as mayor. (Mayor Jerry Jennings has continued this practice of addressing CANA's first meeting of the year.) The mayor's addresses came to be viewed as a "State of the City'' report and were often covered by the media because of the tough questions posed by CANA delegates.

Tom Whalen said he found these meetings to be most useful, and he encouraged department heads to meet with CANA. When one department head was reluctant to accept a CANA invitation to speak, a telephone call to the mayor resulted in an acceptance. Virtually every department head met with CANA at least once over the years, and several spoke more frequently, subjecting themselves to a wide range of questions. In addition, city officials became active participants in the various neighborhood conventions that took place during the Whalen era.

Among Tom Whalen's early appointments after taking office, upon the death of Mayor Corning, were two experienced public officials, Dan Klepak as budget director and Michael Haydock as buildings commissioner. These appointments, and other actions, indicated that the mayor was responsive to neighborhood association concerns.

I could list many other city activities where Tom Whalen encouraged neighborhood association input and participation. The bottom line is that rather than tolerating neighborhood associations, Mayor Whalen viewed them as an asset to the city, consisting of people who worked to improve the quality of life in the community in which they lived. While he did not accept all of our proposals, including a much-delayed citywide real property reassessment, we always had an opportunity to have a hearing on our concerns.