Spin Cycle

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Populist ex-NYC Councilman Albanese's return

An underdog re-enters politics.

An underdog re-enters politics. (Credit: Albanese 2013 campaign)

He left the New York City Council more than 15 years ago -- and has drawn little of the public spotlight since.

But those who may have forgotten him are learning, perhaps slowly, that Sal Albanese, 63, of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is once again aiming for the top spot at City Hall, just as he did a long time ago.

When he first ran for mayor in 1997, New York magazine headlined Albanese as "Sal Quijote."

He went on to lose the Democratic primary, finishing with about 22 percent behind Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger and the Rev. Al Sharpton. In 2000, Albanese began another run, but raised too little cash to stay in the hunt and dropped out.

Albanese, who emigrated from Calabria, Italy, at age 8, taught and coached at John Jay High School after graduating from the City University of New York. Following his time on the council, he has been a financial services professional, first as a marketing director for Invesco and later a managing director for Mesirow Financial. His populist pitch sounds similar to what it was in the pre-9/11 city.

"I think the city needs a mayor who's in touch with most New Yorkers and is not handcuffed to the special interests," Albanese said Tuesday, terming himself the only "noncareer-politician" in the primary scrum.

Polls that show him barely on the radar so far mean nothing this early, he insists.

On the council, Albanese built a reputation as a principled renegade. Then-Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. kept Albanese out of committee chairmanships. Still, Albanese succeeded in his 15 years in office in pushing some high-profile legislation, including the law that requires certain types of city contractors to pay what was defined as a "living wage" to their employees. Mayor Rudy Giuliani vetoed the measure, but the council overrode the veto.

Albanese cites his support for gay rights and term limits. And that was during the 1980s and 1990s, when doing so provoked more controversy than it would nowadays.

"At the end of the day, New Yorkers need a mayor who understands the problems they face, brings a smart plan and good people to the table, and, more than anything, has the independence, courage and conviction to do the right thing," Albanese said in announcing his candidacy last month.

"Special interests" are, of course, in the eye of the political beholder. Asked to flesh out his own view of who they are, Albanese gets quite specific, citing soda executives who have been donating thousands of dollars to one rival, Council Speaker Christine Quinn of Manhattan, and the yellow taxi industry, which has sent checks to another rival, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

Albanese said, "The job is not worth having if you're handcuffed by special interests." He noted that last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned against special-interest influence during his State of the City address.

Not that you'll find Albanese and Bloomberg in agreement on the definition of "special interests." After striking school-bus drivers returned to work, Albanese applauded their efforts.

"Five weeks ago, they made a tough decision to stand up to a bully of a mayor," he said. "I firmly believe that we can protect taxpayer dollars, bus drivers' jobs, and the safety of our students. We just need a mayor who actually cares about all three."

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