Sal Albanese: A candidate fighting to be heard on education and housing
STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 5/23/2013, 4:30 p.m.
"Bloomberg is so wealthy, he doesn't understand what average people experience. He lives in another hemisphere," said Sal Albanese while sitting in his office at his modest campaign headquarters in downtown Brooklyn.
Located at 85 Livingston St., in the same building that houses a hair salon and a Gold's Gym, Albanese's campaign headquarters might be the very definition of grassroots. When it comes to housing, one of New York City's most important hot-button issues, he's quick to tell anyone nearby that developers don't own him. Repeating what he's said at numerous mayoral forums, Albanese told the AmNews why he hasn't taken any money from developers.
"I think it's one of the great failings of the city of New York and it speaks to our political system, which is dysfunctional and basically driven by huge money interests," Albanese said. "Economic diversity is important to the city. I'm very suspicious of what's happening and so are the tenants. Bill Thompson's campaign is loaded with development money. Bill de Blasio's is loaded with development money. And I'm not against development, but I don't want to go to City Hall and owe these people, because I want to make decisions based on the merits."
When it comes to merits, Albanese has an interesting background. According to the bio on his campaign website, Albanese came to New York City at the age of 8 from his native Calabria, Italy. Settling in Park Slope, the former New York City Councilman eventually earned a B.A. in education from CUNY York College, an M.A. in health from New York University and a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School.
Albanese taught in New York City's public schools for over a decade and also worked in the private sector in the legal and financial fields. Albanese's story is the classic New York immigrant story, and he understands how much education played a role in his rise.
But education, according to Albanese, has fallen by the wayside under Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration. Not as a priority, but as an approach.
"I don't think he's done a good job with mayoral control, and I think he wants to make a difference," said Albanese, who also said that he'd keep mayoral control of schools. "I don't think he understands education that well, because if he did, he would've appointed chancellors who had an educational background. It's important that the people who run the schools have an actual idea of what goes on in schools. That was his first mistake."
Albanese also chided Bloomberg for "demonizing" the teacher's staff and said you can't help improve student performance and well-being when those on the "front lines" are demoralized by treatment from City Hall. Albanese said that he'd bring in a chancellor with an education background who would understand what classrooms are like.
Albanese also pointed to extra curricular activities as a source of motivation for kids to do well in school. He pointed to his own experience at John Jay High School in Brooklyn as proof.
"When I was a public school student, there were a lot more activities," said Albanese. "One of the things that kept me in school was baseball. I was a varsity baseball player. I wasn't academically oriented, but I knew how to pass the three subjects. I did the best I could, but my motivation was to stay on the team. We need to bring back art and music. It can't just be about the three R's."
With Albanese' life taking many turns career-wise, from teacher to politician to private sector employee, he understands that nothing in life is a straight track and some things aren't precise. He feels the same way about education and Bloomberg's approach.
"Education is more art than science in many ways," said Albanese. "It's not like you're dealing with widgets. They have turned it into sort of a corporate model, which was a mistake. Bloomberg thinks everything is a corporation."
He may not win the primary, but Albanese continues to fight to be heard on the issues that working-class New Yorkers want fixed.