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Without an incumbent, it is a wide-open race for the four candidates of the 11th Ward

Over the past two weeks, the four declared candidates in Albany’s 11th Ward Common Council election have been knocking on doors, collecting signatures, and talking to constituents in what is shaping up to be the most crowded Common Council race this year.

In the running are Ken Barnes, Luke Gucker, Anton Konev and Justin Teff, who will be facing off first in September’s Democratic primary. Teff has secured the endorsement of the Albany Democratic Committee; Barnes, Gucker, and Konev are endorsed by the Conservative Party, the Working Families Party, and the Independence Party respectively, meaning that each hopeful can still end up on the ballot even if they are unsuccessful in the Democratic primary.

Barnes and Konev both ran unsuccessful bids for the Albany County Legislature in 2007, and Justin Teff campaigned for and lost the 11th Ward seat four years ago against the current councilman, Democrat Glen Casey.

“I think it’s pretty exciting to see so many candidates on the ballot, personally,” said Dan Curtis, president of the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association (PHNA). “I think it’s a good thing for the 11th, because the ward certainly needs a lot of help.”

All four candidates name public safety as one of their top concerns for the ward, which has recently suffered from an increase in crime.

“I believe that a community policing approach is definitely the way,” said Gucker, who considers himself to be the most progressive candidate. “I think the police right now are taking a very reactive approach to crime, and I want to help find a way to approach it more proactively.”

Gucker said that his urban-planning background sets him apart from other candidates. “Urban planning is more concerned about the building of the environment. I don’t think that approach has really been used in the political spectrum.”

Konev and Teff also advocate for community policing, while Barnes feels that the city needs to focus on reaching out to people before they turn to crime.

“We’ve got to reach the kids before they’re 18,” said Barnes. “We’ve got to have after-school programs.” Barnes suggested recruiting senior citizens to volunteer for sports and after-school programs to save money for the school district, and starting community-service programs where children would receive incentives like event tickets for completing service hours.

“You can’t just say, ‘I’d like to end world hunger and solve world peace,’” said Barnes, “You have to have some ideas about where we’re going to start. I think if we can get a few of these programs going it’ll help stop some of the problems in this city.”

Barnes, who has lived in the 11th Ward for 28 years, is a more moderate Democrat, as is Teff, which Curtis said could end up splitting the vote.

“I am behind Mayor Jennings, I don’t think that’s a secret to anyone at this point,” said Teff. He feels that his run against Casey and his work as ward leader have better prepared him for the constituent work of a council member, while his work as an attorney puts him in a better position to research issues and local law to understand what can and can’t be done.

Konev feels that it is his work in the state Legislature that sets him apart, but he has received criticism for his 2007 run for Albany County as a Republican.

“I am committed to improving the Democratic Party,” said Konev. “However, just like President Obama, I believe we need to get away from partisan politics that are failing us. In my county Legislature race, I was seeking to breach the partisan divide and asked for support of all parties.” Konev said that he was unable to participate in the Democratic primary after what he called a series of questionable decisions by the board of elections, and instead chose to run on the Citizens for Change and Republican lines.

All of the candidates said that Casey’s decision not to run did not affect their campaign. Casey, who at one point was planning to run for Common Council president, has said that he decided not to run to spend more time with his family.

“From my viewpoint,” Curtis said, “Glen was gearing up for a run for the Common Council president and it was clear he was assuming he would have the mayor’s support for that. The mayor made it clear he wasn’t supporting Glen, and by the time he realized that wasn’t going to materialize, Justin had already scheduled the endorsement vote with the ward committee and by a pretty large majority, the committee endorsed Justin for the seat.”

Moving forward, the candidates are speaking to constituents and planning events, aside from Barnes, who said that he will not be fundraising.

“Times are tight for everyone,” Barnes said. “I’m just going out there, meeting people, shaking hands, and talking to them. I’m not going to do fundraisers, I’m not going to do robocalls, or anything like that. I believe in the personal approach, and if that’s not good enough, then maybe I’m wrong, but that’s just me.”

Curtis said that while the PHNA does not make political endorsements, he is hoping to organize a debate for candidates in the 10th and the 11th wards.

“We have two very strong challengers for the mayor,” said Curtis, “and that could certainly detract from the attention that the city council could get, which is why we’re going to try and maintain a focus on the local legislators as well.”

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