ALBANY -- National pundits have called Tuesday's election a pivotal one for the future of the country.
The same can be said in Albany. There hasn't been the rancor locally that we've seen on the national level -- all seven candidates for City Council seem to genuinely like and respect one another. However, there's no question that they generally fall into three factions, each with a distinct vision for the future of Albany.
Voters will have an opportunity to determine which of those futures is best. Of course, voters could also send a mixed message, as they often do on the state and national level. Seven candidates are running for three Albany council seats, with the top three vote-getters taking office in December.
"I think it's a great referendum on ideas," said Ulan McKnight, who is running as a team with Sheri Spellwoman in promoting a green vision for the city.
"I have the utmost respect for all my fellow candidates," Spellwoman said at an Oct. 17 candidates forum at St. Alban's Church. "I would say that I absolutely endorse Ulan McKnight. He and I have supported each other in our campaigns. Beyond that I would leave that up to you."
Regarding the right course for the controversial University Village development, which was approved in July by the current council, "There's no way to know that without asking everybody in Albany what they think about it," Spellwoman said. "I think it's a very impactful project that merits a lot of community input. I think it has a lot of potential impacts. I would not have voted for it as the last incarnation was voted on. I would have much more preferred the smaller, much more environmentally superior alternative."
Since the project was approved, a petition calling for a voter referendum has been turned in, two lawsuits have been filed and proposed anchor tenant Whole Foods Market has pulled out.
Spellwoman and McKnight are also supportive of the Occupy the Farm protesters who, for a month this spring, took over the University of California-owned land known as the Gill Tract.
"I absolutely believe in civil disobedience as a way of raising awareness and beliefs (in a) non-violent way," Spellwoman said. "I am thankful that that action brought into awareness this farmland in Albany."
Said McKnight, "I think it is the most valuable land in Albany and I think we should preserve it."
Incumbent Peggy Thomsen told the forum that she supports hopefuls Michael Barnes and Tod Abbott in addition to herself. Thomsen voted in favor of the University Village project and Barnes and Abbott have been supportive.
"I attended many many meetings on this and I saw the project grow and change over time," Abbott said. "It was a fascinating process. I know that the vast majority of people that I talked to and I supported it."
Thomsen noted that the project has been discussed for many years, countering arguments that there was not enough community input in the process.
"The discussion of the development began before I returned to the council (in 2008)," she said.
Said Barnes, "Leadership is not about trying to be a conduit for polls and votes. Leadership is about trying to think about what is best for your community."
Regarding the Gill Tract protests, Thomsen said, "As far as trespassing, my preference is to find legal ways to solve problems. I really think that trespassing was not the best way. I really would have liked to have seen people use ways that are within the law."
Abbott told the forum, "I support breaking the law if it's a victimless crime and you're willing to accept the consequences."
The other two candidates are Nick Pilch and Peter Maass. They also tout their green credentials and are running as a team.
However, they diverge slightly when it comes to the University Village project. Maass voted in favor of the project as a member of the city's Planning and Zoning Commission.
"Five of the six years I was on Planning and Zoning, we reviewed the Whole Foods project," Maass said. "In the end, I thought that we had a project that would benefit Albany. Any project is going to have impact, pluses and minuses. I think the pluses outweighed the minuses on this."
Pilch is one of the founders of Albany Strollers and Rollers, which filed one of the lawsuits. The suit alleges that the project's Environmental Impact Report changed.
"We think you have to address this error," he said. "The city and UC did not respond in time so a lawsuit was filed to force renegotiation. We are in renegotiation."
Pilch added, "I think the majority supports (the project) and that's why I support it. I think it's not a perfect project at all, but I would have stopped the vote if what happened, happened-- three minutes before the vote, language changes were inserted."
Maass said the Occupy the Farm protest might have been counterproductive.
"Occupy, I think it might have set back the idea of doing some kind of farm or environmental center and I think that's a shame," he said.