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On alcohol, Jon Howard is Albany's Mr. No

ALBANY -- Jon Howard is nothing if not consistent.

Since he first took the oath of office as a city commissioner in 1993, Howard has never -- not even once -- voted in support of issuing an alcohol license.

Howard has voted no for every business owner who has appeared before the commission seeking to sell alcohol at his or her store. He has voted against every attempt by restaurants to serve liquor by the drink. Most recently, Howard even voted against retail giant

Wal-Mart's application to sell alcohol at its new store -- a store that is bringing more than 200 new jobs to his economically deprived ward.

So, why does he do it?

"It's not that I'm against alcohol. I've just seen what it does and what happens to people when they can't control themselves," Howard said. "It just leads to trouble. Crime, decay, everything ... Alcohol is more of a problem than a solution."

Currently the longest-serving elected official in city government, Howard doesn't discriminate when it comes to voting down alcohol.

When a charitable organization comes before the commission seeking a one-day permit to sell alcohol at a fundraising events, Howard's distinct voice is always heard -- most often speaking alone -- saying simply "one no," when the measure is put to the vote.

Sissy Kelly, the assistant city clerk, chuckled when asked by The Albany Herald how many no votes Howard has cast against alcohol-related issues.

"You're kidding right?" she said. "That would take a lot of time ... I mean a lot of time. You're talking about votes that go back to the mid-1990s."

When pressed, Kelly reluctantly estimated that it would be feasible to estimate that Howard's no votes are likely nearing the 1,000 mark.

In fact, the only vote that Howard will tell you that has even a remote connection to alcohol that he has supported came early in his political career when he voted in support of a measure that would change the city charter and code of ordinances to allow the spouses or relatives of sitting city commissioners to be eligible for alcohol permits for their businesses.

"Just because you're related to an elected official doesn't mean you don't have a right to run your own business," Howard said. "Now that elected official should probably abstain or disclose that relationship, but it shouldn't stop the full commission from considering it, you know."

It's gotten to the point that when Howard is silent following the call for a vote on an alcohol license, it tends to catch his fellow commissioners off guard.

At a recent City Commission meeting, the board was considering a host of retail alcohol licenses. When Albany Mayor Willie Adams called for the question, he heard the traditional chorus of "ayes" but when he asked for any nos, the room fell silent.

"Jon, you missed one," Adams said.

"No I didn't, I said 'one no',' Howard said.

"Oh, I thought we might have been witnessing history," Adams said, with a grin.