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Two strong choices for Albany mayor

In The Albany Herald's history of recommending candidates and ballot issues to voters, the Editorial Board has never been locked in a tie.

Now it has.

Over the past two weeks, the Editorial Board has met with each candidate in each Albany City Commission race, including the three candidates for mayor (in alphabetical order): businesswoman B.J. Fletcher; retired educator and former city commissioner Dorothy Hubbard and former state representative John White.

Following the completion of the candidate interviews on Wednesday, our six-member board discussed the candidates' strengths and weaknesses and voted. The result was Hubbard and Fletcher each received three votes.

That says a lot about each of these two leaders, who have different styles, backgrounds and ideas with one notable exception -- each wants to see Albany move forward and progress.

In White, we heard quite a few promises -- a new airline, a water park at Chehaw, a Bingo boat on the Flint River, an Evander Holyfield-backed boxing program for troubled youth and Ray Charles Museum -- but few details on how those would be accomplished and what the public funding component would be. We feel White would be a divisive mayor who would not build the type of consensus needed to drive Albany forward.

DOROTHY HUBBARD is a consensus builder, a skill that is critical on a commission where nothing can be done without four votes. She is familiar with the commission's operations, having served on it for six years as the Ward II representative before resigning in September to seek the mayor's seat. She feels she has done an outstanding job as a commissioner and has made sound decisions based on available data.

Hubbard said she does not see the mayor's job as a one-person show, seeing it instead as the focus for building a winning team that can move Albany forward. She is also focused on two areas that Albany will have to successfully address if it is to regain its former swagger: education and jobs. Indeed, the two issues are inextricably joined. For business to succeed, the education system has to provide a work force that meets the business' needs. While the mayor does not deal directly with education, the position can be made into one that facilitates improvement by bringing stakeholders and officials with the community's secondary schools and colleges and university together. Areas that need attention, she said, are preparation of students with job skills local business and industry need, parental involvement in educational improvements, mentoring students, truancy and juvenile justice.

Jobs and economic development, she said, are the best weapons against crime, but she said technology, such as cameras and reverse emergency calls to residents when crimes occur, will help, as has the gang task force, which has been making a noticeable dent in street gangs in Albany.

Hubbard said she has made some mistakes as a commissioner in her six years, but said her decisions were based on information she had at the time she made them. "I put my record out there," she said. "I believe I made the best decisions I could make based on the information that I had. I will be asking questions. I will be digging into those."

B.J. FLETCHER has not only made a commitment to Albany, she has made multiple investments. Fletcher has been a driving force behind revitalizing a downtown area that is slowly shaping into a restaurant and entertainment district that is attracting some folks back to the downtown area.

Fletcher, whose successful enterprises include Cafe 230 on Broad Avenue and Ole Times Country Buffet on Dawson Road, said one of the motivating factors for her was the sorrow she felt over the past six months when, in a single day, she had to turn down 30 people ranging in age from 13 to 75 who wanted jobs. "It just really weighed on me," she said. "It just sincerely weighed on me."

She also sees improvement in education as a critical factor in enabling people to go to work and get out of poverty.

Fletcher has a sharp business mind that would be a benefit to the commission. For instance, when the recession was hitting the hardest, she dropped her buffet price at Country Time rather than raise it. The result: Increased volume and an additional benefit for struggling customers because other buffets had to drop their prices, too. "I'm just good at what I do," she said. "Whatever market I'm in, I adjust to that market. ... When I went to Old Times, they laughed at me and when I went downtown (Cafe 230), they prayed for me."

Fletcher has no government experience, but she has drive, initiative and energy. She also believes that various stakeholders from areas such as education, economic development, medical and others have to come together as a cohesive team to overcome Albany's problems. She also hasn't waited for a title to go to work, taking it upon herself to contact companies such as one overseas that makes bamboo flooring and is looking at expanding into the United States. She also says she will rely on her business acumen to find and cut out wasteful spending at City Hall.

We were impressed by both Fletcher and Hubbard and recommend that you vote your conviction between the two. Only one person can sit in the mayor's seat, but we hope each of these two candidates will be willing to continue her good work on behalf of our city in whatever capacity the voters determine -- mayor or private citizen.

-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board