Businesswoman B.J. Fletcher is seeking her first term in elected office as a candidate for the Albany City Commission’s Ward III seat. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — A loss in a close, hotly-contested election race often marks the end of political careers. For Albany businesswoman B.J. Fletcher, such a loss in the 2010 mayoral race was a beginning.
“What that race (in which she lost in a runoff to current Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard) proved to me was that there are a lot of people in Albany who believe in me,” Fletcher, who is challenging for the Albany City Commission’s Ward III seat in the Nov. 5 municipal election, said. “I came back because I want those voters to know I believe in them and I believe in Albany.
“Losing by only 600-something votes — getting almost half the votes in the runoff — told me that there are a lot of people in Albany as frustrated with the way things are as I am. I was disappointed to have lost, but it never entered my mind to say, ‘Forget it, just let them have it.’ I didn’t give up … I’ll never give up.”
Fletcher, marketing director at the downtown Hilton Garden Inn and owner of a number of food industry businesses, including the BJ’s Country Buffet restaurant in West Albany, turned her attention to the Ward III commission race after her narrow loss to Hubbard. She’s challenging incumbent Christopher Pike, an entrepreneur who has served one term on the commission, and school bus driver Cheryl Calhoun.
Fletcher said she is the candidate who will provide solid leadership for all of the citizens in Ward III.
“One of the things I’ve tried to show the citizens in this ward during the campaign is that we all want the same things and have the same problems,”she said. “The only difference is location. As I’ve taken some of the citizens who are involved in neighborhood watch programs in the western part of the ward to watch meetings in the southern part, I think they’ve all come to realize how similar we are.
“I’ve said before, and I’ll say again: The issues we face are not black and white issues like so many people have tried to make them. Our issues are green issues … the color of money. All people in Albany are hurting because there are no new jobs here. We need leadership; it doesn’t matter if it’s black, white or brown. I’m not interested in anyone voting for me because of the color of my skin. That’s just one of the symptoms of the disease of racism that we need to get rid of.”
While the Ward III candidates have remained civil during numerous forums held during their campaign, Fletcher said she has the best plan to move the city forward.
“Cheryl Calhoun is one of the nicest, most passionate people I’ve ever met,” Fletcher said. “Her passion is kids, which is commendable. But I don’t believe you can take just one issue to the City Commission.
“It’s a part of the public record that Commissioner Pike has been involved in various activities in which he has not fulfilled his financial commitments. I won’t talk about that, but I will say I have a problem with a commissioner who wants me to pay my bills and taxes when he falls short of such obligations.”
Fletcher has worked independently to bring jobs to Albany, and she said more needs to be done to bring new industry to the community.
“We’re notorious for playing a shell game with businesses here,” she said. “There just hasn’t been much true growth. With all due respect, you don’t see much growth when all you bring to town are new restaurants and service stations. My question is where are the real jobs?
“I know for a fact the Beretta gun company is looking to locate somewhere in the South, and they’re looking at Georgia. Why aren’t we doing everything we can to bring an industry like that here? Why aren’t we telling them we have the best land, the best water, the best climate? And with 90 percent of the food processing plants in California dying because of a lack of resources and an almost 90 percent tax rate, why aren’t we talking to these people? Those are the kinds of things I want to do as a commissioner.”
As other candidates have proclaimed during their campaigns, Fletcher agrees that citizens need more information about what’s going on with their government. But she said she wants to take that concept a step further.
“I want to inform our citizens, but I also want to help empower them,” she said. “No group of seven people can know what’s best for a community unless the citizens of that community have input into what they’re doing. I can’t tell the people of Ward III that I’m never going to vote for anything that raises their taxes, but I can tell them what benefits they would get from the taxes. I believe knowledge is what gets people engaged, and I would make a point to engage the citizens throughout this ward.”
Fletcher said she’s not interested in being a maverick on the City Commission. Instead, she said she wants to be part of a coalition working for the best interests of the community’s citizens.
“When we talk about change in government, we have a tendency to talk in generalities and paint everyone with the same brush,” she said. “I’m not doing that. I think we have some strong leaders in Albany, and I want to work with them as Ward III’s representative. Sometimes an infusion of new ideas is what it takes to help turn things around.
“I want to lead by example, and if I make mistakes I will learn from them. But I will not become someone else in office. I want to add my strengths to the strengths of the leaders in place and be a part of fixing our country, one community at a time.”
Fletcher said the opportunity to make a difference in the community she loves is what excites her about the Ward III campaign.
“This race is important to our community; it’s an opportunity for positive change,” she said. “There is a world of possibility that can be unleashed through hard work, knowledge and honesty. Voters in Albany need to know that if they wake up Nov. 6 to the same-old same -old, they’re going to get the same-old same-old.”