New York 21st District
As readers of its novelist laureate William Kennedy know, Albany is within living memory an antique city. Its solid row houses show its 19th-century prosperity. Its once-teeming lumberyards and railroad car shops, restaurants and hotels, have the patina of age and the accumulated grime of decades of coal smoke burned during six-month-long winters. Its history dates to 1624, when the Dutch built Fort Orange on the banks of the Hudson so seagoing ships could dock at the edge of the great gloomy forests near the confluence of the Hudson and the Mohawk—the natural crossroads of upstate New York even before the building of the Erie Canal and the New York Central Railroad. This was one of America’s early industrial centers. A few miles upriver, Troy was a steel town rivaling Pittsburgh in the 1840s, and later the leading producer of detachable collars. Cohoes, at the junction of the Hudson and the Mohawk, became a leading textile producer. Schenectady, a few miles up the Mohawk, was the site of Charles Steinmetz’s fabled General Electric laboratories (with help from Thomas Edison) and long remained a GE town. Albany was one of America’s biggest lumber towns in addition to serving as New York’s state capital.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Albany is home to the state capitol of New York, but for a long time, it also had one of the nation’s most famed Democratic political machines, dating to 1921, when Daniel O’Connell and his brothers and local aristocrat Edwin Corning took control of City Hall. They never really relinquished it. O’Connell died in 1977 at age 91, still boss after 56 years, and his early partner’s son, Erastus Corning II, was mayor from 1942 until his death in 1983. The machine was sustained by legions of city and county employees, by a certain creativity when it came to counting votes, and by the raffish atmosphere that was found in the speakeasies of so many cities during Prohibition and lingered in Albany for decades after. Read Kennedy’s novels and you are there. Curiously, the machine made possible the transformation of Albany into the shinier metropolis it is today. Mayor Corning and Republican Gov. Nelson Rockefeller collaborated on a smorgasbord of civic improvement projects: the Empire State Plaza with 11,000 employees in 10 government buildings on 98 acres; the distinctive, ovoid performing arts center known as the Egg; and a renovated Union Station.
The 21st Congressional District of New York includes most of the Albany metro area: all of Albany County; Schenectady County, including Schenectady; Montgomery County, including Amsterdam, a carpet-making town until the mills moved south in 1955, rural Schoharie County, and parts of Rensselaer, including the gentrified Troy, with its bustling antique shops. It also takes in Fulton and Saratoga counties. Times have been tough here: Albany lost 5% of its population during the 1990s, Schenectady lost 6%, and Troy lost 9%. While the outer counties lean Republican, the Democratic machine vote in Albany makes this a comfortably Democratic district. Even Democrat Carl McCall, who lost every other county in the state outside New York City, beat incumbent Republican Gov. George Pataki in Albany County in 2002. Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton each took more than 70% of the vote there in 2006. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama won 64% of Albany County’s vote in 2008.