Public Comment

What’s Wrong with the Sierra Club Slate in Albany

By Preston Jordan
Thursday October 30, 2008 - 10:01:00 AM

In a commentary in last week’s Planet about Albany’s City Council election, which pits a Sierra Club slate against three other candidates, Nan Wishner wrote of the three slate candidates, “I have heard an objection that electing Lieber, Panian, and Toomey will create an all-progressive council. I don’t have a problem with a council committed to the progressive values of environmental stewardship and social justice that I believe most Albany residents share.” I am a progressive environmentalist committed to social justice, and I have a big problem with the assumption that electing the straight Sierra Club slate is consistent with progressive values. 

If the slate is elected, the Albany City Council will have been entirely selected by the Sierra Club. Even if “most Albany residents” share Ms. Wishner’s values (as I think they do), progressives also value representative democracy. A complete Sierra Club win will deny representation to anyone who dissents from the Sierra Club’s agenda, or its means to accomplish that agenda. Consequently, a total Sierra Club takeover will drive Albany further apart rather than “bringing Albany together” as Mayor Lieber’s latest campaign slogan claims. This violates the spirit of the Sierra Club Board’s own resolution to “support alternative electoral methods that better reflect the diversity of public opinion” (passed on July 22, 2000, and described in 

Progressives have traditionally fought political monopolies because they are exclusionary. A Sierra Club monopoly should not be granted an exception in any event, but particularly because past Sierra Club candidates and supporters have used many of the divisive tactics employed by such monopolies to gain power. 

Weeks before the 2004 Albany Council election, the Sierra Club slate of Lieber and Brian Parker filed a complaint with the FPPC against some opposing candidates, and arranged publicity for their complaint (described in part in Lieber subsequently won and Parker lost. The FPPC ultimately resolved long after the election that the complaint had no merit. This maneuver likely did not throw the election, but it did foreshadow the future. 

Two weeks before the 2006 Council election, David Madson and Jon Cunningham filed a lawsuit against opposition candidates Caryl O’Keefe and Francesco Papalia ( At the same time, Peter Maass sent a letter to the Council accusing O’Keefe and Papalia of illegal campaign activities. The Sierra Club slate publicized these charges, which are still listed for the moment on the former Sierra Club slate’s site ( After the election, the court found against Madson and Cunningham and awarded attorney’s fees to O’Keefe and Papalia, but the damage was done. Even though Sierra Club candidate Wile was caught stealing Papalia’s literature during the campaign (for which she subsequently apologized), Wile beat O’Keefe by 285 votes. After this victory, Wile appointed Madson to the Traffic and Safety Commission, nominated Maass for the Planning and Zoning Commission, and appointed Parker, who filed the 2004 FPPC complaint and ran the 2006 Sierra Club slate campaign, to the Waterfront Committee (http://www.albanyca. org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=3427). 

Even if the Sierra Club’s political activities in Albany were exemplary, progressives should not support its bid for an outright political monopoly. The evidence of its past tactics makes this even more imperative. Please consider each of the six candidates on their individual merits and vote for those most qualified in your opinion. If you do vote for the straight Sierra Club slate after such consideration, do so knowing you are voting to monopolize 100 percent of the representation on the Council for yourself, to the exclusion of many of your neighbors. This is not what being a progressive is about. This is not what Albany is about. This is not what democracy is about.  



Preston Jordan is a member of Albany’s Charter Review Committee, but the views expressed above are his own.