Log Lunch with Mayor Kathy Sheehan of Albany, NY: A Case Study on Creating Affordable Renewable Energy in a Disadvantaged Neighborhood

On cloudy and quite warm Friday, April 19, the community gathered for another delicious Log Lunch. Today, the student cooks prepared an excellent meal consisting of chive pancakes, “build your own bibimbap” with crispy tofu, soft-boiled eggs, spicy sesame shredded vegetables with onions from Caretaker Farm, shredded cabbage and carrots, and maple gochujang over scallion rice, and (for the first time ever!) a mango-lime sorbet for dessert. The great meal left attendees ready to listen to Kathy Sheehan, the current Mayor of Albany, speak about the work that her administration is doing to implement climate change mitigation strategies at the local level, and the broader importance of Mayors and local governance in reducing the impact of climate change. 

As a three-term Mayor who previously served a term as Albany’s Treasurer, Sheehan has over a decade of experience in politics, but also had a background in law prior to taking office as Treasurer in 2009. As Mayor of Albany, Sheehan has made climate change mitigation and adaptation a part of her administration, staffing the sustainability office with its first permanent employees. This allowed Albany’s executive branch to extend EV charging, repurchase street lights, plant more trees, and make government operations run on 100% renewable energy. In her talk, Mayor Sheehan spoke about some of the different qualities that she believed made a good mayor or other local politician, and specifically emphasized her willingness to not always be liked by every single one of her constituents. Mayor Sheehan said that this allowed her to focus on the priorities and promises which got her elected.

Modifying and creating new infrastructure to prepare for climate change has been one of the main focuses of Sheehan and her administration in the last few years. Albany is an older city, thus much of the city infrastructure is out of date entirely or unsuitable for the future of climate change, thus it will be quite expensive to implement these solutions, particularly historically marginalized and low-income communities. Here, Mayor Sheehan explained the importance of federal policy in allowing ambitious solutions to climate change to happen at the local level. To highlight the link between federal policy and local solutions to adapt to and mitigate climate change in the present, she spoke about the Albany Housing Authority and its Steamboat Square Revitalization project. By using American Rescue Plan money to fund the project, the project will create approximately 425 affordable housing units with 100% geothermal cooling and heating. Sheehan explained that, although it was expensive ($40 million), she believes that projects such as this can play an important role in advancing social and environmental justice. Mayor Sheehan finished her talk by explaining that, oftentimes, people expect mayors like her to be capable of fixing major problems such as outdated infrastructure. However, she emphasized that concerned community members, as well as state and federal policy, can “help us fix it.”

For more information about Mayor Sheehan’s visit to Log Lunch, please see the Williams Record from April 24.