Albany’s Sheehan says gun violence a major topic at United States Conference of Mayors meeting in Reno

Local leaders across the country are echoing President Biden’s calls for Congress to pass new gun control legislation, including limits on semi-automatic weapons and expanded background checks.

Public safety is among the topics discussed by nearly 200 mayors at the United States Conference of Mayors meeting in Reno, Nevada.

Kathy Sheehan, third-term Democratic mayor of Albany, attended the meeting and spoke with WAMC’s Ian Pickus.

What kind of conversations are happening between you and other mayors on the issue of guns right now?

Well, that’s one of the topics that has been the biggest and talked about a lot. And I think that says a lot about the state of our country when you have a group of bipartisan and nonpartisan mayors, you know, really almost unanimous that we need federal action to help our communities. You know, we have communities that have strong gun control laws like New York State, common sense ways to make sure guns don’t get into the hands of the wrong people, so that we can keep people safe. And then there are other places where the rules of the road are very different. And we need a nationwide strategy to get these guns, these illegal guns off our streets and keep them from flooding our streets.

What exactly do you and other mayors hope Congress will do?

Well, we’re certainly looking for that nationwide background check legislation, closing loopholes that New York State closed many years ago. And also, we know that red flag laws work. And so we want that to happen nationally, because if you have somebody in a state that doesn’t have red flag laws, they can get their hands on guns, we know that he can cross state lines, it happens again and again with these mass killings. And we want to see those common-sense rules of the road that helped keep guns out of the hands of people who would do harm with them to be enacted nationwide.

Do you hear ideas or best practices from other local leaders about what local people like you can do while waiting for federal action?

Well listen we have to keep doing what we’re doing to prevent crime we have to keep looking at the demand side of the equation why do people choose to pick up a gun and focus on efforts that are already well underway in our community, like the violence switches, you know, really focusing on our program that we have that works with particularly young men who are at risk of making decisions that could put them on the wrong path in life and try to keep them on the right path in life. But we also need help to stop the proliferation of guns in our communities.

What other main issues were raised at this conference?

We’ve been very focused on the workforce and the need to continue to focus on workforce development. All of our communities have businesses that are having difficulty filling jobs and finding people. And we’re really focused on how to move our communities forward. Much has been said about the consequences of this pandemic on people’s mental health and emotional health. And we believe that as mayors and leaders of our community, we can play an important role in bringing people together, giving them hope, helping people focus on the positive things happening in our community and the ways we can come back together and be in the community again as we see the numbers drop. And as we learn and know ways to protect ourselves, through this pandemic, you know, ways to be in the community again, and we just think that’s really important. And that’s part of what we talked about. And it was great to be here with other mayors and really focus on the positive things that we want to hope for and achieve in our communities.

Well, we’ve talked when you’ve attended this conference in the past, and in recent years, of course, times have been relatively difficult. But given the Federal Infrastructure Act and the US Bailout Act, investment in cities is in better shape than the last time you attended this conference.

Well, they’re certainly able to respond to the needs of their residents in a really impactful way, and it’s really inspiring to see what different cities are doing with their bailout funding and with the work they’re doing in about their communities. I’m really proud of what we did in Albany. As you know, we went through a very community-driven process, we did a lot of outreach, and we’re about to award $25 million. 75% of that money will go to our hardest hit communities, our lowest income census tracts. And you know, we’re also going to be pouring money into small businesses, our hard-hit travel, tourism, and entertainment businesses, and some really exciting infrastructure projects and projects around the city. So it’s wonderful to learn what other communities are doing. And, you know, I’m also very proud of what we did in Albany. And I think, you know, other communities are also learning from us.

While you were in Reno, the New York State legislative session ended, at least for now. Were you happy with what Albany got from the state legislature this year?

Senator Breslin and certainly members Fahy and McDonald have done a great job for the city of Albany. We’re going to see, you know, a real study of the 787 thanks to the hard work of Pat Fahy. We are going to see much needed investments in our communities. And we passed common sense laws, again, common sense laws to help keep New Yorkers safe. I thought Governor Hochul was phenomenal this morning. I was able to watch his speech from here. I wish I had been there when the bill was signed. But I’m really proud of our legislature and the message we’re sending across the country that there are sensible ways to keep people safe. And it’s our moral obligation, and I think the governor said it very well and I’m so proud to be a New Yorker.

Playing slots while you’re there?

I do not have. I tried to make very good choices here. I’m not a big player, but you know, the mayor of Reno really rolled out the red carpet for us mayors. She did a phenomenal job with this conference. And you know, it was a very good experience.

Jessica C. Bell