Section: Capital Region,  Page: B9

Date: Friday, June 16, 2006

A longtime ally of Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings could return to City Hall.

Former Common Council President Robert Van Amburgh , who lost his job to Helen Desfosses in a 1997 primary, will be hired next week as the mayor's executive assistant, according to several highly-placed sources in City Hall. Jennings, who did not return a call from Inside Politics about Van Amburgh, has sought a new $76,965-a-year assistant since he promoted Joe Rabito to commissioner of Development and Planning in December.

Political observers may remember that Van Amburgh, 59, of Loudonville has been out of the limelight since losing the bitter three-way Democratic primary. During that campaign, one challenger, Greg Burch , achieved some notoriety when he described the incumbent Van Amburgh as a "potted plant" for never bucking Jennings.

Van Amburgh and Jennings have been allies since their days in the Albany School District, where Jennings was an assistant principal at Albany High School and Van Amburgh was a high school social studies supervisor.

Party officials deny split

The secretary of the Albany County Democratic Committee has called it quits, saying the demands of the job became too much.

The departure of John Kearney , who resigned May 25 in a letter to Chairwoman Betty Barnette , kicked the usual Democratic rumor mill into high gear, with some telling Inside Politics the two had a falling out.

Kearney and Barnette both denied that.

"I'd like to think that I got along with everyone on the committee," said Kearney, a 61-year-old retired Teamster official who held the Democratic post for four years.

He said he left to spend more time with his family, particularly his grandchildren, because his party duties had "been turning into a full-time job." Kearney did much of the day-to-day work at the party's Colvin Avenue headquarters.

"There is no gloom and doom here," said Barnette, who named Watervliet Mayor Robert Carlson as Kearney's successor. "He is leaving to attend to his family obligations."

Sweeney breaks ranks with GOP

U.S. Rep. John Sweeney , R-Clifton Park, is voting with the Democrats again.

On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to raise the hourly minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25. Sweeney was among seven Republicans who broke with the party. Last week, Sweeney voted yes to a Democratic proposal to add $750 million to a homeland security appropriations bill to make sure no high-threat, high-density urban areas receive less than this year or last - whichever is higher. He has called for Michael Chertoff , the head of the Department of Homeland Security, to resign over cuts to anti-terrorism funding for New York City.

Bill Hyers , campaign manager for Sweeney's main Democratic rival, Kirsten Gillibrand , said Sweeney's vote on the minimum wage is an election-year conversion. Gillibrand has criticized Sweeney for repeatedly voting against minimum wage hikes.

"Once he realized he's in trouble, he's running like he's not a Republican," Hyers said. "The voters will see election-year politicking as election-year politicking."

Sweeney himself got on the line to explain that he has been a co-sponsor of a bill by U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert , R-New Hartford, to raise the minimum wage since last year.

"It'll be a decade next year without raising the minimum wage," he said. "At the same time, the effect it would have on small businesses and farms needs to be offset with tax cuts."

He was dismissive of the criticism from the Gillibrand campaign.

"My opponent doesn't have the experience to judge my record," he said. "I hate to inform them, but my world doesn't revolve around her."

Inside Politics and is compiled by staff writer Elizabeth Benjamin. Staff writers Brian Nearing and Tim O'Brien contributed to this column.