Like other people, Jerry Jennings knocked off work a little early on New Year’s Eve. Unlike other people, Jennings received hugs and applause as he left his job.
Albany’s longtime mayor officially departed public service on Tuesday with a walk out of City Hall.
The 65-year-old Jennings, dressed in a dark blue suit, white shirt and a red and blue tie, hugged family and friends as soon as he hit the pavement at 12:32 p.m. Bagpipe players and color guard members helped send off the mayor; Jennings walked between rows of police officers and firefighters, all under a steel canopy formed by extended aerial ladders from Albany Fire Department trucks.
There were words of thanks, and Jennings quickly escorted family members to waiting sport utility vehicles as light snow fell.
In between hugs and handshakes, he gave brief answers to questions about retirement. “I don’t know, I’m not there yet,” he said. “I’m still working.”
His last few minutes as mayor were memorable: “Very emotional,” he said.
It’s been a long run for Jennings, a North Albany native who first took office on Jan. 1, 1994. As Albany’s 74th mayor, he served five terms. Before that, he worked 21 years as a teacher and administrator in the Albany City School District. On May 15, Jennings announced that he would not seek a sixth term as mayor.
City Treasurer Kathy Sheehan, elected this past November, will become Albany’s new mayor this morning.
Sheehan is one of the people Jennings hugged outside City Hall. “It was nice,” she said. “The mayor and I always had a very cordial relationship.”
Albany police estimated that about 300 people watched Jennings leave office. “You probably had about 100 cops and firemen,” said one police officer.
“He gave 20 years of service to this city, even longer if you count his service on the Common Council,” Sheehan said. “This is his farewell. The turnout demonstrates the kind of support and love the people of the city of Albany have for the mayor.”
Old friends were also in the crowd. “He’s a real down-to-earth guy, good for Albany all these years,” said John Groelz, standing in the crowded City Hall lobby with two friends.
Ray and Scarlett Kinley also said goodbye. “When I moved from Syracuse 23 years ago, I wasn’t as proud of Albany as I am now,” Scarlett Kinley said.
Jennings took requests during his short goodbye session, and he posed with Andrea West as she took a “selfie” photo with her cellphone camera. “I’ve known the mayor forever — he’s my old high school principal,” said West, who works for the city as a personnel assistant.
There were other rave reviews. Nancy Rao of Clifton Park, who works in downtown Albany, carried a sign that said, “Jerry, Thanks for the Memories.”
“He’s the best mayor of Albany,” Rao said.
Andres Rivera, a human rights commissioner for the city, said he always liked working with the mayor.
“He did a lot for the kids,” he said. “In his 20-year tenure, that’s what I’ve seen. I’ve seen him pick up kids from the streets and give them coats and stuff. That always meant a lot to me.”
Deputy Mayor Philip Calderone said it was hard to watch Jennings walk out of City Hall for the last time as the city’s top elected official.
“Yet, it was joyful at the same time. It’s such a bittersweet moment,” said Calderone, who will also leave City Hall for a new position as Albany County’s deputy executive. “I’m proud of all that we’ve accomplished and sad to see it end.”
Sheehan said she’s excited about challenges ahead in her new job. As Jennings prepared to leave office, she was already thinking about a snowstorm expected later this week.
“In between the celebrations, we’re talking tactics and making sure we have shifts in place,” she said. “We’re ready to handle it.”