Democratic voters in Albany can begin casting ballots on Saturday in a primary race between two-term incumbent Mayor Kathy Sheehan and challenger Valerie Faust. 

Sheehan is pointing to presiding over job-creating projects over the last eight years, like at the Port of Albany and plans to construct wind turbines in the city. She also points to growth in the tax base, a challenge given so much of Albany is on state property. 

"I look at the challenge as being, our work is to ensure people know and are connected to those opportunities," she said in an interview last week. 

But as the city emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, there's been a sharp rise in gun violence in recent weeks. At the same time, Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins has emerged as a candidate for the top job at the police department in Akron, Ohio. Sheehan's office in a statement said it was little surprise someone from her administration was being pursued by another municipality. 

The challenges facing Albany amid the shootings is part of a symptom of a larger problem in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sheehan said. She has also called for efforts to curb the flow of illegal guns into New York. 

"I think part of what we're seeing with the uptick in violence is the fraying of that social network, those social networks that support us," she said. "And I think the other piece of it is, though, is we're seeing this huge proliferation of guns."

Sheehan has touted the department's efforts at community policing, but acknowledges hiring officers has been a challenge. 

"What I hear from our residents is that they want the police to be there to protect them, they want to be respected and they want to be connected to services."

Sheehan this month faces the Rev. Valerie Faust of the Living Word Tabernacle. Faust believes her work as a pastor makes her suited for the work of being a mayor by helping connect people in need to services. 

"I just want it to be the best city it can be, and I don't think it's that way yet," she said. 

And the biggest problem facing Albany in Faust's view? 

"Gun violence is at the top of the list," she said in an interview this week. "But not only gun violence, there are robberies, rapes, there are other break-ins and different things like that. But gun violence is at the top."

She also points to homelessness and affordable housing as a major overriding concern, especially in Albany's lower-income neighborhoods. 

"It's not going to enough of the people who really need them, and I'm hearing gentification in the inner city," she said. "They're afraid that's what's happening in Arbor Hill and other parts."