It has been reported that 15 million people watched the Democratic debates on CNN. The debate between the two Hudson mayoral candidates were not, to my knowledge, televised, so they couldn't claim quite the same viewership, but it was standing room only in the auditorium of John L. Edwards Primary School.
Questions had been solicited from the audience, and the candidates answered them, taking turns going first. For the benefit of readers who were not present, Gossips will recap the questions and summarize the candidates responses.
Hamilton spoke of Hudson FORWARD, the community group she organized in July 2014, and the successful ride share program the group had established to get students from Hudson to Columbia-Greene Community College.
Hallenbeck recalled the trolley buses of the past and their cost to the City, talked about the current bus service, and explained that past efforts to provide transportation to C-GCC had proven to be "not cost effective."
Although the question asked the candidates to define affordable housing, neither actually did but seemed, in their responses, to equate "affordable housing" with subsidized housing.
Hallenbeck, as he has done before, attested that Hudson has done its "due diligence" when it comes to affordable housing, citing Bliss Towers, Schuyler Court, Hudson Terrace, and Crosswinds. He noted that developing more affordable housing requires a community and a city government that support it and developers willing to undertake it, noting that the latter will need to be incentivized by tax breaks and PILOTs.
Hamilton noted that all of Hallenbeck's examples involved "clustering" affordable housing in one place. This, she said, was not a successful model. "Is there any reason," she asked, "why everyone who is struggling needs to be in one place?"
The candidates were asked what they intended to accomplish in their first hundred days in office.
Hamilton spoke of wanting to "get her arms around" the capital projects facing the City-- sidewalks, the Ferry Street bridge, deteriorating streets--to figure out how much it will cost and start thinking about where the money might come from.
Hallenbeck talked about keeping taxes "where I kept them" and increasing revenues, claiming, as he has before, that when he took office the City had $887,000 in unrestricted funds and now it has more than $3 million. He too spoke of the Ferry Street bridge, explaining that the question of ownership had impeded efforts to repair the bridge and asserting that the state owed Hudson financial help with the bridge because the City had maintained the state boat launch for the past thirty years.
Community Review Board for the Police Department
Hallenbeck declared, "We changed the culture [of the HPD] by changing the 'figureheads.'" He proceeded to claim all of Chief Ed Moore's achievements as his own. He said he would have to "look at the makeup of a community board" before forming an opinion.
Hamilton spoke of people in the community who are "consistently disrespected and ignored" but acknowledged that Chief Moore had made "an excellent start" at rebuilding a stronger relationship between police officers and the community. She suggested that, if Tom DePietro is elected Council president, his plan to include community members on Common Council committees might transform the Police Committee into such a review board.
Hamilton called for a director with experience not only in working with young people but also in designing programming for youth. Hallenbeck claimed that the position of youth director was only administrative and hence redundant, since the City employs grant writers to apply for funding for programs. He asserted that the recreation supervisor is the important role and that all that is needed.
Hallenbeck observed that Hudson was "gone from an industrial revolution to small businesses" and claimed to have worked with many businesses to "get through" the review by the Planning Board and the Historic Preservation Commission. He cited keeping the streets clean and other "quality of life" issues as support for local business and said he wanted to Hudson businesses hire local people.
Hamilton reported that at the business round table she held recently, which was attended by thirty-five business owners, she asked who among them had been visited by the mayor. Not one of them indicated they had. She advocated for a single strong business coalition and a City Hall meeting with that coalition every month. She also spoke about the City working to help market businesses.
The question had to do specifically with citywide sidewalk repair and citywide garbage pickup. Hamilton suggested tapping into the talent in the city and forming task forces to explore the possibilities of "pooling our buying power" to repair the sidewalks and address the garbage collection issues.
Hallenbeck maintained that the city code states that "owners of buildings are responsible for sidewalks" and hence "the City cannot do anything about it."
Hallenbeck claimed to have done "a lot of things to try to circumvent trucks out of the City of Hudson." That seems to have boiled down to asking the supervisors of Greenport and Claverack to take on the burden of having trucks pass through their towns instead of through Hudson. According to Hallenbeck, "They didn't cooperate."
Declaring that trucks are "crumbling our infrastructure" and jeopardizing the safety of our citizens, Hamilton suggested that we had to "push harder" and not take no for an answer.
Vacant Properties in Disrepair
Hamilton noted that "a lot of empty buildings feeds back into the affordable housing issue." She recommended more vigilant code enforcement and fines "to make property owners know we mean business."
Hallenbeck responded, "Nobody wants to penalize property owners," and asserted that Craig Haigh, the code enforcement officer he appointed, "24/7 is looking at buildings that are in violation." He then went into a litany of how many buildings are not on the tax rolls (245), what is the total value of property in Hudson ($585 million), how much of that property value is taxed ($385 million), and how much is tax exempt ($190 million). He then noted that Hudson's biggest employers (Columbia Memorial Hospital, the Firemen's Home, the Hudson Correctional Facility) are tax exempt.
Alternative Sources of Revenue
Once again, Hallenbeck cited how he had "increased our revenue balance while we've kept taxes down." [Gossips Note: At the last Common Council Finance Committee meeting, it was revealed that income from all the City's revenue sources has decreased in the past year.] He mentioned the increase in building permits as a revenue stream and spoke disparagingly about his opponent's wanting to "look four or five years down the road to see where our money is coming from."
Hamilton, after insinuating the absurdity of Hallenbeck's statement that it was not possible to think four or five years ahead about new revenue sources, identified the waterfront is the primary source of new revenue for Hudson. "Fix the Ferry Street bridge and get businesses on waterfront," she contended. "That will bring new revenue."
Hamilton commended the HPD and urged, "We need more community policing." She spoke of job opportunities, education, and building community as the means to bring crime down. "We'll all have each other's backs," she suggested.
Hallenbeck reported that "crime is down across the board." He attributed this to Hudson's "open, friendly, respectful government under my leadership" and "our hard work over three and a half years."
As he has before, Hallenbeck declared that he is "not in favor of gentrification." He advocated for more tax incentives to developers to create more "affordable housing." This, he said would "stall gentrification at least, if not stop it." He noted that he wanted to sell the vacant lot at Fourth and State streets, owned by the City, for affordable housing.
Hamilton remarked that gentrification is a phenomenon. "It's not something you are for or against." She also noted that this was the second time Hallenbeck had enumerated what it would take to solve the affordable housing problem. "If we know what those things are," she asked, "why isn't it happening?"
In her closing remarks, Hamilton questioned why, if Hallenbeck knew how to solve the problem of affordable housing, as he twice asserted during the debate, nothing had been done. "None of the mayor's goals have been achieved," she declared. "There are always excuses--the Common Council held me up, they wasted time on the chicken law." She went to say, "We deserve action, and we deserve results."
In his closing remarks, Hallenbeck boasted, "We have brought the City of Hudson home!" He spoke again of low taxes and increased revenue. Then he took Hamilton's campaign slogan, "Government that respects you," as his theme, claiming that his administration had delivered a "respectful, open door policy for all." He spoke of unnamed aldermen running with Hamilton on the Democratic line who had not shown respect--who had characterized him as "dumber than a box of rocks," had not recited the Pledge of Allegiance at a Common Council meeting, and allegedly had told a fellow alderman to shut up. "Government of respect is what you've gotten from me," he declared.
A second debate between the mayoral candidates is scheduled for October 28 at 6:30 p.m. at Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School.
COPYRIGHT 2015 CAROLE OSTERINK
Note: Gossips arrived a little late and missed the opening statements. For an account of those, see John Mason's report in the Register-Star: "Mayoral debate high on issues, low on drama."