Sunday, March 1, 2015

"Can't Get Much Worse" . . . Or Can It?

In the past year or so, during and after the recalculation of the weighted vote, there has been a lot of talk about the inequity of Hudson's method of achieving the constitutional standard of one person–one vote. Most of it has to do with the disproportionate amount of power wielded by the aldermen from the Fifth Ward, who each cast votes that are nearly four times more powerful than the votes cast by the aldermen from the First and Fourth wards and almost twice the weight of the votes cast by the aldermen from the Second and Third wards.

All that talk has led to scrutiny of census data and ward boundaries which has only served to make matters worse. First, Stephen Dunn discovered the population figures for 15 South Front Street and 15 North Front Street--the two parts of Hudson Terrace complex south and north of Promenade Hill--had been switched in the data used to calculate the weighted vote. It turns out the population of the First Ward is even smaller than it was believed to be, and the votes of the First Ward aldermen should be even less powerful than they are now.

Then it was discovered the ward boundary between the Fourth and Fifth wards in the area of Harry Howard Avenue was incorrect. A couple of problems came to light here. First, although the ward map disseminated by the Board of Elections shows Harry Howard Avenue as the boundary, the charter indicates that the ward boundary is the continuation of North Fifth Street. Second, although the residents of Crosswinds, a housing complex completed in 2008, were voting in the Fourth Ward, they were being counted in the Fifth Ward, thus increasing the power of the Fifth Ward aldermen--representatives for whom the residents of Crosswinds had not voted.

Now there is a new discovery: the ward boundary between the Third and Fifth wards out by the cemetery is incorrect.

It seems that Columbia Street has been used as the boundary between the Third and Fifth wards when it should have been Columbia Turnpike. As a consequence, all the residents of the houses in the little wedge of land from the point where Columbia Turnpike splits off from Columbia Street just beyond the hospital to the border with Greenport actually belong not in the Third Ward but in the Fifth Ward. This includes the mayor, who once served as Third Ward supervisor.

These discoveries underscore the need to revisit and redraw the ward boundaries for the purpose of establishing election districts of equal population.

The Fifth Ward was created in 1886, when much of that area the comprised the Fifth Ward was taken up by the fairgrounds. The Fifth Ward represented a lot of acreage but very little population.

When the weighted vote system was adopted back in 1975, Hudson was at the height of urban renewal. Ten years earlier, the 1965 Comprehensive Development Plan had assessed only the neighborhoods that make up up the Fifth Ward--the High School Neighborhood and the Oakdale Neighborhood--as being without serious problems for which rehabilitation and redevelopment were recommended. One can see how people in the less admirable neighborhoods--those seen as contributing to Hudson's reputation for having "the worst housing stock in all of New York State"--might have acquiesced to the representatives of the Fifth Ward having the greatest power in the City's legislative body, but in truth, the differences in the weighted vote were not that great in 1975. As this chart shows, they only became remarkably imbalanced in the most recent adjustment, giving the aldermen from the Fifth Ward just shy of 72 percent of the votes needed to achieve a simple majority.

The Common Council Legal Committee is still waiting for an opinion from former city attorney Daniel Tuczinski on whether or not Hudson's weighted vote system is unconstitutional, but logic suggests that the time has come to make the changes needed to ensure that all Hudson residents have equitable representation on the Common Council.


  1. It is time to abandon this manifestly unfair and irrational system.

  2. The weighted vote and the property tax assessment system are two of the more bizarre renditions of government I've seen. But I've noticed, in Hudson as elsewhere, that politics abhors rationality.

  3. So it isn't what's in the water after all !

  4. I've been drinking it for 25 years.... feelin' pretty mellow these days! Whatever.