Thursday, October 15, 2015

Hamilton and Hallenbeck: Debate 1

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.

Public Transportation
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."

Affordable Housing
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?"

First 100 Days
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.

Youth Department
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.

Business Community
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.

Shared Contracts
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."

Truck Route
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."

Reducing Crime
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.

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."


  1. Wow! Carole, what a wonderful recap!

  2. I found our mayors stance on gentrification most interesting of all the issues.

    Now I understand the free latitude afforded Galvan better.

  3. It's intriguing to me that the term "affordable housing" is always used to define subsidized housing. But the problem is not merely a lack of affordable options for low income families. The issue of affordability also extends to young people moving into the city, bringing with them a great deal of economic vitality. Unfortunately, this big-picture view seems to fly right over the mayor's head.

  4. Slumlord housing in Hudson is affordable but unlivable. The City needs effective code enforcement.

    1. You are right, I should have said decent affordable options.....

  5. John Mason reported: "Hamilton said she had filed for personal bankruptcy a year ago, which she called 'a deliberate move on my part: It was best for my family.'” That raises a big red flag. Makes me wonder whether she would manage the city's finances in a responsible manner.

    1. I think it's important to remember that no 1 person "manage[s] the city's finances." Rather, the budget is established by a troika consisting of the mayor, the treasurer and Council president. This budget is then worked over (generally very lightly) by the Council which, eventually, approves it. Then the mayor signs it. Voila! Budget. Additionally important, remember that the mayor may not actually spend any money -- only the Council can direct the spending of City funds.

    2. As we say as lawyers, Ms. Hamilton "opened the door" to cross-examination by mentioning her bankruptcy during the debate. As a taxpayer, I think it's very important to know about a candidate's ability to manage money, whether the person is running for mayor, treasurer, or Council president. I'd like to learn more about Ms. Hamilton's financial problems.

    3. I absolutely agree with Alderman Friedman's statement, "the mayor may not actually spend any money -- only the Council can direct the spending of City funds". It seems, Mayor Hallenbeck's accretion that City government has been stalled by the Council may be accurate, if you read between the lines of Alderman Friedman's statement. I guess the question is, what has the Council done the last two years?

    4. I agree Mr. Hughes. I will add ... What has Council done in the last 2 yrs, 4yrs, 6yrs? I have found Council and it's Pres., the worst obstructions here, first hand. Most voters can not vote for these Alderman, as they are not in their ward, yet they end up determining a great deal as to what happens or not here; affecting all citizens.The most meaningful change, IMO, is to have a Common Council President who is truly independent of the "lobbyists" here, "new" & "old". A C.C. Pres whose only agenda is the all around best interests for all citizens' and the environment to whom they serve with intelligence competence, integrity, and no backroom deals to special interests.., and can manage to conduct all the Alderman to serve all the citizens in their entire Ward and the citizens of rest of City, in the same manner.

  6. The question of "affordability" in anything is a hugely complicated affair and need to be seen from a number of different angles. The property tax system and how it's administered, for instance, is a huge part of the affordability question. Subsidized housing, of course, is important, but that needs a thorough vetting. "Gentrification" is loaded term, but really means people with more money moving in and bidding up the prices of housing, which is usually a good deal for buyer and seller, but obviously affects property owners with limited means who don't want to sell (see property tax above).... We need a mayor who can see these questions as important and who understands the need for serious, transparent, and community-engaged study of them. Hudson is changing rapidly and if we don't get out ahead of the change with some rational planning, it's not going to be pretty .... This goes for neighboring Greenport and other Columbia County towns as well....

    1. This evening I spoke with someone who's leaning towards Hallenbeck on this issue.

      As owner of the house he was born and raised in, he watches in trepidation as neighboring houses are sold for what seem stupidly high prices.

      So why lean towards the mayor? Because in this fellow's view, Tiffany Hamilton seems to him to simply accept gentrification as a fact of life. (That's pretty much the extent of my view on the subject too.)

      Oddly, the same man is driven to distraction by Galvan's wide purchases (without understanding all the players who serve in local government), and also acknowledges that new money must come from somewhere.

      But why the mayor rather than his competitor? Because the mayor is tapping into a local fear that old Hudsonians are meant to get out of the way. The man said, "the new people want us out."

      I really didn't expect to hear that, and I think I protested enough to make a difference in this one case. But there's the unprettiness you anticipated, already festering.

      I also liked that you said "we need a mayor who can see these questions as important and who understands the need for serious, transparent, and community-engaged study of them."

      The mayor's anti-gentrification stance doesn't sound like much of a plan, but given the fear some feel about being driven out of Hudson, doing no more than expressing opposition to a societal tendency wins votes.

    2. and galvans 80 empty buildings isn't enough proof that the mayor is supporting this fear of driving people out of Hudson … and … preventing anyone to move in ???

    3. Convoluted to explain, isn't it?

    4. If nothing else, I’m glad to see this election cycle has thrust the topic of gentrification in the conversation. I have been sounding the alarm about gentrification taking place in Hudson for at least the last 4 to 5 years. Affordability can be relative in many cases, but in Hudson’s case regarding affordability of housing, it’s not that difficult at all. Years ago, when Hudson had businesses like, Kaz, L&B, Emsig, the match factor and McGuire’s, they paid salaries commensurate to rents being charge at the time. When those companies moved out one by one, they were replaced with employers paying a lower salary, at the same time buildings were being bought up, renovated and rents doubled and tripled the previous average rate. As a result, you started seeing the famed and controversial term, “gentrification” taking place. People were being displaced and forced to live with a relative or friend, with as many as two to three families living in a two bedroom apartment. This is in part evident by the Hudson City School District releasing statistics that the school district has as many as 185 homeless children in its school district, but no one seems to be able to find where these kids are staying. Let’s be honest, we know where most of them are staying, with family and friends because their parents can’t afford to get a place of their own. For those advocating for transparency and a thorough study of gentrification, in essence you’re asking to catch water with a strainer. Gentrification is the effect, you can see it taking place, but how do you quantify it? Gentrification is not necessarily a bad thing, it means development and improvement is taking place, but it can be a bad thing, if it leads to the total displacement of a segment of the population, primarily, those of lesser means.

      Yes, there’s fear and it can’t be blamed on one person or developer, no one can nor should they demand a business or developer develop or create affordable housing at a lost to their business. Homeowners know what it cost to maintain a home and most of us have a pretty good idea what kind of investment it takes to bring a property up to today’s codes. If a true conscious effort is to be given to developing affordable housing that addresses the needs of the less fortunate of the community, tax credits, pilots and other agreements will have to be made no matter who the developer is. Stop kidding yourselves folks, gentrification is taking place and people are noticing it. We can admit it, come together and address it or stay divided and choose to live on different sides of the issues.

      Most know who I am and I don’t run from a debate!! I can be found most days at Nolita’s should anyone feel the need to address me publicly.

  7. Gentrification is what often happens to up-and-improving communities that are experiencing investment, both from within and without. I've personally seen it as a child starting in the 1950's.

    As an aside, growth usually favors those with skills. So it makes sense that creating and supporting skills may lift the tide.