Thursday, July 7, 2016

Fair & Equal in the Register-Star

The Register-Star had an article today about the Fair & Equal initiative to do away with the weighted vote, written by Victoria Addison and John Mason: "Petition forces council to address weight vote."

In preparing the article, the reporters sought comments from three elected officials, two of whom are what might be considered career politicians in Hudson: Bill Hughes and Rick Scalera. If the new ward boundaries were to be adopted, Bill Hughes, who has been the Fourth Ward supervisor since 2008 and before that was a Fourth Ward alderman for two terms (from 2004 through 2007), would have to compete with Ed Cross, who has held the position of Second Ward supervisor since 2000, because the part of the Second Ward where Cross lives would become part of the Fourth Ward. Needless to say, Hughes is opposed to the way the ward boundaries have been redrawn, calling it "that gerrymandered map."

Rick Scalera, who first ran for office as a fresh-faced twentysomething in 1973 and was the mayor of Hudson for seven nonconsecutive terms between 1994 and 2012 (1994-1999, 2002-2005, 2008-2011) before becoming the Fifth Ward supervisor in 2012, also accused the Fair & Equal team of gerrymandering the wards. He remarkably attributes Hudson's renaissance to the wisdom of the weighted vote, reportedly claiming that "the city has risen from a crime-ridden community a quarter-century ago to an internationally recognized tourist destination today, all under the weighted vote system." He is quoted as saying, "It's because of the Fifth Ward the city has progressed so well--the success of the city is because of the weighted vote system." According to Scalera, "the only people who care about changing the weighted voted are members of a group who have been here for a relatively short period of time, too short to recognize how far the city has come."

As a counterpoint to Scalera's claim, Gossips moved to Hudson in the spring of 1993 and has been here and involved in the community for most of those twenty-five years Scalera talks about, and I can attest that Hudson's renaissance happened in spite of city government not because of it and certainly not because of anything the aldermen representing the Fifth Ward (one of whom has been, since 1994, Robert Donahue) did or did not do.

Scalera complains, as does Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), whose comments were also sought, that there were no elected officials involved in drawing the proposed map. (In Garriga's case, the complaint was there were no elected officials of color involved.) We have seen in the past that it is impossible for our elected officials--in particular, the aldermen--to discuss rationally the possibility of doing away with the weighted vote. In 2011, soon after New York determined that prisoners, for legislative districting purposes, would be counted as residents in their home districts instead of where they were incarcerated, Ellen Thurston, then a Third Ward alderman, brought up the issue of the weighted voted system and its inequity. Her motives were questioned by Wanda Pertilla, then a Second Ward alderman, who accused Thurston of wanting to change the system because her vote in the Council was about to get less powerful. (The Hudson Correctional Facility is located in the Third Ward.) Pertilla made a similar accusation the next year, when Don Moore, then Common Council president (and incidentally a resident of the Third Ward), called for an investigation of the constitutionality of our imbalanced weighted vote system. Pertilla then protested, "If the Third Ward hadn't taken the hit, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

In response to the comments by Hughes, Scalera, and Garriga as reported in the Register-Star, it's useful to recall the actual meaning of gerrymander. Here's the definition, straight out of Merriam-Webster: "to divide (a state, school district, etc.) into political units that give one group an unfair advantage." It would seem that the current ward boundaries, established in 1886 when the Fifth Ward contained few dwellings and was mostly taken up by the fairgrounds, are the divisions that give one group an unfair advantage.

It should also be noted that there are two elected officials, granted neither of color, who are part of the Fair & Equal initiative: Third Ward supervisor and former Common Council president Don Moore and Third Ward alderman John Friedman. If the proposed new ward boundaries are adopted, Moore would be in the First Ward, having to compete, if he wished to remain on the Board of Supervisors, with Sarah Sterling, who has held the position of First Ward supervisor since 2012.


  1. The talent pool outside of City government is impressive, and such citizen efforts ought to be encouraged.

    For a better Hudson, our motto should always be "Best idea wins," rather than obsessing over who is, or is not, a player. The latter has nothing to do with constitutionality, and everything to do with pettiness.

    In the spirit of inclusiveness, it's crucial that Supervisor Hughes has conceded there's no racial component to this issue. I had no idea this plan was in the works, but it's plain to see that a race balance was studiously pursued.

    But reading Mr. Hughes further, I was struck by the idea that he's less concerned, and perhaps less responsive to, his more affluent constituents. Shouldn't he represent everyone?

    Mr. Hughes should make a cogent argument why any of his constituents will have less of a voice the moment everyone in the City has an equal voice.

    Trying to make some sense out of the article's quotations, it appears Mr. Hughes's greatest concern is the preservation of his own career. And that is very far away from "Best idea wins."

  2. Rick Scalera submitted this comment in an email:

    Does that also include the time you served as alderman? How shallow you are to think that government played no role in Hudson's successes. If only you knew. I sure hope our current mayor and council understand how inconsequential they are to anything pertaining to Hudson's progress and/or future. Must be easy from the cheap seats.

    long time public servant
    Rick Scalera

  3. Mr. Scalera, in the newspaper you're quoted as saying you've "never seen the Fifth Ward hold back any other ward."

    How about holding back the entire city?

    In the interest of being specific and constructive, can you explain the thinking behind a 5th Ward vote in 2007 - with the sole assistance of Alderman Shook - which defeated a Resolution calling for a traffic study of the Widewaters proposal in Greenport (Walmart, Lowe's, et al).

    The rest of the Council voted for the Resolution, but to no avail.

    Without a traffic study, the ensuing increase of trucks in the city has arguably harmed all of us, and the 5th Ward in particular.

    So why did Aldermen Pierro, Donahue, and Shook do it?

    Perhaps you have a persuasive explanation for this specific example. Either way, you should at least try to explain, because it's a perfect example of why so many believe the wards need equal representation on the Council.

    It's also an excellent example why we mustn't reduce the number of Council members. Fewer members lead to power blocks, and to Groupthink. With the weighted vote, that's essentially what the 5th Ward can achieve on its own, right now. A reduction of Alderman would invite the same outcome in a different form.

    But I'd really appreciate your thoughts on that Widewaters vote.


    T. O'Connor

  4. 1.

    Supervisor Hughes, I'm still thinking about the nonexistent dilemma you perceive.

    You say you're not against one-person-one-vote.

    You also acknowledge that the proposal to introduce one-person-one-vote in Hudson is not race-related. At long last, Hudson has a plan to deliver on the promise of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by removing every last trace of institutionalized discrimination against any and all peoples.

    But you also make it pretty clear that your focus is on representing "people who have the same socio-economic (standing),” by which you mean an underprivileged standing. Evidently, some degree of discrimination is tolerable for you, if only to right perceived wrongs.

    But while no one would deny you the freedom to foment class resentment, without race as a component it's clear your real battle is against the percentages.

    Speaking as someone who can barely afford City taxes, believe me when I say I feel Hudson's pinch. But if your goal is economic parity in ward representation, then why wouldn't you embrace a plan which achieves one-person-one-vote throughout all wards, and in a way which manages to respect extant communities?

    The Fair and Equal proposal does just that. It's an ingenious way to ensure parity in all directions. It can only result in a net increase of representation at every economic level, while also reinforcing the best kinds of neighborhood and community bonds.

    It's inconceivable that the Fair and Equal proposal would not lead to an increase in civic participation, which is something I wanted to believe we'd both celebrate. Now I'm not so sure.

  5. 2.

    But now I've heard that you'll deliver a plan to reduce the number of Common Council members. If that's the case, then you would tolerate one-person-one-vote only if it yields less representation overall.

    Such a plan would put you at odds with the spirit of the Civil Rights Act, only now with economic standing substituted for race.

    Due to the disruptive nature of such a plan, the lessening of representation generally, and the inevitable increase of resentment between all residents irrespective of race or social standing, it can only be marketed as a commitment to lowering taxes. (I don't believe you're as cynical as all that, but your colleague certainly is.)

    The real drive behind such a plan, and the only explanation for wanting to undermine a robust community engagement, is an ambition to consolidate power. What else can explain all those negatives, especially with such a community-building alternative on the table.

    This is what happens when power is conceived in zero-sum terms, which can't abide any suggestion that participatory democracy, especially at the local level, leads to greater economic opportunities for all.

    The only reason the Fair and Equal proposal is threatening to the power-and-percentage gamers is its fairness and equality.

    On the other hand, by playing games, by sewing resentment where none is warranted (your constituents will enjoy an equal share), and by second-guessing the wisdom of greater civic involvement, you and your colleagues will end up harming every community in the City.

    Can you even explain why? The Register-Star story failed to offer a cogent explanation.

  6. Those interviewed in the Register-Star story missed a great opportunity to explain themselves here in their own words.

    Its unfortunate that the mere appearance of a story in a newspaper can create a semblance of respectability which a story may not deserve. That's why a responsible newspaper doesn't print incoherent fringe theories as news.

    On closer inspection, what is it that the individuals interviewed are protesting?

    Under the guise of objecting to Fair and Equal, their real issue is finding out who is involved. Superintendent Scalera lends a false respectability to this irrelevance by wondering aloud if creating ideas and submitting petitions is constitutional. Nice try.

    The Register-Star story boils down to disappointment: that this group didn't think of the idea themselves, much less form a group to consider it.

    Placing themselves in the ticklish position of objecting to fairness and equality, they have no reply to the comments and questions in this thread.

    Given a perfectly idiotic example of previous 5th Ward intransigence and harm straight from the Council's voting record, Mr. Scalera has no reply, though he asked the question.

    At this moment, Mr. Scalera-and-company are scrambling with a counter-proposal to the elegant solution of Fair and Equal. They will explain that less representation leads to better representation, when everyone knows that less representation leads to the kinds of power blocks which are Mr. Scalera's specialty.

    Consolidating power by this means, the counter-proposal to Fair and Equal will be advertised as a way to save money, as if saving a few bucks is suddenly so important that we should sacrifice representation.

    These same individuals, who are far from fiscally responsible, would be outraged if the shoe was on the other foot. Reducing expenses is not the motive.

    Following on the lack of a reasoned argument either for or against Fair and Equal, at least as presented in the newspaper, the subsequent failure to clarify what amounts to a power play and sour grapes is noteworthy.

    Theodore Roosevelt famously said, "Boss rule is the negation of democracy." Watch this story closely and you'll see the machinery of negation working overtime.

  7. With racial issues nowhere in sight, what's the precise criticism whereby the Fair and Equal proposal is anything but fair and equal?

    There is none!

    It's ludicrous, but The Register-Star offers no challenge to critics of equal representation whose incoherent complaints have the gall to insinuate concerns about [wait for it] ... fairness!

    With so little to go on, our ex-mayor wonders aloud whether or not the campaign is "constitutional" (read: discriminatory).

    Looking to preserve his considerable influence in the existing and unfair voting system, ex-Mayor Scalera, now Supervisor Scalera, relies on innuendo while fomenting gratuitous class resentment.

    Because there's no principled argument for maintaining an unequal system over a fair distribution of power at the current levels of representation - a notion once agreeable to Mr. Scalera when that argument offered an advantage - the critics of Fair and Equal are left to peddle prejudices instead.

    These are the tactics of a desperate power struggle which, ironically, echo the same resistance to one-person-one-vote heard in the 1960s. Similar gimmicks were used against the Voting Rights Act, part of the supporting legislation for one-person-one-vote.

    Though a counter-proposal is surely in the works, one which can't avoid some semblance of fairness, every "argument" floated in the story itself is essentially xenophobic, and without a whiff of underlying principle.

    Aside from signing the petition, I had nothing to do with the Fair and Equal proposal. Still, I maintain that The Register-Star acted irresponsibly when it elevated innuendo, prejudice, and coherent-sounding mush to the level of a viable platform.

  8. When I signed the petition I was assured that it did not include any ward boundary rewriting; it was in support only of one-person-one-vote. Now, it would seem, that that was a lie; that the petition includes these very premature new ward boundary lines. This is a huge mistake, politically and ethically. I completely understand the misgivings that those in the 5th and 2nd wards would have abut the proposed redistricting. It is both politically unsavory and intellectually bankrupt to be proposing such redistricting without a good deal of democratic and grass-roots debate.

    1. It was thoroughly explained to me, personally, then further explained in the short, online film which the group had advertised everywhere, and then explained again in detail at a public presentation which I attended at the library. I can't imagine how you missed any of that.

      Nice choice of terms, though: a lie, an ethical mistake, intellectually bankrupt ...

      But because you've overstated your case, I believe you're the one who's lying.

      Because it's a headliner of the proposal that it achieves parity by making so few boundary changes, I say there's no way no how that a representative of this group assured you that the ward boundaries would not change. It never happened.

      Another feature of the proposal solves the existing boundary dispute between the 4th and 5th Wards. Do you see, these are features of the plan, and nobody was ever hiding them.

      Because no one concealed from you what everyone considers the plan's highlights, I say that you're the one who's lying.

      Anyway, you've explained nothing. Your comment is bereft of ideas. You say you were tricked, and that you can understand misgivings where "a good deal of of democratic and grassroots debate" is missing.

      But this is the debate, right now, and you've wasted your opportunity by saying essentially nothing and by spreading calumny instead.

      Try again, but next time bring an idea to the table.

    2. You use your time to debate the issue by complaining that you're not debating the issue. Then you want people to think this is unfair.

      The criticisms in The Register-Star, and also your own comment, can be summarized in two lines.

      1. You're sour that you weren't working on a solution yourself. [Why not?]

      2. You don't trust anyone you didn't grow up with. [Let's not even go there.]

      So far, every criticism heard boils down to malice. That's because critics of Fair and Equal are at a disadvantage who've also been beneficiaries of Hudson's unfair and unequal voting system. Evidently, this is sufficient reason to sew distrust.

      But distrust is not reason, nor does seeming to be reasonable qualify as reason.

      It's a cowardly business to tear down good ideas as "bankrupt" when not a single attempt has been made to engage them, not in The Register-Star and not at Gossips.

      The Fair and Equal campaign isn't the cheat here.


    Further down the page, in the center, the ballot initiative is named: A LOCAL LAW TO AMEND THE BOUNDARIES OF THE WARDS OF THE CITY OF HUDSON AND VOTING PROCEDURE OF ITS COMMON COUNCIL.

    Our website is detailed on this matter, It is clearly not something the campaign is trying to keep secret.

    If you write me with your full name, I can locate your petition and follow up with the petitioner, to make sure the facts are being clearly presented. They are a well trained group and have done a marvelous job, but if there was a mistake, we will address it. My email is

    1. Thank you, Mr. Hannan.

      I hope that no one confuses me with your campaign, which was a total surprise to me. I'm just calling it like I see it.

      I really appreciate what you're doing, and I look forward to meeting you someday.


  10. Let me reboot. I should not have said that I was told that petition did not include any ward boundary rewriting and thank you, Mr. Hannan, for restating the language of the petition. I should have said that I was told that the graphic accompanying the petition -- and reproduced here above -- was not part of the petition. Since that graphic includes very specific redrawing of ward boundaries it was bound to create controversy. I signed the petition because the Ward boundaries should be redrawn to achieve the one-person-one-vote objective, but I did not sign on to the map graphic shown here -- and with the petition itself and was told that, indeed, such a redrawing was not part of the formal petition. I believed then -- and still believe -- that the process of redrawing Ward boundaries is a complicated one and must include a full and wide-ranging debate about how the boundaries are to be redrawn. So, Yes, let's get on with that debate. But petition writers should make it clear that the graphic above showing the redrawn boundaries is for illustration purposes only and not an official part of the petition. Thanks. Peter Meyer

  11. The "graphic" of the ward lines Peter is an accurate illustration of how the ward lines are changed in the petition itself pursuant to detailed legal description. When I ask voters to consider signing the petition, I show them the map, which is on one side of a laminated map, and then the other side, showing the current ward lines, and say this is how the proposed law would change the ward lines so as to create five wards of substantially equal population, incorporating a least change philosophy, as straight as reasonably possible lines, respecting communities of interest, focused on constituents, and not accommodating elected representatives. That is my presentation almost word for word.

    I would be amazed if any of our petition carriers has suggested otherwise, but if they have, I apologize, and we will make sure it does not happen in the future. We will contact the petition carrier who secured your signature on the petition.

  12. Oh, I might add, that we needed to have new ward lines in place in the proposed law, or we would have gone yet an additional election cycle with the current untenable situation in place, which is a mess in a host of ways, of which the weighted vote regime is but one aspect. The population counts are in error, people are voting in the wrong wards, and ward lines used by the Columbia County Board of Elections are in error, and those with the power to correct all of this have refused to do so. So we had no choice to go the route that we did. Hudson in short, one way or the other, has had its last illegal election.

  13. As the person who sought and received Peter's signature on the Fair & Equal petition, and who has been involved with issues of the City Charter as it pertains to legislative apportionment, the weighted vote, potential and actual local law changes, and questions of the use, accuracy or inaccuracy of Ward boundary maps, it is simply neither the case nor certainly my need to or intention that Peter be mislead to believe that Ward boundaries were not part of the referendum. If Peter had asked me so direct a question as are there or are there not Ward boundaries in the referendum, and I had answered, yes, that would have been a thorough and flagrant lie. That did not happen.

  14. I don't intend to get in a he-said-he-said debate with Don here, but will only repeat what I recall saying at the time: I'm signing the petition because of the words in the resolution (the words that Mr. Hannan restated in the comment above) and not because of the redrawn boundaries in the accompanying map. I recall very distinctly saying that I had many reservations about that graphic and stating, as I have said elsewhere, that the actual redrawing should be a deep, transparent, and inclusive process that includes the whole City. Thanks. peter meyer

  15. What "he-said-she-said"?

    The petition's title and its body both include the words "to revise" [further down: "amend"] "the boundaries of the wards in the City of Hudson," etc.

    If you remember having "many reservations" about the accompanying map, and now regret signing a petition the wording of which you failed to notice, how in the world is that someone else's fault?