Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Just When You Thought It Was Safe . . .

Gossips thought the most interesting story to pursue was a historic one: Mayor Fred Wheeler's attempt, in 1936, to rescind the $275,000 bond issue required to build the Chancellor Livingston High School, now Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School. But last night's informal Common Council meeting trumped that. It may have been the most volatile meeting yet, with two aldermen leaving, at different times and for different reasons, before the meeting was officially adjourned.

It all started after the resolutions had been introduced (more about some of those later) and the aldermen and the audience had been treated to a PowerPoint presentation projected onto the closed chamber doors and narrated by someone patched in by cell phone. Having come to the end of the agenda, Common Council president Claudia DeStefano asked if any members of the audience had business to bring before the Council. Michael Chameides, who identified himself first as a Fifth Ward resident and then as the chair of the Hudson City Democratic Committee, asked about DeStefano's decision to remove Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) from the Police Committee. Chameides wanted to why she did it and why she did it when she did.

DeStefano did not have a very good answer. She talked about negative "chatter" about the Hudson Police Department on Garriga's Facebook page, which she admitted she had not read herself but had only heard about from others. Garriga protested that she was using her First Amendment rights on her personal Facebook page.

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) rose to tell DeStefano that she was using her political position "to silence a voice." He argued the fact that Garriga's comments were offensive to some was all the more reason for her, as Council president, to insist that she be able to say them without fear of political retribution. He maintained that the primary role of government was to protect the weak from the strong. After an exchange between Friedman and DeStefano that alluded to the Pledge of Allegiance, Friedman told DeStefano, "You have your words. Why can't she [Garriga] stand up and say her words?" Friedman then called DeStefano a "bully." He made reference to a resolution, brought forward by Garriga, which would amend the Common Council rules of order to prohibit any midterm changes in the makeup of committees: "Someday, there might be someone in that chair [referring to exalted chair occupied by the Common Council president] who understands what he is doing. You do not." Friedman then left the Council Chamber, but the discussion raged on.

Alderman Henry Haddad (Third Ward), who chairs the Police Committee, asserted that at the beginning of the year the committee had "set a precedent that no one [on the committee] would say derogatory things about the HPD on Facebook." Central to the bad blood between Garriga and the HPD seems to be a poster she carried in a Black Lives Matter demonstration which read: "No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police." Haddad maintained that this was an indictment of the HPD, which Garriga and members of the audience vehemently denied. Garriga countered by claiming one of the police officers who had spoken up at the September Police Committee meeting, which occurred soon after Gary Graziano had resigned as police commissioner, was recording the demonstration, an action she alleged was "profiling" the protesters and was illegal. 

Kaya Weidman, a co-director of Kite's Nest, defended Garriga, stating that she had been elected based on her views. She told DeStefano, "You are taking your personal opinion and bringing it to a totally inappropriate place in an unprecedented way that is very dangerous and actually steps across all kinds of bounds of democracy."

Throughout the verbal melee, the original questions raised by Chameides were repeated by members of the audience and by Alderman Abdus Miah (Second Ward): "On what basis did you remove Garriga from the Police Committee? Why did you take that action when you did?" The answers, which satisfied no one, seemed to be that DeStefano, motivated by "chatter" on Facebook reported to her by others and comments made at the Police Committee meeting, made the decision to remove Garriga from the committee on the spur of the moment and acted on it in the middle of a public meeting.

Even Haddad, who told Garriga, "There's not one person wanted you on that committee," and alleged that former mayor Rick Scalera had bullied DeStefano into putting Garriga on the Police Committee, had no good words for the manner in which DeStefano removed Garriga from the committee. He criticized her for not dealing with the issue face to face with Garriga and in private, which, he said, a person of character would have done. "Claudia is not a person of character," Haddad asserted. "She made the change in public because she wouldn't have the strength of character to do it properly." Thereupon, Haddad also left the room.

The meeting and Dan Udell's video camera continued. Garriga, addressing the camera, seemed to be denying what Haddad had intimated was some kind of quid pro quo deal between her and Scalera, but chaos reigned, and it was impossible to hear what she was saying. No doubt Udell's camera captured it all, and Gossips will provide the link to that video as soon as it is available.

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