Thursday, February 7, 2019

The State of the First Ward

Last Thursday, the elected representatives of the First Ward--aldermen Rob Bujan and Kamal Johnson and supervisor Sarah Sterling--held a "meet and greet" for their constituents. On what was probably the coldest night in recent memory, twenty-one people showed up for the event.

The conversation began with each elected official enumerating his or her achievements in 2018. Johnson noted that he chaired the Police Committee and the Youth Committee and cited as an  achievement the Handle with Care initiative, in which the Hudson Police Department partners with the Hudson City School District to provide support for children who are exposed to violence or trauma. He also spoke of his push to get police officers on the street and in the Youth Center. Noting that most of the youth organizations (and mentioning specifically the Youth Center and Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood, where Johnson is co-director) are located in the First Ward, Johnson spoke of his focus on youth programs and the effort to get a "robust budget" for the Youth Center.

Bujan began by saying he chaired the Finance Committee and cited as his achievements in 2018 the law making Cold War veterans exempt from property taxes and the policy change that allows the City to treat de minimis overpayments of fees as "voluntary payments." He spoke of the sale of 255-257 Columbia Street and 67 Fairview Avenue--both vacant lots where the City had demolished buildings in the interest of public safety--and the land swap with HCDPA (Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency) in which the City took possession of Thurston Park, the pocket park in the 200 block of Warren Street, and transferred the two parcels it owned at the west end of Warren Street to HCDPA. Bujan also mentioned funding air packs for the Fire Department and the ongoing efforts to fund body cams for the Police Department.
Sterling started off by saying she was the minority leader on the Board of Supervisors, and that of the 23 supervisors only 10 were Democrats--five of the ten being the supervisors from Hudson. Noting she was deputy chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, Sterling announced that the Galvan Motel, which has a contract with the county to provide supportive housing for homeless people, may be opening in April.  

When comments and questions from First Ward residents were invited, a couple of people had a litany of complaints--about everything from perceived local government dysfunction to the weighted vote on the Board of Supervisors to the handicapped ramp on Columbia Street (not in the First Ward) which is part of the linear park created by the PARC Foundation. Hilary Hillman asked an interesting question: What was the hardest and most frustrating part of the aldermen's first year in office? Bujan called the experience "trial by fire," noting that everyone on the Council, with the exception of Second Ward alderman Tiffany Garriga, was new. He said he wanted "to get together a book of guidelines for new aldermen." Johnson commented, "The Council was so dysfunctional before us there was no transition."

Many current concerns were raised. Regarding the redevelopment of the Kaz site, Rebecca Wolff asked how the Council interacted with HDC (Hudson Development Corporation). (Council president Tom DePietro serves ex officio on the HDC board.) Karla Roberts suggested that since the Kaz site is in the First Ward there should be people from the First Ward on the HDC board. (Seven of the twelve current members of the HDC board live in the First Ward.) The issue of short-term rentals was also raised, and Bujan and Johnson both assured their constituents they would be attending Legal Committee meetings as legislation regarding short-term rentals is discussed and developed. Sterling expressed concern about a possible decrease in population because of short-term rentals. Wolff noted that Chatham had just passed something "very tight."

Peter Meyer complained of the tendency for things to be done in Council committees and expressed concern about how information "gets to all the people." He spoke of "government run by a small group of people" and made the observation, "What gets out is such a small bit of what's actually happening." He sought "an easily accessible way to get your opinion heard." Bujan said getting information out was a complicated process, citing the need to build a list of email addresses and get permission to contact people. Michael O'Hara suggested people could sign up on the city website to receive newsletters or to get information about a particular subject.

Meyer also wanted to know where the aldermen stood on the project being proposed by the Hudson Housing Authority and asked if the Council had input. He called the proposal "a big governance problem" and complained that no one was taking the lead. Sterling defended the project, saying it would provide workforce housing, but said it had to be "watched at every point." Don Moore provided the information that, according to public housing law, the project must be reviewed by the Planning Board and approved by the Common Council. Barbara Dague predicted that the buildings would never be constructed because of the instability of the soil at the location.

The meeting ended with the two aldermen outlining their plans for 2019. Johnson said he would continue his work with the Youth Center and wanted to "connect businesses with the youth." He also mentioned as areas of concern paid family leave for City employees and the opioid epidemic.

Bujan talked about establishing mass gathering permit fees based on the cost of police time required for an event and creating a real estate transfer tax for the City. He said he would be reviewing the City's insurance programs, looking for possible cost reductions, and working to achieve lodging tax compliance. On the subject of city finances, Bujan noted that the $20,000 to support community events had been removed from the 2019 budget. He said the money to support community events should come from the Tourism Board, which controls a percentage of the revenue from the lodging tax. Bujan also set as a goal for 2019 organizing an anti-littering campaign for lower Union Street.


  1. I couldn't attend, but I'd have drawn attention to the Colarusso company's unsuccessful lawsuit against the City which frees up our thinking on a number of longtime 1st Ward issues.

    Principal among these is the company's ongoing use of city streets for its truck traffic in total disregard of the hard-won waterfront policies adopted into law in 2011 - the self-same disregard for the same laws which led the court to dismiss the lawsuit.

    Newcomers should know that the 2011 waterfront laws were the result of a messy, years-long process which was often heavy-handed and even deceitful. And yet, this body of laws was the solution worked out between the City, residents, the previous landowner/miner, the State of New York, and Scenic Hudson.

    As I said at the time to then-President Moore, everybody lost something which is what made it a stable contract.

    Grudgingly accepted by all parties, the alternative was and is to redirect ALL truck traffic, in both directions of travel, over the existing, unaltered South Bay causeway as soon as the DOT-approved crossings are built at Rtes 9-G and 9.

    Now the State Supreme Court has reminded us of the authority and stability of these laws which were devised to work with the truck-route alternative presented throughout the 2011 waterfront documents.

    Now is the time for all Wards to actively pursue the one alternative so much nearer to completion today.

    The controversial 2017 proposal by the new landowner (since 2014) is a far cry from the 2011 alternative, but before the recent court decision the city was held hostage by the ongoing trucks on city streets (as if to say, accept a new plan or else …).

    Aldermen of every Ward are advised that this is no longer the case. Following the favorable court decision, it's time that the city speaks with one voice and demands the implementation of the 2011 truck-route alternative across the unaltered causeway and right across our beloved South Bay.

  2. Unheimlich raises a good point that wasn't as explicit as it might have been at this meeting: What are the issues that impact all Wards and what are Ward-specific representatives supposed to do with them vis a vis their supposed constinuency? I raised the issue of Executive Branch leadership and questioned why we didn't have Commissioners as we have had in the past. I think the Mayor should have such clear citywide issue administrators to help moderate the ward-specific interests while lobbying for citywide ones.

  3. Elevated rail and tunnels would "revitalize" 150 miles of entrapped eastern shore. A one time cost producing a perpetual benefit.

    The most powerful people on the planet, Trump, Schumer and Cuomo are all from NY and the only thing they agree on Infrastructure spending.

    Infrastructure on steroids ccould build billion dollar 1st ward.