Friday, December 20, 2013

The Evolution and Resurgence Of Hudson

The evolution and resurgence of Hudson
Not so long ago, you could walk up the main corridor of Hudson, otherwise known as Warren Street and see boarded up, shuttered buildings, with all its historical splendor, slowly deteriorating.  One by one, most of the buildings have been brought back to their former glory and in some cases, exceeding their past existence.  Because of the poor condition and lack of interest in a lot of buildings on Warren Street, those with an eye for historical value and cash on hand, saw Warren Street as a cheap, underdeveloped, historical gem, waiting to once again gain its former grandeur.  The development of Warren Street has spawned a population shift, which is slowly leading to a cultural change in the City of Hudson.  Through the years of Hudson’s past, when it was known as a manufacturing player, you could find a job in a day, regardless of education, get a cold beer from a bar virtually on every corner, while enjoying a piece of chicken or slice of pizza, all for less than $5.  Today, on Warren Street, you can still enjoy a beer, at inflation adjusted prices and grab a bite to eat from one of its many restaurants.  Yes, Warren Street has changed greatly from its former past.  Today, Hudson's Warren Street is talked about State, Nationwide and even in foreign Countries regarding its presence in the antique world, boasting a range of antique stores and a collection of artist, making Hudson’s Warren Street a tourist destination.

There is no arguing the fact, that the resurgence of Warren Street has been a blessing or curse depending on which prism you are looking through.  Warren Street, which was once boarded up, was also home to a large portion of Hudson’s, low to moderate income population.  As each building was bought and sold, the occupants of the building were more often than not asked to leave, in most cases causing an unintended form of gentrification.   As a result, a lot of the Warren Street population and affordable housing stock was pushed over to the North side of the City. There was a time when most of the homes on the North side of the City were single family homes, owned by middle class income earners who worked for the cement plant, City or State government.  Once the cement plant along with a few other existing factories left Hudson, single family homeowners begin selling their homes to would be landlords looking to make a buck renting to the displaced tenants formally living on Warren Street as well as other locations on the South side of the City.  In my opinion, it is during this time period when tension and disdain for antique stores and new homeowners from Warren Street south developed.  Warranted of not, people on the North side of the City believed the City was and is being taken over by those moving from New York City, with lots of money.  Rents on Warren Street, South, shot up 3 to 4 times what families use to pay for an apartment.  The Columbia Diner shutdown and was eventually sold, going from a budget meal eatery to a much higher end American style restaurant.   I often hear mentioned, that no one can afford to eat on Warren Street now.  It’s a fact that a burger, beer and fries, which I enjoy most Thursdays, at a restaurant on Warren Street, will cost you on average, about $25.  That price point is close to where some residents on the North side of Hudson pay for monthly rent.  Although the tension seemed to have died down at times, it is always bubbling under the surface waiting for the next shoe to drop so it can rear its ugly head.  People, families have become fearful of their livelihood, ignoring the contributions being made by the population from the South side of the City.  It has gotten so bad on occasion, that some have refused to walk on Warren Street, other than to attend a street event or to go to one of the corner stores.  Because of these tensions alliances have been formed, which in the past may not have happened.  People now feel as though they are fighting for their future survival in the City of Hudson, real or not, that is the perception.  On occasion you can see the tension and frustration of the different opinions boil over at School board, business and local government meetings.  An example of this is, the recent decision to locate the Hudson City School District’s ALP (alternative learning program) a program for struggling youth in the Hudson City School District, on Warren Street.  There was certainly two mines of thinking here and maybe more.  Business owners on Warren Street seemed to be concerned about the safety of the youth and the lack of space for physical activity at the Warren Street location.  It was widely believed by those who live on the North side of the City, that the business owners were using that ploy as a way to fight the project, instead of disclosing their real feelings, they didn’t want youth who may have had a troubled past on Warren Street, potentially disrupting their business.  Factual or not, that was the widely spread belief.  This incident deepened the divide of the City, further solidifying belief that those who live and own businesses on Warren Street has to give you their blessing if you are to live or try to establish a business on Warren Street.  I believe many on Warren Street would say this is pure lunacy and totally basely.  In my opinion, this issue of a divided City has risen to become one of the top three issues facing the City.  Business owners who move to Hudson, establish a business here, in many cases using their life savings, do so at great risk.  Taxes are fairly high and a great deal of their business is at the mercy of tourism.  Contributing to Hudson becoming a tourist destination, is the culture of Warren Street and the fact that patrons feel safe visiting and walking up and down our City Streets.  Disrupt any part of the harmonious balance on Warren Street, I believe the ripple effect will be felt, not only City, but County wide.  This may be why Warren Street’s solvency is defended so rigorously.  Many on the North side of the City wouldn’t know that, given many never, shop or eat on Warren Street, let alone have a conversation with a business owner.  What they do know is, they see, more and more homes on the North side being bought by those moving to Hudson.  These once single family homes, converted to two or in some cases three family homes are now being converted back to one family homes, leading people to believe, this is Warren Street all over again.  With the affordable housing shrinking every day and low income housing locations like Bliss towers reaching its useful life, tension are running high as to where people will go once the affordable and low income housing are no more in the City of Hudson.  I don’t see this happening in the immediate future, but some would say it bares a resemblance to the development and resurgence of Warren Street.  I believe there is a direct correlation between the housing stock in the City of Hudson and the tension between the North and South sides of the City.  Housing isn’t the only contributing factor, but it’s a major one.  One thing I think can be addressed with some willingness and smart planning by City leaders, residents and business owners.  Hudson could immediately adopt a policy that no new housing will be constructed without 20 or even 30% being set aside for low to moderate income housing.  This would show that an effort is being made by all sides to preserve the diversity of Hudson, which has made the City what it is today.  Also, an idea brought up by defeated Mayoral candidate, Victor Mendolia, to change the zoning for Columbia Street, allowing more businesses to develop there, would maybe spawn some businesses geared more toward the moderate income population of Hudson.  Something, like a Columbia diner type restaurant, where someone could get a soup and sandwich for $5 - $7 bucks.  Again, this would open doors to relationship building in the City.  Then we could move onto much harder dividing factors such as education and jobs. 

It seems, most of our newly elected City officials are listening, let’s guide them and help them, make Hudson a true melting pot where people of all race, gender, economical means and sexual orientation, can live harmoniously together.

William Hughes Jr.
4th Ward Supervisor
City of Hudson
Minority Leader
Columbia County Board of Supervisors

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Keys Are On The Hook

I haven’t added an edition to my blog in a long time, so I figure today would be as good as any to rectify that.
Most call this time of year, silly season, others would say, this is when we get to choose those who will represent our views locally for the next 2 – 4 years.  Whatever your view, you decide where this story falls on that meter.

Earlier this week, it was brought to my attention that a room located in the County Administration building, 401 State Street, secured with the new electronic voting machines under lock and key, was entered without authorization.  It is to this point that the story gets murky.  As Minority Leader, it was brought to my attention that the room under lock and key securing the voting machines had been entered back in May without bipartisan authorization from the Board of Elections.  The Democratic Commissioner of the County Board of Elections reported to me, that she and the Republican Commissioner of the Board of Elections had been in ongoing discussions with the Director of Facilities about creating space and a form of security that would require a bipartisan team to enter the space holding the new electronic voting machines.  Once that space was erected, a lock with keys that couldn’t be duplicated was to be put in place, with keys going to the Republican Commissioner and Democratic Commissioner, respectfully.
The lock was put in place and keys were given to each of the Commissioners, with the understanding that work in the space was completed.   One day in May, the Director of Facilities came in and apparently questioned why the room where the voting machines are was locked.  The Board of Elections was under the impression the room was done, the machines were in the space, thus a locksmith was called by the Commissioners of the Board of Elections to put a special lock on the door and keys made.   The Director of Facilities came in and for whatever reason was upset or questioned the lock being put on the door to the room securing the electronic voting machines.  Upon discovering the lock on the door, the Director of Facilities, called a locksmith and had the lock drilled out and removed.   Later the next week to the surprise of members of the Board of Elections, the Director of Facilities and a County Supervisor, came in with 2 new keys and told members of the Board of Elections, “here is your new keys to the room securing the voting machines”.   What the 2 men must not have realized is, at the time of them bringing the new keys into the Board of Elections, a member of the State Board of Elections was present doing an audit.  Given the confusion around the removal of the old lock and installation of the new lock, the auditor from the State felt compelled to note the incident in their report.  It’s from this point that concern for the performance integrity of the voting machines and there security was questioned.  The Democratic Commissioner was very concerned and raised flags about the room being entered without a bipartisan team, how long the room may have been unsecure and who may have entered the room while it was unsecure.   The Republican Commissioner was less concerned, noting in a local paper, “This story is being blown way out of proportion”.   The Republican Commissioner went on to say, he doesn’t believe anything has been done wrong and that the voting machines were never in danger.  The Democratic Commissioner’s opinion differs on the situation, noting, she believes the machines should always be under lock and key that can only be accessed by a bipartisan team to maintain performance integrity of the voting machines. She also suggests, New York State law requires such action be taken.  Again, this is an area where the Democratic and Republican Commissioners of the Columbia County Board of Elections disagree.  This question should be cleared up soon, as soon as the audit from the NYS Board of Elections is finally released to Columbia County.

As Minority Leader, I was asked to look into this issue.  Given, both the Director of Facilities and the County Supervisor present when the Board of elections auditor was here are members of or answer to the DPW Committee, I thought it would be the best place to get answers to the questions I had regarding the whole story.  I attended the DPW Committee meeting with the Democratic Commissioner of the Board of Elections and members of the DPW Committee.  Once the Director of Facilities, finished presenting his monthly report to the DPW Committee, I asked the Chairman of the DPW Committee if I could ask the Director of Facilities some questions around the situation of removing the lock from the room securing the electronic voting machines.   I mentioned to the Director of Facilities the story in which I was given around the locks being removed off the door securing the voting machines, his story differed that which I was given by the Democratic Commissioner.  With all the confusion going on and at times, tempers flaring, it seemed the question I most wanted answered was getting lost. 
As the Chairman of the DPW Committee tried to end the discussion, I said Mr. Chairman, I only need the answer to one question.  I asked the Director of Facilities, “Given you were here trying to get into the room during business hours, did you use a key to take the lock off the door to the room holding the voting machines?  After a long pause, the Director of Facilities said and I quote, “NO”.

I ask you the voters of Columbia County,  if the story went as the Director of Facilities stated it did, why would he CALL a locksmith to take the lock off the door, given he could have just gone  up one small flight of stairs to the Board of Elections and get the keys to enter the room?
I’m definitely not accusing anyone of doing anything nefarious, I’m simply putting this out there.  A locksmith was called, at the expense of taxpayers, to cut a lock off which the Director of Facilities could have easily gone up stairs and gotten the keys to remove, why didn’t it happen that way?

If you are a voter in Columbia County, you too should be asking WHY?