Who Will Run the New First Ward?

The now-adapted ward map.

Voting in Hudson will be different this year. A new ward map, passed by a referendum in Nov. 2016, slices Hudson into sections of equal population, and many voters will find themselves voting in different wards than last year.

Before the new ward map, the wards had vastly different populations, and therefore alderpeople representing them had vastly different numbers of votes on the Common Council.

This system led to alliances of four alderpeople being able to defeat legislation supported by the other six, and means, if an alderperson wants a resolution passed, it makes sense to make the resolution more appealing to an alderperson with more votes and disregard the political needs of an alderperson (and their district) with less.

Wards of equal proportion would rid Hudson’s political system of these complications, but city governments through the years failed to pass a new system.

It took a citizen’s movement, the Fair and Equal Campaign, to gather enough signatures to get a referendum on the 2016 ballot to create wards of equal proportion. Hudson voted, and the resolution passed.

Hudson’s new First Ward is the largest in area, stretching from Worth Avenue in the city’s east to the Hudson river, and including everything south of Warren Street. It includes both wealthier areas in the east of the ward, and subsidized housing by the river.

Three democrats are running in the Sept. 12 primaries in the first ward. Republicans are not fielding candidates in November’s election, so the primary will decide who will represent the First Ward in 2018. Choose wisely.

Kamal Johnson said he will bring fresh blood and new ideas to the Common Council and would focus on Hudson’s youth. He also pointed to the fact he largely grew up Hudson, going through the Hudson City Schools (the only candidate to do so), and has first-hand knowledge of some of the “inner city problems” of Hudson.

Kamal, 32, was born in White Plains in Westchester County, but moved to Hudson when he was in the third grade. He went on to attend Columbia-Greene Community College, then transferred to SUNY New Paltz, where he majored in history with a minor in education.

He was involved in the initial planning grant that created Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood, a group providing educational and community support “from before birth through college to career” to help “break through the intergenerational cycle of poverty” experienced by many in Hudson, according to the organization’s website.

He is the supervisor of “POPS” at the organization, a fatherhood initiative that aids “grandfathers all the way down to some teen fathers,” many of whom aren’t cognizance of how fatherhood works because they grew up without fathers themselves, Kamal said, who has a nine-year-old daughter himself.

Kamal also has volunteered for years as a basketball coach with the Hudson Youth Department, and is the host of WGCX’s Drivetime Radio, which discusses national and local political issues.

People suggested for years Kamal run for political office, he said.

“For a long time people have asked me to run, because I’ve been seen…as a leader in the community, and I’m someone who has a strong voice in the community, and I do see where the city is going right now,” Kamal said. “It really needs someone who has actually gone through the school district and gone to the programs that a lot of these (local) meetings are about,” he said.

When asked what the biggest issue Hudson was facing today, he replied “the divide.”

“There’s a huge socioeconomic divide in the community,” Kamal said. “Affordable housing is a constant issue that is basically dividing the community where [some] feel like they’re being pushed out,” he said.

The issue wasn’t just low-income affordable housing, but housing for the middle class, Kamal said.

“We want the people who are in low-income affordable housing to be able to work their way out, but still be able to afford the next step,” he said. “You could be at that threshold where you are no longer able to stay in the low-income housing, but you really can’t afford the other housing because it’s so expensive right now.”

Other small cities facing similar affordable-housing crises should be studied, Kamal said, and he would engage grant writers in the city to seek funding, who he said “[are] not being used to their full capacity.”

He would also engage second home owners and businesspeople “who want to help out in the city so much and they don’t know where to start.”

Kamal said he had “mixed feelings” about a $10 million state grant awarded to Hudson earlier this month to revitalize the downtown.

The Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant will be used for city-wide WiFi, improvements to Promenade Hill Park, green transportation initiatives, and adapting the old Dunn Warehouse for year-round public/private usage, as well as other projects, according to the Register-Star.

The community could have been more involved in the process, Kamal said, and many residents distrusted the grant.

“I want the city to be addressed in a manner that we understand what this money is going to be allocated for, and what it means, because right now there’s a ton of people in the lower community (the lower-income areas by the river) that feel like this is gentrification and this is going to be something that’s going to beautify the city to move…life-long residents out of the city,” he said.

Kamal is most interested in serving in the Youth and Aging Committee if elected to the Common Council, and would push for more funding for the city’s Youth Department.

It was absurd the Youth Department had to create a GoFundMe account to afford a final trip at their summer camp, Kamal said.

There should be more programming for youth and more job opportunities for those growing up in Hudson, he said.

“The basis of Hudson has always been, since I’ve [grown] up here, is ‘go out, try to be successful and never look back — there’s nothing here in Hudson for you,’” Kamal said. “So if you don’t get that chance to never look back, it seems like you’re stuck in this trap and there’s not a lot of opportunities [for] people to work, and to get those entry-level positions where they can learn something and build a resume.”

Kamal would also like to serve on the Common Council’s Police Committee, adding he felt the city’s politicians did not sufficiently address a string of recent shootings.

A woman was shot in the shoulder and severely wounded Aug. 12 while driving a car down Rope Alley with her boyfriend and their infant son, according to the Register-Star.

The next day, a gunman opened fire on a group on their back porch on State Street, wounding a woman and two toddlers, according to the Albany Times-Union, in what Hudson Police Chief Edward Moore said was a retaliatory attack.

A fifth person was shot Tuesday night and died, after Kamal’s interview was conducted, according to the Register-Star, but it is not yet confirmed if this shooting is related to the first two shootings and additional gunplay earlier this year.

Though Kamal referenced Hudson Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton’s press release on the shootings, he said other politicians in the city were silent.

“If someone wanted to plant a tree on some random block, every politician would be there to talk about it,” he said.

There should also be more community involvement on the part of the Hudson police, Kamal said.

On the topic of the Colarusso Haul Road, a controversial truck route through the First Ward that would be expanded to handle increased traffic from the Colarusso quarry and take the trucks of city streets, Kamal said he would want to talk to more people involved in the route, as well as more residents of the ward, before he gave his opinion.

Kamal admitted he has a lot to learn, but said he was a willing student and would work hard in representing his ward.

“That’s what’s missing right now on the council…you have people that are just representing themselves and not the community,” he said.

Michael O’Hara, the only incumbent in the First Ward primary, brings institutional knowledge to his run for alderman, displaying an in-depth knowledge of development and economic issues during his interview.

Michael moved with his wife to Hudson in 1999 from Alexandria, Virginia, where he worked for the telecommunications company MCI — later acquired by Verizon Wireless — training salespeople, executives and marketers, shuttling between Washington D.C., Mexico City and Toronto for several years to coordinate different aspects of the company.

The communication and coordination skills he learned on the job have translated well into the political field, Michael said.

He is now “essentially retired.”

“I don’t have a day job,” he said. “I treat the role as Common Council alderman as a full-time job.”

Hudson has many issues to deal with, Michael said, but the one most on people’s minds as of late has been housing.

“Hudson — for better or worse — has become a very popular tourist destination, and in response to that there’s a whole lot of people who have jumped on the bandwagon of setting up places for people to stay, “ he said.

This includes three high-end hotels currently under construction, as well as a plethora of Airbnbs, Michael said, adding that some property owners operate Airbnbs in multiple buildings, and he has heard of people purchasing additional properties specifically to rent them out under the short-term rental website.

“The housing price is tied up in the supply and demand equation,” Michael said. “If you had a whole lot of houses that were lacking tenets, then the landlords would lower their price to compete with one another, but that’s not the case right now in part because of the Airbnb phenomenon.”

The lodging tax, which Michael helped pass and took effect in June, charges both traditional hotels and AirBnbs for renting out rooms and collects data on short-term rentals.

However, more needed to be done to address high housing costs, Michael said.

Zoning should be revisited to allow buildings with more floors to be built in the city, perhaps up to four stories on Columbia Street, Michael said.

Additional housing would take pressure off the market, Michael said, and the city could offer incentives to developers — such as allowing them to build higher than four stories — if some of the new housing would be set aside for those with low or moderate incomes.

Michael also said he was interested in creating a combination community land trust-land bank based in part on the Dudley Street Cooperative in Boston, which he had visited, saying they’ve achieved “marvelous things.”

The Dudley Street Cooperative takes foreclosed properties and transfers them to a private non-profit entity to be redeveloped. A similar initiative in Hudson could take foreclosed properties off the open market, which would stabilize the price to rent these properties, Michael said.

There were larger problems with Hudson’s economy, Michael said.

“One of my concerns about the city is that we are overly dependent on tourism as an economic driver,” he said.

Tourism fads can fade, and a downturn in the economy would cut down on the discretionary spending Hudson tourism relies on, Michael said. He saw this first-hand when the recession after the Sept. 11 attacks forced his art gallery to close.

Hudson’s economy needed to diversify to survive these shocks, Michael said.

“While the going is good, we need to branch out and support a more diverse set of activities that are going to earn our city its municipal revenue and make a living for the residents [that] will sustain us for the years to come,” he said.

On the Colarusso Haul Road, Michael said the city had zoned for some sort of route to the waterfront.

However, expanding the current path to a double-wide road “is not desirable from the point of view of the environment of the South Bay,” he said.

He encouraged stakeholders to make the expansion of the road as “environmentally benign” as possible, and said he was very familiar with the environment of the South Bay from advocating for the preservation and improvement of that land.

There was nothing on the books to keep Colarusso’s trucks from using city roads in addition to the haul road once it is expanded, Michael said, and he would like to see a law passed banning heavy truck traffic on city streets, other than for local deliveries.

As for the recent shootings, Michael said they were “not random” and compared the violence to the historical feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families, two Appalachian clans who fought each other in the late 1800s.

“This is a feud, and these families have been at each other for years,” he said.

Michael said stopping the violence would take community initiatives.

“It doesn’t feel so much like a governmental initiative as a kind of a community challenge,” Michael said, “of how can we take things that would otherwise escalate into violence and work them out in ways that dissipate them.”

Michael believed a kind of “parallel education system” should be created in the community for those who fall through the cracks of the Hudson City Schools, praising the Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood as an example, which he said should expand, but added there was little the city government could do as a distinct organization to expand the organization’s reach or programming.

Rob Bujan said he’s running because he’s tired of being on the sidelines, and wants to be able to affect change in the city.

“At the end of the day, I’m doing this [because] I’m tired of complaining,” Rob said. “I was tired of reading people’s Facebook pages after the election in November last year, just sitting there and bitching and complaining and saying, ‘well, he’s not my president, this is not this, and I can’t believe this happened,’ — well, you know, unless you’re going to get up and actually do something, really where is your complaining getting you?”

Rob has been heavily involved in the community since moving to Hudson in 2010. He has been part of putting on the Hudson Pride Parade for at least six years, co-founding the new Out Hudson organization two years ago, which put on the last two parades. He has served on the Hudson Planning Board since 2016, and has recently held a series of health care information sessions for people concerned with a potential Obamacare repeal, using knowledge from his job as the managing director of an insurance agency.

He has been “actively in conversations with elected officials” about a possible healthcare overhaul.

“It’s just as hard for me to get a democratic Senator or Congressperson on the phone…as it is Republicans in order to really make them understand what portion of the bill that they’re supporting makes no sense,” he said.

Rob’s family on his mother’s side is from Columbia County, and Rob said he spent summers at his grandmother’s farm in Germantown. His husband also has roots in the community.

His father’s side of the family hails from Texas, where Rob served the majority of his six-year military career in the late 1980s. As a gay man in the military before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Rob said he “skipped a couple boxes” on applications in order to serve.

On the issue of the Colarusso Haul Road, Rob said he would have liked to see Greenport involve Hudson more in the planning process.

The haul road would go through both municipalities, but the Greenport Planning Board is the lead agency, making major decisions on the road.

The Greenport Planning Board approved the road Tuesday night, according to the Register-Star, after Rob was interviewed.

If the Hudson Planning Board was the lead agency during the approval process, “we would have worked with Greenport more than Greenport has worked with us,” Rob said.

“At the end of the day, if Colarusso can sit down with the city of Hudson and Greenport and have a transparent conversation about how we can balance manufacturing, and everything else that this city and the town of Greenport wants, I think we could come to a good conclusion,” he said.

Commercial trucks of any kind of traveling through Hudson on city streets was a larger issue to be addressed, he added.

When asked what the biggest issue facing Hudson was, he replied the answer was different in each ward, and the new ward system would help disparate needs find common ground in the Common Council.

“If you have five wards, all five wards should come to the table with their most important issue, everybody sign on and say, ‘yep, we’ll help you with that issue,’ and figure out how we can kind of work together as a city, because we have not really done that very well before,” he said.

Rob said he would be interested on serving on the Police Committee, adding he knew and could work well with police, the Hudson Fire Department, and the Department of Public Works, all which he coordinated with to put on the Pride parades.

He would also be able to work well with people of other political persuasions in the city, pointing to his endorsement by the city’s Republican Party (which also endorsed Kamal).

“I have a lot of friends that identify as Republican…at the end of the day, on the local level it doesn’t matter (what political party you are), we have all these people that we’re friends with, and we have friends who are Republican,” he said.

Hudson’s waterfront needs improvements, especially to make it more accessible, Rob said.

“Go over to Athens, go to Kingston — you just have this waterfront that kind of welcomes everybody, and people don’t even realize when they get off the train…that we actually have a waterfront,” Rob said. “Yes it needs to be developed, yes it needs to be more inviting, but we need to tell people about it, we have to do stuff on it…movies on the weekends…there’s so many things we could do.”

On the recent shootings, Rob said Chief Edward Moore and his department were generally praiseworthy and made themselves accessible to the community, but would like to see more conversations between the police, government officials and community leaders.

“I mean, my god, to have two kids shot in a weekend…that sentence should never happen,” he said.

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