First Ward Alderman Rob Bujan laid out his plans for Hudson after announcing on social media Monday he is running for Common Council President.
Over the course of an hour-and-a-half interview in his Warren Street home, Bujan discussed tourism, affordable housing, Airbnbs and how to better communicate with city residents.
Bujan is up against incumbent democrat Tom DePietro, who is serving his first term as Common Council President.
When asked why he is challenging a fellow democrat for the position, Bujan said he didn’t see it as a personal challenge.
“It wasn’t me wanting to challenge him per se, as much as it was (that) I felt that I brought different skills to the table where I felt that I could do a better job,” he said.
Bujan manages the insurance brokerage SDL + GHS in the city and said his experience with finance would be a good quality for a common council president.
“I mitigate risk. Every day I find ways to protect employers, individuals, for catastrophic situations,” he said. “I think that’s a skill that I have that I can bring to the table.”
Managing nine employees gave him the ability to negotiate and find common ground, which would be helpful in a city where many issues split the population into diametrically opposed camps, he added.
Bujan spent the weekend before his announcement discussing a potential run with a few friends and his husband, Jeff, and is now beginning the process of gathering enough signatures to get on the June 25 primary ballot.
It’s a scramble this year. The primaries for local elections were moved up three-and-a-half months after an election-reform law passed in the state earlier this year, and local candidates only have until the end of March to collect the signatures.
Bujan said the city must have “a difficult discussion.”
“A lot of things that get people really passionate on one side of the table or another are things that we have to make decisions on,” he said, listing the waterfront, Colarusso’s, affordable housing, short-term rentals such as Airbnbs, and affordable housing.
The city focused too often on the past, and, as an alderman, he said too little time was spent on the future in the Common Council.
Tourism in Hudson wasn’t going anywhere and now was a large chunk of the city’s economy, Bujan said when asked about the Common Council’s Tourism Board and their moves towards contracting a branding consultant for the city.
The Tourism Board controls part of the funding collected by a 4 percent tax on short-term lodgings that operate in the city. The Tourism Board has $140,000 from the tax as of their February meeting, where bids from potential consultants were opened, but the board has not decided which, if any, will be selected.
Money controlled by the Tourism Board cannot be spent on such things as affordable housing, but must go towards marketing by law, Bujan said.
The board’s purpose is to “market the City of Hudson as a destination for overnight and daytrip visitors by making use of the funds collected,” according to the law.
At least half of the money collected through the lodging tax is allocated to the city’s general fund, but if people are unhappy about how the other half is spent, the law is up for renewal in a year and a half, Bujan said.
“If you feel…too much of it is going into the tourism fund for the Tourism Board, and you want more money to go into the city, that’s where you do it — you do it in the making of the law, not when the law’s been made and the money’s been collected,” he said.
Bujan said he was in favor of a “thoughtful way” to regulate short-term rentals in the city, adding the main complaints he heard about the rentals as alderman were about people renting out multiple properties and parts of the city losing their neighborhood quality as guests passed in and out.
Short-term rentals are also blamed for exacerbating the affordable housing crisis in the city.
“I think short-term rental owners are willing to come to the table to find some sort of solution…I think they have a vested interest in the investment they made in Hudson,” he said. “If it’s a business, it may be their primary business, (or) it may help supplement their mortgage, because they have another job,” Bujan said.
If new legislation outlawed certain types of Airbnbs, existing rentals should be grandfathered in and allowed to continue to operate, he added.
On the issue of affordable housing, Bujan said people in the service industry couldn’t afford to live in Hudson, “and that’s always a struggle.”
There was opportunity for mixed-use housing at the old Kaz Warehouse site, and the city needed to go after grants to fund affordable housing initiatives, he said.
If elected, Bujan said he would vote on all measures before the Common Council. Current Common Council President Tom DePietro does not vote unless there is a tie among the 10 regular council members.
“If I were to be elected and sit as Common Council president, everybody will know my vote one way or another on everything that comes across,” he said.
Bujan was not present at a vote earlier this year approving a zoning variance for the Stewart’s on Green Street, according to the Register-Star, but said he would have voted for the expansion.
Stewart’s agreed to help improve the adjacent intersection to entice the city to allow the zoning variance, but the company would only be required to pay for one percent of the upgrade, though the company has promised to spend substantially more, according to The Gossips of Rivertown.
Bujan called it “a mess of an intersection,” and said Stewart’s was not some transglobal corporation moving in on Hudson.
Many people use the Stewart’s as their grocery store, he added. Hudson had no affordable grocery store until last week, when a community grocery with prices on a sliding scale opened.
Noting all but one Common Council member elected in 2017 were new to the job, including himself, Bujan said a manual on the council should be produced for new members. He also wanted to communicate better with city residents, suggesting a primer on the city government for newcomers.
The city could also collect email address of residents to create a mailing list informing them of city meeting and events, Bujan added.
When asked about a problem he saw in Hudson and how to solve it if elected, Bujan pointed to better communication between the Mayor’s Office and the Common Council.
“That’s a problem for me, that we don’t have that quick, instant communication,” he said.
Better communication between the city’s executive branch and the Common Council would allow its members to better disseminate information to their constituents, Bujan said.
Bujan has been employed in the insurance industry for a great deal of his life, also working for Prudential and the Healthcare Association of New York State.
Bujan also served in the military for six years as a gay man during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” period. His father is also involved in local government as mayor of Port Aransas, Texas, an island community right off the coast that was brutalized by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
He views both the military and serving as alderman as part of public service, and still holds some of the lessons learned in the military dear, Bujan said.
“There’s something to be said about putting your country first — I don’t think all people need to go into the military…but there’s nothing wrong with serving your country in the Peace Corps or some other non-combative way,” he said. “I think our country could use a little more of that.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the lodging tax rate. It is four percent, not five percent.