Sunday, July 4, 2010

America, the Beautiful: Can we believe again?

Heroism, beating the odds, being fearless in the face of annihilation, rugged individualism, survival of the fittest, sacrifices for the greater good, saving for the future. WIN! Against all odds.
These are all parts of the American belief system. It is part of our common creed.
As Americans, we believe in the impossible. We believed we could go around the world in 80 days and sped up the process with supersonic speed. We believed we could stop indestructible aliens and save the planet and our civilization. Despite our differences of nation, tongue, race and creed, we, the American people, always win for the world.
And now, we can’t even stop an oil leak a mile under the sea. It has been almost 80 days to this writing that raw crude oil is spewing into the sea. And not only the environment and beaches are dying, our belief system is taking another direct hit.
It was only some years ago that we witnessed people abandoned and dying in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. We weren’t prepared. And our response was weak and seemed to forget the importance of the lives of Americans. All Americans.
What happened to the courage and innovation that was once the envy of the world. On this day, July 4th, we celebrate our Independence from tyranny and limitations. Daring men (yes men) fought a war of rebellion and formed this nation that has prospered with our belief system.
Remember the movie, Independence Day. Our nation saved the world against a spaceship a quarter of the mass of the moon with dozens of smaller ships 15 miles in diameter. Common citizens warn the President of the impending attack and despite his reluctance, he prepares for battle. But on July 2, the aliens destroy major cities across the globe. Air force is dispatched the following to no avail. But American innovation and resolve devises a plan to take out the mother ship. It is a last ditch effort on July 4th to defeat the enemy. And we win, in a blaze of fireworks as the mothership implodes by a nuclear device.
It makes you feel proud. Granted this is only Hollywood. But it has a deeper meaning to those who believe in our abilities to overcome circumstances and situations that seem impossible. We win.
So again, why can’t we overcome a broken pipe a mile below the sea.
Bruce Willis plays many great roles. In the Die Hard series, he is one cop and takes a troupe of professional hardened terrorists. He wins. He always plays the American hero: cocky, witty, clever and resourceful.
In Armageddon, Willis plays the role of an oil driller. The nation calls upon him and his band of misfit drillers and geologists to save the planet from a meteor racing towards earth. They train quickly to become astronauts and land on the meteor, drill a hole in it and detonate a nuclear device to obliterate the meteor and spare earth from its last day. Needless to say, they succeed with the loss of Willis, who nobly stays behind to assure the nuclear device detonates.
So again, who is calling Willis to go down there and fix the Goddamn leak and spare the American Coastline from ecological annihilation?
American films are a reflection of our common consciousness. We know they are not reality, but for that moment, we believe in our ability to win and overcome all things. They become real to us. And when such realities like Katrina or the British Petroleum disaster occur, we as Americans have a collective sentiment that we should conquer such issues with innovation, bravery and resolve. We do not blame or pass the buck.
So who is leading our nation in a moment of ecological peril? Where is the social responsibility of BP?
One must ask in earnest, do we truly believe anymore. And if not, where are we going as a people

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Newburgh's Police Will Prevail; What About The Peace?

For certain, there are a few truths in this life. We pay taxes and die. We live and love. We try and tire. And the police -- some way or another -- will always win. And why shouldn’t they? Would you have the criminals in control?
In Newburgh, we have a viable but incapacitated police force in a community that actually requires a cop on each block or, better yet, the national guard. I am not calling them to come down and clean it up, but I have a feeling they will soon be on their way.
This is my reasoning. First, we have a gang crisis. The writing has been literally on the walls for some time now. There is plentiful graffiti and markings which are modern-day war drums on the urban scene. The school district and community only wake up when there is blood on the ground. Gang activity in Newburgh is, as the kids say, OD!
Second, as I said, the police always win. The city council was foolish enough to approve a 2010 budget that reduced police protection. The school district was left without patrolmen. The district knows the gang problem. It is suppose to be in the business of education, not dodging bullets and confiscating knives. They need the police on site at NFA at all times. The school district went as far as to pay the city for police protection. This drastic step by the school district gave the police department relevance. Cops, and firefighters too, have a need to be relevant and respected. The city council cannot just stick them in the corner or piss in their faces and tell them it’s raining. It won’t work. These men and women put their lives on the line to keep the peace.
So when I read the recent headline in the Times Herald-Record: “Newburgh Gang Violence on White House Radar,” I was not surprised. Clearly, someone in Newburgh police affairs is working overtime to make their department relevant. If it takes public relations, picket lines, or calling the local congressman, the Newburgh City Police Department will prevail and hopefully prosper from some federal stimulus funds. Neither the police nor the fire departments can wait around for City Hall to make some noise about our crime and gang crisis.
The kids are running rampant with vindictive violence. Worse yet, Robinson Avenue is no longer the dividing line between the "hood" or East End and the West End. It is more like Fullerton Avenue now where there were reports yesterday of police in riot gear investigating a disturbance. Face it, gang territories are spreading out past West Street. So it will not be long before an outside law agency will have to step in to help our beleaguered city.
I have always maintained that the city should never, under any circumstances cut public safety. They should cut some of the other departments, but never police, fire and public works. Police presence in Newburgh should be increased in order to address and resolve a growing eminent danger: gang violence.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What? Close Washington's Headquarters?

It seems that the State of New York is suffering a lapse of good judgment or our deep financial crisis is at a breaking point. I would submit, ladies and gentlemen, that it is a combination of both that leads the state to propose the closing of Washington's Headquarters at Newburgh.
I found an article in the Mid Hudson News Network that quotes an official from Scenic Hudson that the proposal is on the the table to not fund America's first historic site.
In 1859, a group of concerned citizens rallied together to stop the extension of Grand Street through "the old house." They stopped the demolition of the building and incorporated into the The Historical Society of the Newburgh Bay and Highlands.

It was in this "old house" that our nation was born by the cessation of arms to end the Revolutionary War in 1783. Here, Washington had refused to become a "King" George and the first Purple Hearts were awarded. I came across a great article about Newburgh's importance in the founding of this great nation. Please read...Newburgh and President's Day.

My connection to this state historic site is not as thick as it was when I was Newburgh City Historian or when my dear friend Tom Hughes was the curator. But I have been informed, quietly so, that many historic objects and documents have been removed from the museum and the old house over the past two years. I did address this removal issue with state officials. In addition, I spoke with an employee at Washington's HQ and was told my concerns were accurate.

It is a shame that historic items would be relocated out of Newburgh. It is a travesty that Washington's Headquarters would be on the cutting block because of the ongoing financial dissolution of New York State.

More than any other landmark, Washington's Headquarters at Newburgh is the soul of our city and the womb of every right we hold dear. Thousands of people visit this landmark of note. It is an anchor for businesses along Liberty Street and a jewel in the middle of urban decline. It is emblazoned on our city seal, our fire and police emblems, our website, our city charter and all that is Newburgh.

If Washington's Headquarters at Newburgh - which stands for the birthplace of our endearing freedoms and rights - cannot be sustained, what else could fail?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Curlie Dillard is fully engaged

Albeit, that I do not always agree with Dillard's politics, credit must be given to the only council member who takes the time to know his business. Dillard is the only council person so far to hold community meetings. He invites people to come to City Hall for a face-to-face conversation about their feelings about the direction of the city. At least someone has an open door down there.
Also, he does not miss too many meetings around the city. You call him, he will attend.
Another star in his cap is that he is the only council member who has actually toured the Newburgh City Fire Department facility. That is sad. I have toured the NFD and brought my daughter along too. You mean none of those other council people who vote on the fire department budget care to see the environment these men work in?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Newburgh's Latest State of Emergency

Right now, as I write, the City of Newburgh is in it most recent state of emergency. This time it is the mother of all snowstorms. The Acting City Manager Herbek is AWOL. Platt of the Water Department is AWOL. And George Garrison, the head of DPW, is neck deep in whiteness.
Garrison is left to run a city, plow the streets and coordinate an impending disaster by himself. I have a lot of confidence in Garrision, but I think it would be best if he could handle one crisis at a time.
During my campaign for County Legislator last year, I became aware that the County of Orange would no longer be plowing Broadway. I made it an issue of concern and did a little research on how the City of Newburgh lost this very important perk from the County.
This is the story as reported from reliable sources:
First as background, you should know that the County found the funding to pave Broadway in 1996. Then Mayor Audrey Carey and City Manager Harry Porr were going head to head about who should take credit. I will give the credit to Carey because she seemed to have a better rapport with then County Executive Joseph Rampe. The funds were available through a Federal Program and Carey did lobby for it. So we got Broadway paved. Amen.
Next, there was a suggestion to have this main corridor plowed on an annual basis. This was no doubt a big perk from the County that typically looked at Newburgh as a cross-eyed, red-haired stepchild. But behold, it happened. The County agreed to help Newburgh by paving Broadway for 10 years. I believe this was in 1996 also.
Ten years pass, and now my friend, Ed Diana, is County Executive. Diana loves Newburgh. He is the main politician behind moving the Department of Motor Vehicle to Broadway and establishing the County Building there as well. Diana was also the main proponent of putting SUNY Orange in downtown Newburgh.
When the 10-year agreement to plow Broadway ended, Diana extended the process. For the past three years, the County kept a plow machine down at the Newburgh DPW on Pierces Road. They drove a driver over to that machine and efficiently plowed Broadway. Sometimes they used several operators depending on the snowfall. This arrangement cost the County money while Newburgh saved a big expense in manpower hours.
But this year, the County ended the plowing. It fell apart last year during a meeting with City and County officials about SUNY Orange. Then City Manager McGrane and Mayor Valentine proposed a park in front of the college of Broadway and other perks. It was not in the plans and would have added an extra expense for the projects. The County got sick of being hen-pecked by this duo and decided to pull back. At that meeting, it was decided that Newburgh was on its own. And the plowing of Broadway was discontinued.
This is what happens when children bite the hands that feed them; they lose some benefits. And when politicians bite their benefactors, we all suffer.
Last fall, I asked George Garrison if his department could handle plowing Broadway and the side streets. He gave me the confidence that his boys could do it. I don't think he anticipated this level of snowfall in such a short period of time. Nor did he expect to have the weight of the entire city on his shoulders either.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Case Study: Newburgh ZBA vs. Kaplan

Last week, the Zoning Board met. There was a quorum, so they proceeded to hear cases.
To the table steps the biggest philanthropist and developer in Newburgh, Mr. Bill Kaplan. If there were ever a more solid citizen of Newburgh, Mr Kaplan is the poster boy. He has donated millions to St. Lukes Cornwall, Mount St Mary, SUNY Orange and other civic organizations.
It was reported to me, that Mr. Kaplan came to the ZBA to ask for a variance for 160 parking spaces on his property. That parking was to accommodate the condominiums proposed to be built on his property around the Regal Bag Building. I understand that he will eventually turn that building into apartments.
I have no doubt that Mr. Kaplan made an excellent presentation. But the ZBA could not find it possible to approve this project because they did not have all the members present. So Mr. Kaplan will have to wait until next month to move forward with the project.
By the way, the property is now assessed to pay $160,000 in taxes. After improvements, the city will be compensated with nearly 2.5 million a year in taxes.
Now, I am suggesting that anyone should a get carte blanche treatment at a municipal board. But we should recognize and honor the local individuals who have a history of stellar work and propriety.
I hope project is approved next month without any fanfare and grand standing.

Herbek addresses Newburgh Developers Group

The Newburgh Developer’s Association and I have something in common: our hiatus is over. After three years plus, the NDA met today for their monthly lunch meeting. After three months, I am finally writing in my blog.

Today’s NDA meeting was held in the most appropriate of locations: Christine’s on Broadway. This jewel of a restaurant in the midst of a blighted lower Broadway has long needed such attention. The owner, Jim Moss, put his time, energy and wealth into this downtown establishment based on a belief in Newburgh's redevelopment. That belief is still to be realized, while his restaurant is a reminder of how the rest of Broadway could look to those who still hope for Newburgh's redevelopment.

The NDA started its meetings in 2000 when the city was between city managers. Just like now. NDA founder Gerry Sanchez announced that this was the 85th meeting of the organization. The NDA suspended operations and was dormant for three years. Along the way to this meeting, Sanchez survived three strokes, yet his energies are undaunted. Some would say 'you can't keep a good man down.' Whatever way you look at it, I hope Gerry stays around to continue in Newburgh's redevelopment.

RJ Smith, the most prominent real estate broker in Orange County, made an excellent presentation on the need for more homeownership in Newburgh. The data on homeownership is quite bleak in comparison to other cities. Newburgh has about 30% homeownership, while even Middletown maintains 54% homeownership. 64% of Americans own their living space. Smith suggested that by increasing homeownership, especially in multi-family properties, the city could rise up from its current state of affairs. Amen.

The acting City Manager Richard Herbek addressed the audience as well. He spoke of his background and 39 years of experience in municipal governance and his first six weeks in the job after finding there was not enough money to make payroll. No doubt, he has the contacts and acumen to resolve our problems. Yet, his presentation was not as crisp and clear, as I would have enjoyed. Then came the questions, rumors and innuendos.

The biggest rumor was that he refused to take the job of City Manager because he did not agree with the terms. The audience voiced concern that there is no stability in city government, a familiar and recurring concern. Herbek explained that the City Council opted to go ahead with a new search and that was their decision. He said he would stay in what he called “the biggest challenge of his career.”

Herbek announced that the City was offered to buy the Armory property on South William Street for $1. He said some city departments may go there or a recreation facility. He mentioned a recent meeting with the YMCA which brought concern from some audience members that other recreation organizations would not be given an opportunity to make a bid.

My question was concerning the taxpayers of Newburgh. I asked why would the city use a large, basically free parcel of land for city departments and recreation when we need to expand our tax base. That property would make a great corporate park or industrial site that could provide jobs and some tax relief for those of us paying the 35% tax increase due to the city's fiscal irresponsibility. I asked Herbek to consider using the Orange County IDA and Orange County Partnership to market the property and find a suitable tax-paying corporation.

Herbek responded that the city was offered the property and had until May to make a decision to acquire it. I then jumped up again and asked how could the city acquire another piece of property when it cannot take care of the properties it has taken in tax foreclosures.

Herbek's final response was that it was the City Council's decision to acquire the property and if it did, the city could not sell it at a profit. YIKES!

I will say this a thousand times: The City of Newburgh is not a developer!!!! It is a municipality. It has municipal responsibilities that it does not fulfill: security, infrastructure, and fiscal propriety. It needs to relinquish all properties it owns not acquire new ones. Show me one project the City of Newburgh has developed to completion and I will swim the Hudson River.

I left the meeting without chitchating with the remaining attendees. I had an appointment to do loan modification and tax grievance for a client who can't afford Newburgh's taxes.