The BenCen Blog

Informing Public Discourse in the Hudson Valley and Across the State

Category: Mid-Hudson Valley (page 1 of 3)

The Benjamin Center Update

An ongoing look at our research, events, and news coverage by and about our scholarship.

Calendar

November 6th
The Benjamin Center’s associate director, K.T. Tobin, will be a guest of Radio Kingston talking about Sam Sinyangwe’s studies of police violence against African American communities. This will be ahead of Sinyangwe’s visit to the SUNY New Paltz campus (see next listing). Tobin will be on air at 4:30 PM and you can stream the station live on your computer or phone. 

November 8th
Sam Sinyangwe will be a guest of the Benjamin Center for an event at SUNY New Paltz at the Lecture Center at 6 PM. Sinyangwe is a data scientist who works with communities of color to fight systemic racism through cutting-edge policies and strategies. He connected with fellow activists DeRay Mckesson, Johnetta Elzie and Brittany Packnett following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and together they founded Mapping Police Violence, a data-driven effort to quantify the impact of police violence in communities. Sinyangwe is also a co-founder of Campaign Zero, a platform for advancing reform proposals to end police violence. Along with writer Clint Smith, he also hosts “Pod Save the People,” one of the most popular news and politics podcasts in the U.S. This event is free and open to the public; click for more information.

November 14
After his series about the City of Poughkeepsie’s failure to follow its own plans for a successful economic, social, and business environment, and its unfair tax lien system that puts homeowners at risk of losing equity in properties seized by the city, the Benjamin Center’s senior research associate, Joshua Simons, will be part of a panel discussing a land banking system. The event, Understanding Poughkeepsie’s Tax Lien System and Opportunities for Land Banking, will include guests, Tarik Abdelazim, Associate Director of National Technical Assistance, Center for Community Progress, Jennifer Holmes, Assistant Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Madeline Fletcher, Executive Director, Newburgh Community Land Bank. It will be held at the Mid-Hudson Heritage Center, 317 Main St., Poughkeepsie, from 5:45 to 8:00 PM; click for more information.

BenCen in the News

City & State: Why Cuomo never had to debate Molinaro
Bloomberg: Molinaro has no Chance
White Plains Daily Voice: Westchester to use Benjamin Center Guidelines to save County Tax Dollars
The New York Post: New York School Testing’s Epic Failure
Gotham Gazette: The Attorney General’s Real Job
Wild Earth: Hopeful Signs for Kids Learning from Structured Outdoor Play

Your Most Important Vote this November is Hidden on the Second Page of the Ballot

Partisan gerrymandering — incumbents drawing legislative districts to keep control of legislative bodies — destroys democracy by assuring that majorities don’t rule. It has been described as elected officials choosing their voters, instead of their voters choosing their representatives. 

At the national, state and local levels our governments are made undemocratic by gerrymandering; despite widespread protest, those in power in both major parties keep doing it so that they can stay in power. Repeated efforts to get the U.S. Supreme Court to undo this practice have failed, though surely it is unconstitutional.

What most people in Ulster County may not know is that we are among the handful of places in the country that doesn’t have this problem. That’s because our county charter gives us a process for neutral non-partisan legislative redistricting. And it has worked. The districts for the current, closely divided county legislature were drawn through this non-partisan process. But in doing this the first time around we found out that there were some flaws in our design, and we needed to take further steps to be sure that it was more inclusive and effective while remaining non-partisan. 

Under the leadership of County Executive Michael Hein, a commission headed by Kingston attorney Rod Futerfas was formed to work on this. Continue reading

How the City of Poughkeepsie Flunked its Own Test (Part 3)

Twenty years ago the City of Poughkeepsie debuted a Comprehensive Plan meant to be a road map for revitalization. If you look at Poughkeepsie today you can see, broadly, how well or poorly the City followed its own plan. Look around and there are indeed pockets of vitality — but also far too little of it. To spoil the plot, Poughkeepsie veered from the plan it devised for its own rescue, and it did so comprehensively. This three-part post seeks to grade these efforts. The first will evaluate Housing, Zoning and Transportation. The second will evaluate Cultural Resources, Parks and Recreation, and Historic Resources. The third will evaluate Main Street Revitalization, the Cottage Street Business Park, and Waterfront Strategies.

At the end of the 1998 City of Poughkeepsie Comprehensive Plan there is a list of initiatives listed for each of its recommended strategies, as well as a rating of their priority. The list also indicates if the initiative is an immediate goal, a short-term goal, a mid-range goal, or a long-term goal. It has been 20 years since the plan was adopted, enough time to have some impact. So we decided to grade the city’s performance. To do this we assigned 5 points to high priority initiatives, 3 points to medium priority, and 1 point to low priority. This post will focus on Main Street Revitalization, the Cottage Street Business Park, and Waterfront Strategies. (Editor’s Note: The BenCen’s entire series How the City of Poughkeepsie Fell Short, with three prior chapters, is now live and can be explored in depth here.)

Continue reading

How the City of Poughkeepsie Flunked its Own Test (Part 2)

Twenty years ago the City of Poughkeepsie debuted a Comprehensive Plan meant to be a road map for revitalization. If you look at Poughkeepsie today you can see, broadly, how well or poorly the City followed its own plan. Look around and there are indeed pockets of vitality — but also far too little of it. To spoil the plot, Poughkeepsie veered from the plan it devised for its own rescue, and it did so comprehensively. This three-part post seeks to grade these efforts. The first will evaluate Housing, Zoning and Transportation. The second will evaluate Cultural Resources, Parks and Recreation, and Historic Resources. The third will evaluate Main Street Revitalization, the Cottage Street Business Park, and Waterfront Strategies.

At the end of the 1998 City of Poughkeepsie Comprehensive Plan there is a list of initiatives listed for each of its recommended strategies, as well as a rating of their priority. The list also indicates if the initiative is an immediate goal, a short-term goal, a mid-range goal, or a long-term goal. It has been 20 years since the plan was adopted, enough time to have some impact. So we decided to grade the city’s performance. To do this we assigned 5 points to high priority initiatives, 3 points to medium priority, and 1 point to low priority.  In the last post Housing, Zoning and Transportation were evaluated.  This post will focus on Cultural Resources, Parks and Recreation, and Historic Resources. (Editor’s Note: The BenCen’s entire series, How the City of Poughkeepsie Fell Short, is now live and can be explored in depth, here.)

Continue reading

How the City of Poughkeepsie Flunked its Own Test (Part 1)

 

Twenty years ago the City of Poughkeepsie debuted a Comprehensive Plan meant to be a road map for revitalization. If you look at Poughkeepsie today you can see, broadly, how well or poorly the City followed its own plan. Look around and there are indeed pockets of vitality — but also far too little of it. To spoil the plot, Poughkeepsie veered from the plan it devised for its own rescue, and it did so comprehensively. This three-part post seeks to grade these efforts. The first will evaluate Housing, Zoning and Transportation. The second will evaluate Cultural Resources, Parks and Recreation, and Historic Resources. The third will evaluate Main Street Revitalization, the Cottage Street Business Park, and Waterfront Strategies.

At the end of the 1998 City of Poughkeepsie Comprehensive Plan there is a list of initiatives listed for each of its recommended strategies, as well as a rating of their priority. The list also indicates if the initiative is an immediate goal, a short-term goal, a mid-range goal, or a long-term goal. It has been 20 years since the plan was adopted, enough time to have some impact. So we decided to grade the city’s performance. To do this we assigned 5 points to high priority initiatives, 3 points to medium priority, and 1 point to low priority. Let’s see how the city did. (Editor’s Note: The BenCen’s entire series, How the City of Poughkeepsie Fell Short, is now live and can be explored in depth, here.)

Continue reading

The City We Imagined

The Rip Van Winkle Apartments as proposed in 1969, as an example of unmet expectations.

In 1998 the city of Poughkeepsie underwent a planning process that culminated in an updated comprehensive plan, and that plan is the current plan used by the city.

A comprehensive plan is meant to be a shared vision of what a city should be, and a tangible roadmap of how to get there. Comprehensive plans are long-term, very broad in scope, and expresses the city’s collective public policy preferences on transportation, housing, land use, recreation, utilities, historic preservation, economic development, environmental protection, sustainability, and resilience, among other areas of focus. The vision is derived after input from the public, policy makers, and stakeholders; from these sources, the plan is drawn. The public is thus both informed on the ongoing creation of the plan, and a source of input that informs its creation. Typically, in New York State the adoption of a comprehensive plan is the precursor to overhauling the zoning code so that it conforms to and facilitates the new plan. (Editor’s Note: The BenCen’s entire series, How the City of Poughkeepsie Fell Short, is now live and can be explored in depth, here.)

Continue reading

What We Lost When We Vetoed a Constitutional Convention

 

Calling a state constitutional convention is New York’s long established method for fundamental, systematic governmental reform. Yet in a period of pandemic corruption and enormous anger at government, with demands for change from all across the political spectrum, New Yorkers rejected the convention option by a margin of 5-1 this past November. In essence, if 2016 was a year of great demand for change, the regret set in quickly afterward, and 2017 became a year, at least in New York, of holding fast to a system that people perceived to be less frightening than yet more change.

Peter Galie and Gerald Benjamin, co-authors with Christopher Bopst of New York’s Broken Constitution, and strong convention advocates, sat down a few weeks after the election for a post mortem. The reasons for the crushing defeat of the convention question, they thought, were both structural and political. Most voters didn’t even know there is a state constitution; they don’t distinguish between it and the revered national document, which most of them certainly don’t want to be touched in an era in which basic rights are threatened. New York has no initiative process; referenda are limited in use and unfamiliar to many as a way of making decisions. The wording of the convention question, mandated in the constitution for use every twenty years, requires that everything be on the table if a convention is called.

This scares those who have constitutionally guaranteed benefits or favored policies that they don’t want to risk.

Continue reading

Partisan Gerrymandering in New York

On Monday, October 3rd, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a potentially landmark case concerning partisan gerrymandering in redistricting the Wisconsin state legislature. Partisan gerrymandering, the drawing of legislative district lines to favor one political party over another, has long been commonplace for legislature at all levels of government. The Supreme Court has previously said the practice might be unconstitutional, but has never overturned a districting plan on this basis.

In New York State the redistricting process is done by LATFOR (The Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment). It is no secret that there is an agreement between the Republican-led State Senate and the Democratic-led Assembly that each house majority does their own redistricting and signs off on the other. This bipartisan gerrymandering has been the practice for a long time; the outcome in Gill v Whitford is therefore very important for New York.

Continue reading

Are Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore Our Fault?

November continued an unabated, grim chronicle of sexual assaults perpetrated by powerful men against women in positions of relative weakness or outright dependence. It’s easy (and justified) to condemn the offenders, but does the society in some measure have itself to blame as well? Dr. Eve Waltermaurer of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz has been studying violence in intimate relationships for twenty years. The results of her recent Views on Women (VOW) poll offers disquieting insights into the social context for these acts of sexual assault.

The VOW poll—supported by the Times Union’s Women@Work —randomly surveyed 1,050 New Yorkers across the state. Findings from VOW identify a far deeper societal struggle about rape and sexual assault than most of us realize, chiefly that we tend to blame the victims of these assaults, and not solely the offenders, according to Waltermaurer.

For instance, when asked if a woman dressing in provocative clothing contributes to her being raped, over 60 percent of men aged 18-35 believe it does. But it is not just men who hold these attitudes. Strikingly, Waltermaurer found that just under 45 percent of women in the same age bracket agree with this sentiment.

These disturbing poll responses, Waltermaurer says, are unfortunately part of a pattern we’ve been unable to break. And while we hear many young women speak out against these abuses and for women’s empowerment, Waltermaurer has found that younger women may actually subscribe to negative attitudes toward women who are victims of sexual violence more frequently than their older counterparts. “One reason older women more frequently reject the idea of sexual and domestic violence as ‘normal’ is that as they gain self-confidence over time they realize, ‘I don’t need to accept this.’ A younger woman, in terms of relationships, has not quite achieved this confidence.”

A chief problem is that even today, Waltermaurer asserts, we do not know how to talk about these issues, especially when sex is involved. Sex is shunned Continue reading

Elected Officials and Social Media Use: Should There be Rules?

Social Media can make government better, more accessible, more transparent, more accountable, all good things. But when elected officials decide that government social media accounts are theirs to use as they please, we may be in very different territory. Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum reminded us of that this week.

In 2015 the Benjamin Center studied how local governments in the Mid-Hudson region use their websites and social media. We found that nearly 97 percent of the towns, villages, and cities of the region had some digital presence. At the time of the study 60 percent of local governments had a Facebook presence, but barely one fifth were on Twitter. (This was in the sleepy pre-Trump era of Twitter.) In general, we found that the more open governments are with constituents, the more they engender trust.

Even though our study was conducted barely two years ago, it came against a very different societal backdrop. President Obama was behind the push for government at all levels to communicate electronically with the goal of increasing trust and accountability. These days cities like Kingston and Poughkeepsie maintain fairly active Twitter accounts and post frequently. This seems appropriate: In our fast-paced era, when even Facebook seems too onerous to peruse, governments that can blast quick info to constituents (especially missives that can be read on a phone) are reaching people quickly and simply.

But what happens to the trust that openness engenders when the public official steps out of his or her governance role, and uses official social media platforms to advance personal views, or agendas?

Once Donald Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, sheriffs around the country have felt emboldened to use social media to express their own views, sometimes using government platforms as their bullhorn. The latest but hardly the most inflammatory missive came this past weekend when Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum used both Facebook and Twitter to tell citizens to boycott the NFL because, he argued, players taking a knee during the national anthem were being unpatriotic.

This isn’t nearly as disturbing as sheriffs in Oklahoma trying to thwart criminal justice reform through use of official social media communications.  Continue reading

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