by Seth Rogovoy
(HUDSON, N.Y., October 26, 2013) – Victor Mendolia has a vision for this riverside city of a little over 6,000, and a plan to achieve it. It includes inviting smart, targeted development in areas of the city that have been overlooked or underutilized, leading to an enhanced taxpayer base, more market-rate and affordable housing, retail space and hotels; rerouting deleterious truck traffic away from the inner city; more logical, sensible and efficient use of public works; better communication, digital and otherwise, between city government and citizens; fostering the inclusion of groups that have been left out or made to feel unwelcome in the city’s political process; active measures including job training, to address poverty, which goes hand-in-hand with the scourge of drugs and crime; long-term planning to insure the best possible use of the city’s ace-in-the-hole and eventual salvation – its waterfront; and, perhaps most importantly, to improve the quality of life for those who live and work here through measures that will cost nothing, merely taking the time to reevaluate how things are done and if they can be done better, so that Hudson truly does become the “friendly city” that his opponent for mayor, who has addressed none of these concerns in his first term nor has issued any proposals for his second, claims Hudson to be.
Mendolia made clear that a mayor or city government cannot solve all these problems by itself, and for almost all of these he has detailed plans for how to engage the private sector, social service agencies, the state, and the people of Hudson in figuring out how best to address these issues. Almost none of Mendolia’s ideas would actually cost the city and its taxpayer’s money; for the most part, there would be a reallocation of resources, with the city acting as catalyst, if not partner, in seeing these plans take shape. It’s clear that Mendolia sees the role of mayor as one of leader – the generator-of-ideas-and-proposals-in-chief, if you will – engaging with the city council, which of course in Hudson is an equal partner with the mayor, in the best of all possible worlds serving as a resource, sounding board and provider of expertise in many areas, in the worst of all possible cases as an obstructive body, which would be to no one’s benefit. In any case, Mendolia’s use of his office and the bully pulpit and managerial role it provides would look very different from how it has been used – or hasn’t been – over the past few years.
Mendolia addressed all these points and more before a crowd of about 75 at the former Charles Williams School on the corner of North 3rd and Robinson streets, in a building that itself now stands as an exemplar of smart reuse and the influx of talent into the city upon which Mendolia hopes to draw – the school has been refashioned as “the Second Ward Foundation,” a multipurpose events center and studio space, taking its name from the overlooked district the school used to serve, the city’s poorest neighborhood – and therefore most ripe for opportunity – and the place that Mendolia himself calls home.
For about an hour, Mendolia fielded concerns posed by attendees ranging from affordable housing, taxes, poverty, transportation, development and the waterfront. There is seemingly no aspect of Hudson that has been overlooked in his overall vision of how to connect the dots to make the city function more efficiently – how it can best serve its citizens, businesses, and taxpayers.
Indeed, service, as in customer service, is a theme underlying Mendolia’s approach, and one to which he brings plenty of experience rom his days as a retail manager and business owner in New York City. One looks forward to the day when the people of Hudson can take pride in an administration and offices that truly serve to make life better for the city’s inhabitants, as opposed to stifling development and being seen as a huge stumbling block or inconvenience to making a go of it here.
In practical terms, said Mendolia, this means reevaluating age-old policies such as daily alternate-side-of-the-street parking. Do we really need it? Are our streets even cleaned every other night? Couldn’t we get away with one or two nights a week of alternate parking to allow for street cleaning? On a day to day basis, for most people, the encounter with city government is a series of frustrations – the issuance of parking tickets, having to jump through the hoops of outdated application processes, trying to figure out new laws and regulations, just simply trying to get information out of the city, such as when the recycling pickup changes, or what are the yard-waste pickup dates.
Mendolia is committed to a policy of transparency and active communication – he promises that on day-one of his administration, the city will post a dynamic website, one that will be updated on a daily basis or as needed, with all legislative and other pending documents posted, with meeting announcements, with forms that citizens can download and complete, with places for questions and, yes, complaints. The city will also make use of social media, such as Facebook, and phone apps to get the word out for things like snow emergencies, and not only rely on 20th century methods such as announcements on radio stations that few if any listen to on any regular basis.
Mendolia’s proposal to do away with the blue-bag system of municipal trash pickup is another example of rethinking policies that may not be the best use of city resources. As he points out, the city is already engaging in residential trash pickup throughout the city, but it only picks up trash packed in official blue city trash bags that residents have to purchase at city hall. As anyone who has walked the city’s streets and alleys knows – and as anyone who has peeked over the any of the hills or outcroppings on the edge of the city’s downtown knows – plenty of trash just gets dumped on the ground, period. Rather than have this two-tier system, Mendolia proposes simply to have the city collect residential waste and leave it at that. As it stands now, the city’s waste management system is NOT working – the city is strewn with trash, and several different private haulers compete with the city for the residential pickup business. The city should just do away with the blue bags and standardize garbage pickup throughout the city, removing the incentive for dumping. The marginal cost of this (the lost income in blue-bag fees) would be more than made up for by reduced administration costs, elimination of city purchase of the bags, and a much cleaner city and a system that accomplishes the task it sets out to do.
Mendolia spoke eloquently of the need in the short-term to expand opportunities for market-rate and affordable housing, serve the tourism needs of the city (which will only grow larger with time and the opening of the Marina Abramovic Institute) with hotel rooms, provide more retail space, expand the business beyond the current limits of Warren Street and its side streets; and expanding the tax base. Mendolia’s unique solution to this is to encourage the development of the long-neglected Columbia Street by making it into a special district allowing greater density of development, with five story buildings, for example, mixed use (ground floor retail and residential), underground parking, relaxed setbacks, and jettisoning absurd regulations that make building apartments a losing proposition by any stretch.
Again, this would not cost the city a penny, but rather, it would open it to the sort of smart urban development – the “new urbanism,” if you will – that is absolutely necessary for Hudson to continue to grow and thrive. This would entice heretofore shy or reluctant developers who would like to but find it a financial impossibility to build here, leaving the city prey to bottom-feeding slumlords or deep-pocketed individuals who have only their own interests or endless bank accounts to answer to. This is a surprisingly Republican approach, but one being touted, in this case, by the very pro-business, Democratic candidate for mayor.
It would also make for an expanded downtown, offering all sorts of opportunities for new and different types of businesses to open, and get people walking off of Warren Street and towards the (gasp!) north side of town.
Mendolia came across as someone who would be a concerned, dedicated and committed public servant – as someone who would enjoy rolling up his sleeves with people from all walks of life in the city, county, and state to solve problems and to make Hudson a better place for all, and not just for the few, for an in crowd that is used to back-room politics. Mendolia came across as someone who appreciates the wealth of talented individuals who have moved here and opened businesses – he credits the small-business community for being the drivers of the miraculous Hudson revival – and would certainly reach out to planners, designers, architects, engineers, artists — anyone with expertise and experience that could help steer the city in the right direction, and not just do things the same old way they’ve been done for years – certainly not without asking why, or if there’s a better way.
Mendolia did not come across as slick, mean-spirited, vindictive, egotistical, or in this for any reason other than to make Hudson truly the “Friendly City” for all, and not just a few. One was struck by his depth and breadth of knowledge, by the sheer logic of his ideas, and the obvious time he has dedicated to discussing these many issues with people from all walks of life.
Of course there is one person who has refused to discuss these matters with Mendolia, at least not publicly and not during the mayoral campaign. And the absence of Mendolia’s opponent, the current mayor of Hudson, William Hallenbeck, was deeply felt at this meeting. This could have been the opportunity for a great conversation between the two and among those in attendance. There was no animosity or ill-will in the room toward Mayor Hallenbeck (in spite of his campaign to demonize Mendolia as an “outsider” with “AIDS” – for the record, Mendolia doesn’t and never has had AIDS) – the mayor’s participation would have been welcome, and his contributions would have been greatly appreciated.
Alas, we will never know what his contributions to such an airing of issues could have been, as the mayor has refused to appear publicly on the same dais with his opponent, variously pleading that he is too busy, doesn’t have time to prepare, or that he was invited “inappropriately.” For that matter, the mayor seems to be unwilling to appear in an open public forum anywhere, at least to my knowledge and according to the local paper of record. Nor has he replied to any of my emails. Perhaps they were addressed to him in an “inappropriate” fashion. Of course, I will never know, as he refuses to respond.
My invitation to Mayor Hallenbeck to address any or all of these issues in this space remains open until the day before Election Day.