HUDSON — As a new year sets in, Hudson’s first-elected female mayor is preparing to step down.
In January 2016, Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton took office with a clear agenda: make City Hall more transparent and accountable to constituents.
Before starting her political career, she served on the Board of Education for the Hudson City School District and was co-founder of citizens’ action group Hudson Forward.
But the mayor’s role turned out to be much different.
“I did have some experience in community involvement, but this was, in a lot of ways, more up-close-and-personal,” Hamilton said at her Hudson home Thursday. “When people have an issue, regardless of whether it’s an issue the mayor’s office can handle, they will bring it to my door. There are times when it is frustrating and it makes me very sad because their situations can be painful, and there may not be anything I can do to help them. But then, there are other times it’s simple and it’s just a matter of flipping the right switch and making sure the right people are connected and talking about it to fix the problem.
“When that happens, it makes it all worth it.”
There was also what William Shakespeare called the “insolence of office.”
“What I learned very quickly is things in a governmental setting do not work in the same way as they do in the private sector,” Hamilton said. “You have things that would normally, in any other sector, move quickly and not just be no-brainers; it doesn’t work that way in government for a number of reasons.
“There are reasons that are sound reasons,” she said. “Things move at a slow pace to make sure checks and balances are in place so there is no abuse of power, but things also tend to get held up due to political foolishness and grandstanding.”LOOKING BACK
Q: What do you see as the biggest accomplishment of your administration?
A: One of the biggest accomplishments, and something that will have a positive impact on Hudson for decades to come, is winning the $10 million DRI (the state’s Downtown Revitalization grant) on Aug. 1... Obviously, how that’s implemented is still up in the air, but what we are seeing is the community is engaged in a way they have never been before with the benefit of having professional planners there to facilitate our process.
Q: What role will you still have in the DRI process?
A: I will continue to keep co-chairing the DRI committee. This process has made it much clearer to everyone what the community’s priorities are… I think it is an eye-opener for people to see what it takes for projects to get off the ground — how financing is no one-shot deal and how you leverage one piece to build on other layers of financing. That has been great. Another three months and the planning process will be done and we will be moving into implementation.
Q: How do you see the DRI helping Hudson long-term?
A: There are so many great ideas coming out of it, so whether [the ideas] get funded through the DRI or end up getting funded through other sources, they are on the radar and they are out there. The who, what, where and the why are all being figured out. Hudson has never had that. We’ve never had a city planning function. The Hudson Development Corporation, to a large extent, has acted on our behalf in that vacuum. This is really our first chance as a city and as a community to take an active role in planning. It’s very different from urban renewal of 40 years ago.
Q: What else do you think will be the legacy of your administration?
A: Another thing I feel has had a big impact and has been controversial, but certainly was the right thing to do, is the movement of Hudson as an “inclusive and welcoming city.” It basically is a Sanctuary City, just with a different name. I felt very strongly about that and knew that I needed to be on the right side of history. When people look back on how this went down, I felt that what the federal government was imposing was truly over-reaching and unconscionable and inhumane.
I was glad to see the [Common] council was willing to support that kind of resolution, and now it will become policy for the Hudson Police Department. They have been very transparent with any ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]-related activity. It’s been very minimal. It continues to happen around us in nearby towns and counties, so it’s not like it can’t happen. At least we know if it does, our police department will act in a certain manner. I feel like we’ve gotten a lot of support from Chief [L. Edward] Moore on that.SUMMER’S VIOLENCE
Q: The community was rocked by several shootings over the summer. What is the update on that at this time?
A: It’s terrifying. And I can see why people would feel extremely uncomfortable knowing these things are happening in their neighbor’s homes. It is obviously very difficult when family members are somehow involved in this conflict that is happening. It really creates an unsafe situation for everyone. I think the investigation has come very far — we’ve had authorities from local, county, state and federal involved.
Q: What will become of the role of police commissioner?
A: That is entirely up to Mayor-elect Rick Rector. It is a position that is in the charter, but is not required. In the absence of a commissioner, the chief and the mayor work together. I can tell you that has worked out really well for me since Martha [Harvey]’s resignation since she moved to Albany. Having that open line of communication between the mayor and the chief [of police] is very important. There is some value to having a commissioner. There is also the argument it creates this additional layer of bureaucracy that doesn’t necessarily need to exist. So that will be up to Mayor Rector to see how he wants to do that.AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Q: What is the future of the Housing Task Force started by your administration? Will you still chair the Task Force?
A: I will not be heading it. It is the mayor’s task force. Mayor-elect Rector will continue the task force. He may reconfigure it. Common Council President-elect [Tom] DePietro is talking about creating a housing committee for the common council so there might be a chance for some consolidation there. The housing task force is so important — that’s one of the key issues that came out of the DRI process. We have a lack of affordable housing and affordability means something different to everyone.
Q: What is the future of affordable housing in Hudson?
A: It can’t just be a lot of what we’ve done in terms of housing in recent years. It can’t just be anecdotal. People feel this is what they are seeing firsthand in their community, but now we have the numbers. We’ve got the data. We know 50 percent of Hudson is living below $25,000 a year. It was basically 50 percent of the people living in Hudson could be living in LMI (Leading Market Index) housing and only 20 to 21 percent is being serviced. There is about a 30-percent gap, so how do we fill that gap? What does that gap look like? Are they single-family residences? Is it three bedroom apartments? It has to be very thoughtful development or we could end up with some harebrained plan for 700 units and no one could live there. It would be ridiculous. The housing task force was a really big step.
Q: Do you still plan to serve in politics after you leave office?
A: I’ll still be involved in a peripheral sense in local politics, but it’s not something I am looking to be directly involved in at this point.THE FUTURE OF HUDSON
Q: Any advice for Mayor-elect Rick Rector?
A: My advice to him is to “be you,” because I know you can do this. I have every faith in him as a human being and as a leader. I hope if he ever wants to talk politics or use me as a sounding board he will do that. I will gladly be that person. I hope he is able to when things get crazy — and they will get crazy — that he will block out the noise and focus on the real issues.
Q: What are your hopes for Hudson as it moves forward in the next two to 10 years?
A: I will be really interested to see where Hudson is in 10 years because of the things we’re working on now and the way the economy works in 7- to 8-year cycles. So 10 years from now, we could be looking at a completely different scene. We’re such a creative economy now, and a lot of the brick-and-mortar antique shops have changed their business models based on demand and necessity and we’re seeing shops replaced by other types of businesses. So who knows what we will see 10 years from now? But, it will be interesting. Having watched Hudson evolve and go through this ebb and flow pretty much every decade in the last 40 years, it will be exciting to see what it will become.