CATSKILL — Ten days after requesting a Black Lives Matter-themed mural to the village Board of Trustees, the Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition is expecting its answer Wednesday night.
The Housing Coalition is calling for murals on Main Street in Catskill and Second Street in Hudson. Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson has committed to the mural, he said Wednesday. The Catskill village board met the proposal with two compromises: to paint a mural on Water Street or to have banners above Main Street.
“What does it say about our community values to push a statement for Black lives to the side?,” Hudson/Catskill Coalition Housing Program Coordinator Molly Stinchfield said. “If we are only willing to say black lives matter on a low-traffic side street used primarily as a cut through to Hop-O-Nose or a temporary banner that can be destroyed by the wind or torn down? The main concern [Village President] Vinny Seeley mentioned was not wanting to disrupt Main Street businesses after COVID. The village board’s 10-plus day deliberation sends the message that they value the economy and tourism before black lives.”
Trustee Joseph Kozloski said he is more in favor of the banner idea.
“I would much rather see a banner across Main Street,” he said. “We can move it if we need to get more people aware of it. After a while, a mural on a road would look not very good. In order to do [a mural], we would have to stop traffic and shut down Main Street. The merchants do not like that.”
In May, the trustees discussed the idea of closing Main Street for the summer to support local businesses as the economy reopens post-COVID.
“We also will be digging Main Street up next year for a new water line,” Kozloski said.
Trustee Natasha Law supports the mural.
“I am 100% for it and so is the rest of my team,” she said. “Placement right now is what is in question. We had conversations discussing shutting down Main Street a few weeks back thinking it would help businesses flourish and all but four [businesses] wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. One business even went as far as stating he would close his doors permanently if we shut the street down at all after not being allowed to be open for three months due to COVID. Residents didn’t want the inconvenience, either.”
Due to resistance to previous attempts to close Main Street, the board asked the Housing Coalition to select a different location for the mural, Law said.
“It’s difficult in the village because many high-traffic roads are state-owned such as Spring and West Bridge Street,” she said. “The road leading to Lumberyard was one of the areas the village offered. The Lumberyard was 100% for it and anyone driving on West Bridge Street would see it. I actually think the mural would bring people to the village.”
Village President Vincent Seeley agreed that Main Street would not be the ideal location for the mural.
“With regards to painting on the actual Main Street, we need more details and it would not be our first choice,” he said. “The closing of our Main Street is problematic, as we learned a month ago. We suggested closing down part of Water Street in front of the Lumberyard and painting it there. In addition, two banners could be created that could be moved around the community. Many of our residents and visitors don’t get a chance to come down to Main Street so this would be more inclusive. Local residents and businesses could show their support by each donating a small dollar amount for the creation of the banner and maybe even host a banner for a week.”
Law suggested the mural be painted on a building rather than a roadway.
I think it would be better on a building, personally, for wear-and-tear reasons,” she said. “Why do we have to do what every other city is doing? There are many great large buildings in the village and I think the owners would be for it.”
In addition to the request to change the location of the mural, the board also asked the Coalition to change the slogan, Stinchfield said.
Originally one of the proposed slogans was, “Defund the Police.”
“When we first asked Vinny, that was one of the potential slogans we asked about,” Stinchfield said. “He said it would have to say Black Lives Matter and we were willing to do that. We were not willing to move the mural off Main Street.”
Seeley said that he believed the “Defund the Police” slogan would not have been productive, he said.
“We immediately felt that a message to defund the police without a well-thought-out conversation was not productive,” Seeley said. “The village of Catskill Police Department is the only accredited agency in Greene County. That means we made a commitment over 10 years ago, both financially and directionally, to hold our officers to a documented high standard of conduct, responsibility and community. Everything from training to how we handle evidence is peer-reviewed by an outside accredited organization. It wasn’t easy or cheap, but 100% worth it.”
Conversations about moving resources are possible, Seeley said, but he urged a thoughtful, transparent approach.
“If we want to have a conversation about changes in policy or finances, it needs to be in an open forum and have all stakeholders at the table,” he said. “Moving resources and funding to mental health programs, economic development and other areas can be achieved but we need to work hand in hand with the town and the county. Creating a knee-jerk reaction right now could be dangerous and unwind all the work all of us have put in to improve the village of Catskill and build up all of our community. We had two very powerful and well-attended marches. Let’s keep that momentum going by challenging ourselves to continue a conversation and take appropriate action.”
Johnson announced a 10% budget cut for the Hudson Police Department last week. The cuts will come from equipment and supplies, not personnel, Hudson Police Commissioner Peter Volkmann said.
The 2020-21 budget for the Catskill Police Department is $1.3 million out of the village’s $4.9 million budget, or 26.5% of the overall spending plan. The department has 14 full-time employees and three part-time employees, Lt. Ronald Frascello said.
The village of Catskill has about 4,500 residents, Seeley said.
Catskill Police Chief David Darling could not be reached for comment.