Eight candidates are running to fill four open seats on the Newburgh City Council. Voters will head to the polls on Tuesday to decide who will represent them on the city council in the coming term.
Karen Mejia is running unopposed after serving one term on the city council. The Democratic and Working Families Party candidate has pledged to continue work on economic development and the rehabilitation of vacant properties.
“I am seeking reelection because I have passion and vision that Newburgh can write a great story on how economic development can take place in a responsible way – a way that respects the scars of history and learns to create an inclusive, diverse community for all,” Mejia said in a campaign statement this month.
“In the last four years, I’ve remained steadfast on assuring that we have steady leadership at City Hall, so that we can focus on matters that impact the day-to-day lives of our residents, visitors and business owners,” Mejia stated.
“Great progress has been made in returning blighted properties back into the tax roll with collaboration from entities like Habitat (for Humanity of Greater Newburgh) and the Newburgh Community Landbank, as well as strengthening the Code Enforcement Department so that they are able to carry out their duties.”
Ramona Monteverde is running on the Democratic, Independence and Working Families Party lines in Ward 2, where Councilwoman Genie Abrams is vacating her seat after serving one term. She is the sole candidate running in her ward.
Monteverde works as director of operations for Safe Harbors of the Hudson and serves as a current member of the city planning board. “The tax burden is something we need to address,” said Monteverde, at a candidate forum held by the NAACP Newburgh-Highland Falls Branch at the Board of Education Auditorium last Thursday.
Monteverde marked numerous non-tax-paying entities in the city, including SUNY Orange and St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital. “Non-profits are not paying taxes,” she said. “But, they use our services, our water,” Monteverde said, and the city should ask them for services in return.
Monteverde waxed positive about new residents and businesses moving to the city. “Newburgh is finally turning a corner,” she said. “I’d like to see police walking the beat. I want to see the crime rates going down.”
“I feel there is poor leadership on the council right now,” she said, with “a lot of fighting going on” and little consensus. “We need to treat each other with dignity and respect.”
Monteverde referred to bold-faced attacks by some city council members against City Manager Michael Ciaravino. “I feel we have a good city manager… but I’m not sure he’s getting the support he needs,” she said. “We don’t have to be best friends… we just need to disagree and come to the table and leave our personal agendas behind.”
Anthony Grice is running as the Newburgh United candidate in Ward 3, where longtime Councilwoman Regina Angelo is stepping down after decades in the position. It is the first time the City of Newburgh native has run for public office.
“Taxes, taxes, taxes,” said Grice, when asked at the candidates’ forum what his top three priorities will be if elected to office. “I’m also in favor of services in lieu of taxes,” he said, pointing to tax-exempt property owners. “I feel they can do more.”
“We can stabilize our taxes,” he said, but it is unrealistic to expect taxes to be reduced. The city needs to focus on helping small businesses like the recently opened Blacc Vanilla and several other businesses that have opened in the last year. “We can continue that same progress,” he said.
Grice wants the city to host more “family-friendly” events that have potential to draw tourists. “When those people are coming, they are looking at properties,” he said. Good schools will also attract people to the city, he contended. “If we have a great school district, we are able to sell houses,” he said.
Grice said the Mid-Broadway project is a “bad deal” for the city due to its 30-year payment in lieu of taxes. Grice cited housing projects by RUPCO and Habitat for Humanity. “They are paying their fair share of taxes,” Grice pointed out.
Grice, who works for the Newburgh Enlarged City School District, also supports a coordinated parks system, jobs and mentoring opportunities for youth, and an “equitable” spreading out of repairs and renewal in the city, including the West End.
John Giudice is running as the Republican candidate in Ward 3. The masonry contractor served on the city council from 1988 to 1995. “Right now, I’m not too happy with the way we’re being represented,” he said last week. “Our ward is being neglected.”
The ward has garbage pickup and street-sweeping, Giudice said, but not other services. “A lot of the streets are being neglected for paving,” he said. Roadways such as West Street, from Gidney Avenue and south, are in bad shape, Giudice complained.
“There is no playground for the kids and the speeding is outrageous,” he said, though, Giudice admitted, speeding is a problem all over the city. “The traffic is really bad. It’s out of hand.”
A satellite police station is needed to improve response time in the ward, Giudice said. “I’m very supportive of the police,” he added. “They do a fantastic job with what they have.”
If elected, he will meet with Ward 3 residents to learn their specific concerns. Giudice also pledged to work to clean the city up and attract more investors. “My intention is to do the best I can for my ward,” he said.
Giudice said the sewer and water rates are too expensive, specifically for seniors. “I don’t know why we’re paying for the water bill,” he said, considering the water crisis taking place. Giudice said he opposed the confrontational behavior of some city council members. If reelected, he promised, “I’m not going to fight with everybody. You can’t get anywhere with that.”
Jonathan Jacobson is running as A Better Newburgh and Democratic candidate in Ward 3. “I am running to improve the quality of life in the City of Newburgh,” Jacobson said in a statement this week.
“We need a multi-year plan to fix and repave all the streets,” Jacobson wrote, when asked what his priorities would be if elected. “We must fix our crumbling infrastructure. We cannot ignore our problems, as in the past.”
“We must aggressively pursue and obtain federal and state money to avoid tax increases, in order to rebuild our crumbling streets and water system. We must maintain and rebuild our infrastructure on a yearly basis.”
Jacobson raised the issue of PFOS contamination of city drinking water. “We must insure safe water and recover the costs of solving the crisis from those who caused the problems,” he stated.
“This includes suing the Department of Defense, due to their actions at Stewart Airport, and others who are responsible. The Trump Administration will not help us unless they are forced to do so.”
The city must also continue to fight gun violence and work to keep taxes stable “by increasing the tax base, especially the commercial tax base, which also will create jobs,” he said.
Jacobson ran against Judy Kennedy in the 2015 city mayoral race and as a candidate for the New York State Senate in 1982 and 1984. He is the past chairman of both the Orange County Democratic Committee and the City of Newburgh Democratic Committee.
There are two candidates running against incumbent Ward 4 Councilwoman Cindy Holmes – Republican Christine Bello and Democrat Patty Sofokles, who spoke at the candidates’ forum last week.
“There is problem with the council right now,” said Sofokles, who previously ran for the council seat in 2015. “There’s no reason why everybody just can’t get along… We all need to work together. My main goal is to work together with everybody.”
Like Monteverde, Sofokles, who owns Sofokles Tax Service, also supports the city manager. “I personally think he’s doing a good job,” she said. “I don’t think he has the support on the council that he needs to have.”
“We need a police chief,” said Sofokles, the self-described proud mother of a City of Newburgh police detective. “We need a police station. Our police station is in terrible condition but no one seems to be doing anything about it. But first, we need a leader.”
The city should continue to ramp up code enforcement and increase public safety, she said. “Children should be able to go to a Halloween party and then come out of that Halloween party (alive),” Sofokles said, citing fatal shootings at a Halloween party that took the lives of two young women last year. “We have to protect our children,” she asserted, with help from community policing and more technology such as street cameras.
Encouraging small businesses to open in the city will increase tax ratables and help control taxes, she said. “I think we need more grants,” she said, and the city should hire a grants writer. “Writing grants and looking for federal funds is where we missed the boat in the past.”
Christine Bello, owner of Chris-Dian Florist, is running as a Republican, Conservative and Independence candidate in Ward 4. Bello served on the city council from 2008 to 2011.
Bello listed recovery of grant monies and identifying the misuse of city funding as among her accomplishments while serving on the council. “I am heavily invested in the City of Newburgh,” Bello said in a statement. “As a taxpayer, I know we can do much better, and I’m on a mission to limit the ever-increasing taxes and fees that are a heavy burden for our residents.”
If elected, her goals are to foster economic development and increase public safety. “As our tax base increases, we will have more money to provide better, all-around services to the people of our city,” she said.
Bello also opposes the Mid-Broadway project. “Six years ago, when the city wasn’t quite sure what they were going to do with the Mid-Broadway property… I suggested that we use that property to build a public safety building, as the police department was in desperate need of major upgrades,” she explained.
“We could fund that project by marketing the very valuable property that the police and fire departments currently occupy to possibly a hotel or some other business that would significantly contribute to our tax base and create jobs at the same time.”
“I believe I have much to offer the people of the City of Newburgh by way of my 38 years of business experience and previous council experience,” Bello wrote.
Cindy Holmes has served one term on the city council. She is running as the We Love Newburgh candidate.
“I want to continue to focus on quality-of-life issues for our residents and work on improving them on a steady basis,” Holmes wrote to the Mid Hudson Times. “Paved and clean streets are a necessity. Recreation activities for the young and old should be available to all residents on a regular basis.”
She described safety as a “huge” issue. “People want to feel safe in their city,” she wrote. “I would like to see beat cops walking in every neighborhood so relationships can be established by the police department. Staffing levels must be maintained or increased without further burdening our taxpayers.”
“Code enforcement is also a huge issue,” Holmes said, and landlords need to be held responsible for substandard rentals. “People should expect to live in safe, decent housing. Run-down and abandoned buildings invite crime.”
Holmes noted her work on initiatives such as citywide video surveillance, making city residents a priority in city hiring, the purchase of Shot Spotter technology and keeping tax increases minimal.
City council terms are four years. The general election takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 7. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
By SHANTAL RILEY