HUDSON—The names are familiar, but the political landscape in Hudson has changed.
Last week long-time Hudson Mayor Rick Scalera announced he would seek his seventh term in the November general election. The mayor, a Democrat in a heavily Democratic city, was at odds with an insurgent party leadership over much of the past decade, but he won handily two years ago running on the Republican and Independence Party lines. This week he was back seeking his party’s endorsement for his new bid only to find himself once again facing a challenge from within his party.
City Treasurer Eileen Halloran also sought the party’s endorsement at a city Democratic Committee meeting Tuesday evening. After the meeting the mayor said not enough members of the committee attended the session to make a decision that night, and a second meeting of the committee was scheduled for Thursday, May 14.
In a brief phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Ms. Halloran confirmed that she had also sought the party’s support and said she believed the party leaders would try to settle on a choice at the Thursday session. Asked whether she would challenge the mayor in a primary in September if she is not selected, Ms. Halloran said, “No, I won’t. I’m going to abide by the party’s choice.”
Mr. Scalera, 59, did not sound particularly concerned about the prospect of a challenger this week. “I’m no stranger to elections,” he said. He’s already come and gone three times at City Hall, serving first for two terms from 1995 to 1999, then from 2001 to 2005 and most recently reelected in 2007.
At the top of his list of accomplishments since taking over a year and a half ago from Richard Tracy, also a Democrat, Mr. Scalera says is his leadership in making the city “fiscally sound” following credit card scandals and other problems related to financial mismanagement. He says Hudson now has “a healthy fund balance.”
The mayor also said he hopes to have significant news soon about federal funding for the debt service on a new sewer treatment plant, which the city desperately needs to replace its aging facility. The plant will cost $9 million, but the interest and principal payments on that project coupled with the debt for the new water treatment plant that went on line a few years ago would saddle city taxpayers with a huge new burden at a time when the city is reeling from significant job losses.
The new federal aid would cover 50% of the debt, says the mayor. And while competition for the funds is fierce—only 10% of projects will receive any money—Hudson has made it to the final round.
His current term started off on a rocky note. After just 11 days in office, the state announced plans to close the Hudson Correctional Facility, one of the city’s largest employers and the place where Mr. Scalera worked for many years. Working across party lines, the mayor and GOP state lawmakers Senator Steve Saland (R-41st) and Assemblyman Marc Molinaro (R-103rd) managed to convince the new governor, David Paterson, to keep the prison open.
Last year came a new challenge, as the county Board of Supervisors decided to move the Department of Social Services from the city to the newly purchased campus of the old Ockamick School in Claverack when the lease on the building the department no occupies expires in a couple of years. That decision, which the county says will save money, has prompted outrage and dismay in the city. Opponents say it will erect a new barrier to the services that the most vulnerable people in the county.
The pending move has also forged a new alliance between the mayor and one of his chief opponents in recent years, Linda Mussman.
Ms. Mussmann, an artist and community activist who runs the TSL performance and gallery space in Hudson, ran for mayor against Mr. Scalera three times, each time without success. But she did manage to orchestrate a realignment of the city Democratic Committee, ousting people who were loyal to the mayor and costing him the nomination. It was a bitter political rivalry.
But now, says the mayor, “we’re working together for the first time.” It’s a sentiment Ms. Mussmann echoes.
Both are fiercely opposed to the county’s plans to move DSS. In addition, Ms. Mussmann says that the mayor was a supporter of her efforts to advance the long-stalled city waterfront revitalization plan, and the two are both working on ways to reduce truck traffic through some of the most the most densely populated neighborhoods in the city.
“I think there are issues we agree on,” Ms. Mussmann said this week.
It may help that she no longer participates in city Democratic Party politics, saying she has “no relationship whatsoever” with the party leadership. Instead, she is using her independent Bottom Line Party as an organizing platform.
Victor Mendolia, chairman of the city Democratic Committee, could not be reached for comment.
As for why he wants to run yet again to lead a city facing so many challenges, the mayor, a lifelong city resident says, “I enjoy it.”