THE CLICHÉ that comes to mind is the one that fits those emails from royal relatives who have money waiting for me in a Swiss bank as soon as I email them my bank account number: “If it sounds too good to be true….”
But skepticism about the motives of others can also lead to misunderstandings about the good deeds of people who actually do have our best interests at heart. The trick is in distinguishing the good from the too good.
Last week we published a story on the holdings of T. Eric Galloway, who either owns or has set up entities that own almost 2% of the taxable properties in the City of Hudson. Owning that much of a small community makes him somebody people would naturally be curious about. With 38 properties, give or take, scattered around the city, he has a lot of neighbors. He also pays a hefty amount of property tax each year to the city and the school district, and he pays his taxes on time, we’re told. His tax bill alone makes him important.
Mr. Galloway declined to be interviewed for our story, reported by Debby Mayer. His spokesman, Tom Swope, did provide information about some aspects of his business and about Mr. Galloway, who lives in New York City. There have been unflattering stories written about Mr. Galloway and his connections to low-income housing in New York in the past, but it’s not clear from what we could find whether he caused the problems or whether the problems–poor maintenance or neglect of buildings, according to one story–were ones he inherited and has since remedied.
One of the surprising facts to emerge about the Galloway holdings in Hudson is that about 2/3 of his residential properties are vacant. The real estate market has yet to bounce back from the recession, so it may make sense to keep that much housing off the market right now. It certainly reveals the depth of Mr. Galloway’s pockets that he has the option of stockpiling so many units. And though neighborhoods in the city don’t benefit from having empty buildings, here’s the other side: No one I know of has claimed that his acquisition of these properties prevented another owner from using the buildings in a more productive way.
Some critics have raised concerns about what he might do with one of his recently acquired non-residential properties, the Hudson Area Library at 400 State Street. I wish him the best of luck on that project. Long ago that building was a home for the poor and later a school. It is the worst possible structure for a library, despite all the efforts and money spent there over the years. Short of gutting the building and leaving only the façade, the dark, cramped rooms would never make a suitable library. The library board knows this, and the offer of assistance from Mr. Galloway to help find a new home for this essential institution is the best thing that could happen for the building and for local library service.
I would prefer to see voters force government to resume a greater role in funding infrastructure, including housing and public institutions. But economics and politics have breathed new life into 19th-century attitudes, when public works frequently depended on the generosity or self-interest of wealthy patrons. One of those patrons is T. Eric Galloway who, for whatever reasons, has chosen Hudson as one place to spend his money on projects that benefit the community. Maybe he likes the same things about Hudson and Columbia County that make the rest of us glad we live here.
But he is different from most of us because his wealth permits him to accumulate more property than most people and in doing so become not only wealthier but more powerful in determining the future of the city. That’s legal. It might turn out to be civic-minded and selfless as well. It also bears watching.
Mr. Galloway may have a grand plan for what he wants to accomplish in Hudson. If so, he hasn’t yet shared the details with the public, and perhaps he won’t. That’s his right. But any plan that includes concentrating control over a significant portion of the City of Hudson’s tax base in the hands of one unelected individual or small group leaves me wondering if something here might be too good to be true.