EDITORIAL: Hudson wins big

DOWN THE BACK STRETCH it’s Saratoga in the lead… coming into the turn Albany pulls ahead… now it’s Troy by a length. But on the outside here comes–Huuuuud-Sonnnnn! The City of Hudson wins the Cuomo Stakes DRI Derby!

The purse is $10 million. And the governor came to Hudson this week to make the award official. No doubt he also appreciated the warm welcome he received in this part of upstate New York (broadly defined), where polls show his popularity is not so great.

At this time last year the governor came to Hudson to announce a $500-million initiative to upgrade internet connections throughout upstate, with $2.5 million designated for Columbia County. That effort has proceeded more slowly than promised, though he’s not causing the delay.

The grant Mr. Cuomo unveiled this week comes from a contest created by his administration and tied into the public-private Regional Economic Development Councils that he created several years ago to promote regional economic growth. There are 10 regions in the state and Hudson is in the Capital Region.

Last year some local officials were hoping until the day the governor arrived in Hudson that the city had won the 2016 Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) prize. So maybe a promise of better internet service was a consolation prize or maybe it was coincidence. Glens Falls won the $10 million a year ago.

To the credit of all involved–city and county officials, the Hudson Development and Columbia Economic Development corporations, Assemblymember Didi Barrett and private citizens who turned out for meetings and responded in other ways–Hudson learned from the success of Glens Falls and crafted what turned out to be the best proposal from this region. There were 104 applicants overall.

Critics of Mr. Cuomo might believe the governor wanted Hudson to receive the prize this year for political reasons. Representative John Faso (R-19th) lives in Kinderhook, and both Mr. Faso and Mr. Cuomo seem likely to run for reelection next year to their respective offices. But the two men clashed politically earlier this year when Mr. Faso sponsored an amendment to the healthcare repeal bill in Congress that would have shifted county Medicaid payments onto the state budget. Mr. Cuomo is not known for ignoring such political challenges.

Whatever political struggles are happening behind the scenes, Hudson deserves this grant on the merits. It does the people who put it together a disservice to suggest otherwise. The latest Hudson project proposals list isn’t available yet, but a preliminary list of projects in the waterfront district cover everything from affordable housing to better signs, environmentally friendly public transportation and free wi-fi, river access and a “public pier.”

Which of these proposals will get a green light matters less than what the projects reveal about the effort city officials have made to listen to the needs and hopes expressed by the people of Hudson. As long as those who administer the grant adopt the same open and creative approach used to craft the application, it’s likely our money will be well spent.

Despite the enthusiastic audience, there was something a little creepy about Gov. Cuomo’s repeated emphasis Tuesday on “winning” the funds to revitalize Hudson or, by extension, any other urban area. After all, isn’t it the job of government to see that all downtowns have resources to revitalize themselves? It’s our tax money, and with so few winners, how does it benefit those of us who don’t live in a winning community? Is there a less competitive way to dispense this state aid or more money to disburse?

Contests do motivate people, so let’s assume the theory behind the competition for the funds is that the desire to win will make municipalities improve themselves until, eventually, they do prevail. What then? If the funds depend on a kind of Downtown Revitalization Darwinism, wouldn’t it be more efficient for cities to hire the meanest grant writers they can find. Then the state can lock them all in a cage and give the money to the town with last consultant standing?

Whatever the future holds, Hudson did win and did it by harnessing the creativity, perseverance and diversity of its citizens. There are bound to be difficulties ahead as the city chooses how to spend this windfall. And while $10 million probably isn’t enough to address the city’s most pressing needs, it’s a huge step forward. Congratulations, Hudson. You deserve to be proud of your… success.

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