Ruling Paves Way for Massive Voting Rights Change to School Board Elections Across New York

On May 25 in White Plains, U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Seibel ruled that the at-large system used for electing the nine members of the East Ramapo School Board denied the district’s Black and Latino voters effective choice in its elections, violating §2 of the Federal Voting Rights Act (VRA). Under an at-large system every voter votes to fill each board position, allowing a disciplined majority to control all seats. A majority of the East Ramapo district’s voting population is Hasidic Jews. The School Board has long been dominated by members recruited and endorsed by the leaders of this religious community and elected at-large through the use of block voting.

PCBs, Lyme Disease and Honeybees

The world’s not a happy place these days but there is a temptation to think that at least some of what’s happening nationally — e.g. who gets what big job in Washington — won’t much impact your daily life. Wrong, for sure, when it comes to the air you breathe and the water you drink.

Look no further than Newburgh, New York last month.

In 2016 it was discovered that Washington Lake, a major source of water for City of Newburgh residents, was contaminated with PFOAs from nearby Stewart Air National Guard Base. These chemicals, used as fire retardants, have been linked to the proliferation of kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and ulcerative colitis, among other diseases. Then just a few weeks ago, the City was again threatened by the use of a chemical foam used at the airport.

Exactly two days after the latest news of contamination, The New York Times reported that the EPA wants to downplay the risk of this class of chemical in drinking water under pressure from the Defense Department. Prior to the EPA’s revision, the agency had suggested those responsible for proliferation would need to take immediate action. But proposed revisions would let the agency drag its feet on cleanup or avoid remediation.

These events and others like them across the state and country make the Benjamin Center’s latest discussion brief, Hudson River PCBs: What the GE Clean-Up Brings to Life, by Simon Litten, more than a powerful history lesson.

Litten shows that the extraordinarily costly, time-consuming, and ultimately equivocal cleanup of PCBs from the Hudson River is at least in part the result of even well-meaning researchers fumbling for decades about how to study the impact of toxins already released into the environment. Litten says “prevention would be far better, and far cheaper than cleanup.” Put differently, the broadly applicable general lesson is that pretending a problem doesn’t exist (more…)

A New Comprehensive Plan for Poughkeepsie

Looking to the Future:

Twenty years ago the City of Poughkeepsie debuted a Comprehensive Plan meant to be a road map for revitalization. If you look at Poughkeepsie today you can see, broadly, how well or poorly Poughkeepsie followed its own plan. The past 4 posts, linked in the box at right, have looked at how the city envisioned itself in 1998, and graded the implementation of the 1998 Comprehensive Plan using the metrics contained within the plan. The final tally was a failing grade of 41%.

A BenCen Series
How Poughkeepsie’s

Past has Handcuffed its Future

Peer cities in the Hudson Valley have recovered from the Great Recession. Why not Poughkeepsie?

At the end of the last post I wrote that it is unfair to hold current policymakers responsible for failing to bring the comprehensive plan to fruition, nor is it fair to hold the current city leaders accountable for complying with a plan that is well past its expiration date. The solution though is not to give up. The solution is to create a new comprehensive plan to move the city forward, learning from the mistakes of the past. Residents and stakeholders need to reimagine a collective vision for the city, and a plan needs to be drawn up with realistic, actionable and measurable steps to achieve that vision.

This post will explore some of the more obvious areas that the Poughkeepsie may want to address, as well as some non-obvious things that might be included in a new comprehensive plan.
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