Advance Media New York. October 10, 2021.

Editorial: Choose healing over division. Remove Syracuse’s Columbus statue

The people and ideas a community celebrates in its public spaces reflect our values, our aspirations and our times. Our times demand an honest reappraisal of the statue of Christopher Columbus in one of Syracuse’s most prominent public squares — one that leads us to support Mayor Ben Walsh’s intention to replace it with a symbol that will unify the community instead of dividing it.

The Columbus statue was raised in 1934 by Syracuse’s Italian American residents as a monument to their culture and civic belonging. At the time, popular history’s view of Columbus was of a heroic explorer who “discovered” the New World and brought Christianity to the Western Hemisphere.

Since then, our understanding of Columbus has expanded and evolved to include the perspectives of the people on the receiving end of his conquest: the Indigenous peoples who were here for millennia, and who were nearly wiped out in the centuries of colonization that followed. They are represented on the statue literally under the feet of Columbus and on their knees in subservience.

Today’s supporters of keeping the statue wish to recast Columbus as a monument to their ancestors’ perseverance in the face of discrimination against immigrants in this city. That selective view of history is blind to the pain of the Onondaga Nation people on whose ancestral land it sits. To them, Columbus is a symbol of genocide, oppression, subjugation, theft and cultural erasure.

In spite of everything, the Onondaga are still here. They want the statue to go — and have for decades. Finally, they have been heard.

Walsh convened a community dialogue on the monument’s future in 2018. It produced diametrically opposed interpretations of history and a menu of options for the future of Columbus Circle. Calls for the mayor to act grew louder in the summer of 2020, as the nation reckoned with its racist past after the murder of George Floyd. Walsh decided to remove the monument and remake the circle into a Heritage Park that celebrates the multicultural fabric of today’s Syracuse, including Italian Americans.

We believe the mayor is within his rights to do so. The city owns the monument and can do with it what it pleases. It renamed the circle once and can do so again. More importantly, just as the city’s leaders in 1934 chose to honor Columbus, its leaders today can choose a different person or symbol to honor.

Editorial boards can change their minds, too. Our predecessors in 1934 hailed the monument as “a treasured and permanent memorial of Columbus’ greatness and glory” — an opinion we do not hold in 2021.

The statue’s supporters are suing to prevent its removal. We regret they did not take the path of the Italian American community in Buffalo, which voluntarily took down its statue of Columbus in recognition of its divisiveness “and to provide a positive example of peaceful change.” That it has become an issue in the Syracuse mayoral campaign trivializes the more pressing issues facing the city: violence, poverty and economic inequality.

Removing statues or changing the names of public places often raises the charge that we are “erasing” history. Monuments are not history; they are an interpretation of history at a moment in time. History’s view of Columbus has become fuller, encompassing both his heroism and cruelty. Knowing the fuller story, we can change what we decide is worthy of civic honor. We can choose to keep the wound open or to try to heal it.

The late civil rights leader John Lewis, writing days before his death in 2020, called upon Americans to lay down the burdens of division and to embrace peace. Replacing Syracuse’s Columbus statue with a more inclusive symbol is a step in that direction.

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Dunkirk Evening Observer. October 13, 2021.

Editorial: PERSIA Reaching out on closed facility

Persia town Supervisor John Walgus and other board members, to their credit, saw an opportunity with the exit of former state Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Within the last month, the town reached out to new Gov. Kathy Hochul to see if a wrong could be fixed.

In this case, the group was discussing the abrupt closing of the Gowanda Correctional Facility. Right before Christmas last year, the state announced the location’s closing that took place at the end of March.

“A decision of this magnitude should have proper public disclosure to ensure the public that the actions being taken comply with the law and are in the best interests, and will benefit the state of New York and minimize the impacts on local communities,” town officials note in the letter.

Adding to the problems was the state ignoring a Freedom Of Information Law request regarding information on the site.

There is no question that what happened with Gowanda did so way too quickly. Despite protest from local state officials, including Sen. George Borrello and Assemblyman Joseph Giglio, a decision had been made with little public input.

Persia officials are right to bring this to Hochul’s attention. It may not fix a wrong, but it is one more tarnished action by the previous heavy-handed administration.

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Newsday. October 13, 2021.

Editorial: Ballot proposals merit attention

There are five proposed amendments to the state constitution on the November ballot. Make your voice heard on these important issues.

PROPOSAL 1: Albany’s Democratic supermajority is trying here to tinker prematurely with New York’s new system for drawing state and federal legislative district lines. An 11-member Independent Redistricting Commission is just now working to draft lines for 2022. The process has months to play out, but partisan change is already on the ballot. This proposal would make the panel and the overall process more susceptible to one-party control.

For example, the commission’s co-executive directors could come from the same party. And the dominant party could overrule the commission’s work more easily. Prop 1 allows a smaller legislative majority — 60% rather than the current two-thirds — to trash the commission’s work and draw its own maps. Some elements of the proposal that have merit, such as counting prison inmates in the districts where they lived before incarceration, can be passed as separate measures in the future. Vote no.

PROPOSAL 2: This would put every New Yorker’s right to “clean air and water and a healthful environment” on a par with free speech, worship and assembly. It would require regulators to consider clean air and water rights in approving development projects and help environmental justice communities plagued with incinerators and other polluting projects. Vote yes.

PROPOSAL 3: Expanded ballot access is crucial to New York’s civic health. That is one benefit of this proposal, which would eliminate the requirement that prospective voters be registered at least 10 days before an election. Approval of this proposal would allow legislation setting up same-day voter registration, if lawmakers pass it. Let’s at least have a debate in Albany to discuss the concerns and benefits of such a law. Vote yes.

PROPOSAL 4: This also addresses voting access, removing the requirement that voters need an excuse, such as being out of town or ill, to use an absentee ballot. Those ballots, which were a boon during the pandemic, provide an efficient alternative option for voting for those who cannot make it to the polls for many life and work schedule reasons. Vote yes.

PROPOSAL 5: This measure, which only applies to lawsuits in New York City, would allow its Court of Claims to hear cases involving amounts up $50,000, an increase from the current maximum of $25,000. It is a long-overdue adjustment for inflation and would shorten the time from many months to weeks for these matters to be resolved. Vote yes.

ENDORSEMENTS ARE DETERMINED solely by the Newsday editorial board, a team of opinion journalists focused on issues of public policy and governance. Newsday’s news division has no role in this process.

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Albany Times Union. October 13, 2021.

Editorial: Prevent an eviction crisis

What will happen when New York’s moratorium on evictions ends in January? Housing advocates fear a wave of evictions that could push hundreds of Capital Region residents from their homes.

Data suggests the fear is well founded. As the Times Union reported recently, commercial and residential landlords in Saratoga, Schenectady, Albany and Rensselaer counties have filed more than 4,000 eviction cases from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

While it isn’t clear how many cases are still pending, there’s little doubt that many tenants have struggled to pay rent during the pandemic. The impact of that is wide ranging.

For renters, the threat of eviction is a source of stress and fear. What, after all, could be more traumatic for a family than losing a home? Children may face the prospect of changing schools, while parents may worry about having nowhere else to go.

For landlords, especially those with only one or two properties, unpaid rent often means financial hardships — including struggles to pay property taxes or mortgages. It may also force the delay of repairs and maintenance.

Then there’s a destabilizing cost to neighborhoods and entire communities when tenants are forced to move or buildings deteriorate. Indeed, eviction numbers have been highest in poorer neighborhoods, such as Albany’s West Hill, already struggling against decay and disinvestment.

All this is why it is so important for New York to rapidly distribute the $2.6 billion in federal aid for tenants who have fallen behind on the rent during the pandemic. Getting that money to landlords is key to curbing the crisis that housing advocates fear.

Unfortunately, New York was initially slow to distribute the money, with burdensome paperwork and other administrative delays blamed for the sluggish pace. The state, though, has changed how it considers applications, and now more than $1.8 billion has been either paid or promised, according to The Wall Street Journal. Additional federal funding could soon be coming, reallocated from states that haven’t spent it.

That’s good news for New York renters. A key now is ensuring that renters and landlords, who must participate together in the application process, understand the money is available and how to access it. Politicians grandstanding against the moratorium should instead be getting the word out.

Here’s more good news: The number of eviction cases filed by Capital Region landlords during the pandemic is actually down sharply from before the pandemic in 2019, suggesting the moratorium and anti-poverty measures may have worked to reduce the threat faced by many renters.

Still, housing advocates caution that the numbers may understate the severity of the problem, and it’s clear more work needs to be done ahead of the January deadline.

After all, the Capital Region doesn’t need more homeless families or landlords who can’t afford upkeep. The pandemic shouldn’t be a reason for either.

END

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