As a resident and taxpayer, I submitted the following letter to Binghamton City Council to be read into the record during the Public Comment section of the July 26, 2023 City Council Business Meeting.
July 26, 2023
Dear Council members,
I think it’s appropriate we all reflect on the unanimous decision by the Binghamton City School District Board to reject the irresponsible and unjustified 28-year tax break for a wealthy developer to build five floors of privately-owned and managed luxury housing above the proposed five-floors of a publicly-owned and managed parking garage at Water Street.
Unfortunately, reflection is not a trait this body or the occupant of the mayor’s office has demonstrated over the years.
If you think I’m being harsh, then just look at Mayor Kraham’s response to media outlets after the vote. Instead of demonstrating some humility, he chose instead to ‘gaslight’ and insult the board, basically saying he’s not surprised by their decision because none of them know how economic development works.
And what he means, of course, is that bodies like the School Board, or residents and taxpayers, have no business questioning how a small cabal of politicians and private developers enjoy a parasitic relationship that has been enjoyed by both parties over decades. In this relationship, politicians approve massive tax breaks to generate windfall profits for developers on the backs of compliant taxpayers and, in return, these elected officials receive just enough campaign donations and access to the local halls of power and wealth.
But maybe the school board’s decision is a watershed moment: maybe it represents what’s possible when a growing community of INFORMED and ENGAGED citizens who show up are respected by a small body of public servants who dare demonstrate independence, reason, and decency.
I know that future possibility scares most of you, because the majority on this council has consistently demonstrated opposition to all those attributes, not to mention a vigorous assault against transparency, inclusion, and dialogue.
Your record is clear.
Transparency? I’ve proposed for years a simple good government ethics reform bill that would subject this Council, the Mayor, and his appointees to the same annual financial reporting and ethical standards that I submit to as a citizen VOLUNTEER on the board of a county entity. Scanlon, Resciniti, and Strawn have all refused to even allow such a discussion while serving as Council Presidents. By your own actions, you have proven to be Guardians of Secrecy—a menacing and inexcusable role for any elected official.
Inclusion? You supported the prior mayor’s efforts to dismantle every citizen board possible. You made a mockery of the Governor’s order to reimagine policing by being one of the last major municipalities in the state to convene a “community panel.” The four Republicans on this Council approved allocating almost 92% of our community’s $46 million in flexible, pandemic recovery funds without ever hosting a SINGLE community forum or inviting community input. And when advocates show up at these meetings, so frustrated by your negligence and exclusion, you bully them, then you intimidate them, and as a last resort, you use your political connections and lies to arrest them.
Dialogue? Please. You approach every issue as a life-or-death debate, which closes the door for learning, reflection, and change in opinion. Did you know the school district board was split 3-3 with one undecided going into their meeting to discuss the PILOT for the Water Street project? And yet the final vote was 7-0. See, board members actually listened to citizens, learned about the impacts, and chose to be a responsive servant to the public instead of a rubberstamping slave to the mayor. They are a model for the future. You are the mold of the past.
If you think my indictment is too harsh, then prove me wrong and consider the following recommendations:
- Hold a community forum, with Mayor Kraham, to explain this project and stream it live. You all have done an exceptional job being opaque, and misleading when needed. Try the alternative for once. Try transparency, openness, honesty, and dialogue. And at this forum, allow residents to ask questions until we all understand what’s happening. Because even the mayor has already started with misleading statements, saying this project will result in $4.5 million in infrastructure improvements paid for by “our private partners.” But the infrastructure he’s talking about are the “attachments” needed to place the private housing atop the public garage. Thus, Kraham’s comments are disingenuous—none of this infrastructure would even be needed if we went with just the garage! Similarly, if City officials admitted on record that only 60 spots will be reserved for Boscovs shoppers, then why are we spending $22 million or more to build a ramp? Is a ramp even needed??
- Councilmember Strawn, before he rubberstamped this irresponsible PILOT, countered some of the criticism of this project by saying this project has nothing to do with the affordable housing crisis. He said we need to approve this project AND move forward with other solutions to the affordable housing crisis.
Well then, how about the Council actually move forward with solutions to the affordable housing crisis? Because to date, this Council announced then suspended a serious conversation about code enforcement, refuses to implement a proactive rental inspection program to protect the health and safety of low-income tenants, and a couple months ago approved the Mayor’s proposal to cut the capacity of the code enforcement department by 25%! Excuse us if we deem your words and promises empty and worthless.
Housing justice advocates have been recommending solutions for more than a decade, through formal city and county reports or through informal advocacy. You know them. So if you really are serious about “finding and passing” other solutions to our housing crisis, consider any of them or the following:
- Before September 30, 2023, approve legislation that allocates $2 million of the remaining pandemic recovery funds (ARPA) to the Broome County Affordable Housing Fund, managed by the Community Foundation and supervised by an excellent citizen board.
- Before September 30, 2023, approve legislation that refunds the code enforcement positions that this Council defunded this summer, given the acute housing crisis.
- Before September 30, 2023, approve the proposed Financial Ethics Disclosure Bill, that will demonstrate your decisions relevant to our housing crisis are not influenced by self-enrichment and, in time, will help reduce political corruption and restore our trust in local government.
I won’t hold my breath. We’ve all been here before. We know exactly who you are.
17 Tremont Avenue