Down with Henry, Peter and George

The national debate over objectionable public statuary (to some) has finally come to one of Kingston’s most revered historic sites.

An online petition called Kingston Memorial Project and claiming almost 3,000 signatures, is calling for the removal of statues in place since 1950 of Henry Hudson, Peter Stuyvesant and George Clinton at uptown’s Academy Green.

The web site accuses Dutch governor general Stuyvesant of anti-Semitism, Clinton of racism. Hudson is cited for colonizing territories for the Dutch East India Company.

Unlike Confederate statuary, the record on Clinton and Hudson is vague. Clinton, according to a 1993 biography by historian John Kaminski of the University of Wisconsin, is considered the father of the Bill of Rights by some historians and was briefly the president of a state abolitionist movement during his five terms as governor. Hudson was an explorer whose discoveries led to colonization and attendant evils. Their records do not suggest racism.

Stuyvesant’s 17th century anti-Semitism is well-documented, a stain on an otherwise distinguished career. His local claim to fame is ordering the construction of the Kingston Stockade to protect settlers from hostile native Americans.

I like my history unvarnished, the good, the bad, the ugly. Raising statues to leaders who fought to preserve racism, as in the Civil War, is today repugnant, but less so in the times they were committed.  

They say for every complex problem, there is a simple solution that probably won’t work, so here’s one for Academy Green: Retire Peter Stuyvesant; his record speaks for him. Replace Ol’ Peg Leg with a stature of Sojourner Truth, a hero for the ages. A few bucks from those 3,000 petitioners (mostly out of town, I’d bet) would more than cover the cost.

Blue chip hire– Taking time out from his seemingly endlessly daily Covid19 TV briefings, county executive Pat Ryan announced the appointment of a full-time public defender last week.

Normally, this wouldn’t be big news, except for the fact the controversies over the departure of the last public defender last winter have not been publicly resolved, and, the seemingly generous salary being paid the new hire.

Former part-time public defender Andrew Kossover left amid a cloud of controversy last February after the Ryan administration said it discovered he had not applied for some $2.5 million in state funding for his department during his 10-year tenure. Ryan claimed Kossover resigned; Kossover said he didn’t, but was no less toast. Whether Kossover failed to apply for the funding on his own or under orders from former executive Mike Hein, a legendary micro-manger, has yet to be determined.

Enter Lauren Sheeley, a first assistant county attorney since only last September, as full-time public defender at just under $121,000 a year. Other than the county health commissioner, a physician, Sheeley may be Ulster’s second highest paid administrator. Ryan’s salary is $133,570, unchanged since Hein drew his first paycheck in 2009. Kossover might have been overpaid as an $89,000 part-timer.

Given what’s on the county’s immediate fiscal horizon – massive reductions in sales tax revenues, cutbacks from the state, property tax collections under stress – now should have been the time to show a modicum of frugality in what has been a free-spending administration.

One wonders how gimlet-eyed state bean counters will react to this latest Ryan largess, or how county workers, threatened with the loss of their blue-collar livelihoods, will view this latest higher.

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