Mirrors for Mayors: The Press, Opinion, and Freelance Writers

PORT JERVIS, N.Y. — Less than a week after his hopeful State of the City Address for a Port Jervis “that still needs nurturing to succeed,” Mayor Kelly Decker has, as many in the city would characterize, came out of his face.

Monday, in a letter-made-public-rebuttal on his Facebook Page, to a Sunday piece by the Times Herald-Record under the editorial tagline “Our Opinion,” entitled “A methadone clinic is not a crime scene,” Decker not only calls out the Record’s editor, Barry Lewis but also calls the newspaper in.

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While plausible arguments are made by the Port Jervis Mayor, he goes on to completely flout arguments such as this one:

“Numbers, percentages, and statistics can be skewed in many different ways depending on the presenter’s angle.”

Mayor Kelly Decker

By leading with this aside before what should be the meat and potatoes staple of his argument, Decker builds up a strawman, an easy target to set ablaze. A simple reframing to make the dominoes fall easier, per se.

Nonetheless, those dominoes fall in both directions.

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As Decker goes on to “assert that [Lewis’s] math is wrong” he has already given readers contrary to his viewpoint an out. Whatever math he cited, became all methed up, when he cast doubt upon mathematics as a whole prior to playing the Texas sharpshooter. He lost those that he needed on his side as he attacked the publication.

Yes, the letter was “a response” to the editor of the Times Herald-Record, Lewis, regardless, here a few factors that make this more of a political attack:
  1. It was an opinion piece, and as such, didn’t necessarily merit such an official response as taking to the Elected Official Page that his Facebook is. Perhaps simply a letter-made-public-rebuttal on his personal page would have sufficed.
  2. Decker’s political, elected official position put him at a disadvantage for a fair fight against the editor of a counterbalance of government.
  3. Decker’s logical argumentation in his letter is riddled with fallacies.

Lewis, the editor of the Times Herald-Record deals in a world of changing opinions and changing headlines. It’ll be perceived as a political attack from the Mayor’s office not only because of these three factorss but most of all because of public opinion.

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One: Opinion

In the end, shouldn’t matter to the Mayor, as many who read opinion pieces have already made up their minds, they’ve already voiced their own opinions and they have already signed their positions’ petitions.

“Once formed,” the researchers observed dryly, “impressions are remarkably perseverant.”

The New Yorker, Feb. 27, 2017

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Two: Authority

Now the inseparable quality of their positions immediately puts Decker at a disadvantage: Mayor of Port Jervis versus Editor of the Times Herald-Record. Not a pretty fight. Nor a fair fight.

Though it didn’t have to be a bout.

The majority of Port Jervis constituents would likely agree, that Donald J. Trump as President could teach mayoral successors a thing or two about responding to the media:

  • When put into a defensive position, don’t show it:
    Deny, deny, deny.
  • When refuting statements, as there’s no option for denial: use keywords that fire up your base and monosyllabic words and arguments that are guaranteed to win public opinion.

 

Don’t do as Decker did. But don’t do any of the above either. The media is wise to it all. Readers, listeners, and viewers, too.

Not responding at all, would have been the denial. Yet, Decker chose to tear off his suit, snap his Port Pride singlet and dive headstrong into the muddied ring for a political King-of-the-Hill match.

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Three: Logic

Although the location has already been ruled out, there were, and still are, three positions available in the methadone clinic debate. As a reporter, here not discussing either of the former, being of the latter position: for the clinic, against the clinic, and neither for nor against the clinic.

This writer puts aside the journalist hat now and dons the hat that she studied in college: philosophy and linguistics. Mostly philosophy as logic is delved into here past the Texas Sharpshooter data cherrypicker argument. This is the writer’s playground, and those in politics could learn from this and avoid unnecessary future debate and compunction.

Editor of the Times Herald-Record, Barry Lewis: making positions for the cure of addiction, for the clinic.

Mayor of Port Jervis, Kelly Decker, coming from a position of the war on drugs: on record, against the clinic.

While most readers opposite to Decker’s view may stop at his first paragraph, they’re surprisingly not alone. Even those that agree that a methadone clinic is unnecessary in the city stop at the argument that he presents. It’s a no true Scotsman argument that precedes a genetic argument.

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Paragraph-by-paragraph

A genetic argument is one that means most of the following logic relies upon the first clause. That first clause here is an argument similar to an ad hominem, or an attack on one’s character rather than their argument: it’s a no true Scotsman argument. It’s an argument that focuses on the purity of one’s position, which sounds a lot like Nikki Minaj.

That’s not even including the child-human shield appeal to emotion argument ending the tu quoque “Let’s begin with this question” paragraph where the critique is turned 180 from Decker to Lewis.

“What do you know about Port Jervis? Clearly, you hardly know nothing about us at all! Except for one public forum about the opioid epidemic in our community, you have been non-existent in this community for at least the last 4 years. You didn’t even have the decency to respond to an email that I sent to you back on June 12, 2017 that said how dismayed I was with your paper and their lack of coverage for our Soap Box Derby. This is a kid-friendly event that brings thousands of people to our city each year and there was not one mention of it in your paper. However, now you feel compelled to write about a free or reduced pay clinic that wants come to our city? Your priorities are clearly miscued.”

Mayor Kelly Decker

To the point within the no true Scotsman argumentation by Decker, I have to insert my agreement. Indeed, the newspaper requires more coverage of the “city that is on the move.” If it’s of any solace to either party in this regard, I offer my services as a freelance writer and reporter.

Paragraph Two

Again, Nikki Minaj. Since she’s so relevant here, enjoy a video:

The following paragraph is the foremost example of the Texas Sharpshooter logical fallacy. The one referenced above is a muddled example to heat up the conversation about logic. Decker would have been better off simplifying this letter down to, or at least, leading with this second sentence in his fifth paragraph:

“I have never said ‘No.’ I said put it in a medical facility, especially one with detox and mental health.”

Mayor Kelly Decker

Decker may have also done very well leading with the knowledge that he personally has. Rather than trying to chop up the data that was served against him. For instance, without condescension:

“… your [claim] that I am making the situation more dangerous. […] it’s called Mens Rea, or the guilty mind of criminal intent, and then acting on that criminal intent is Actus Reus. The majority of Cornerstone’s clientele are heroin attacks. Heroin is illegal. [….] Therefore, these patients not only have Mens Rea but also Actus Reus and those are the people I don’t want invited to our city […]”

Mayor Kelly Decker

The next few paragraphs are called a bandwagon argument. It’s not that critical and really only acts as a public support rallying cry. Trump is great at using this, however, Decker should steer clear of it, and stick to the simplest of facts. He doesn’t need to reassert his position as an elected official in this way, especially not so deep into an already messy argument, but perhaps could have opened with some of his own facts rather than refuting those offered by Lewis.

Before his closing paragraph, he sets up a nice strawman argument against the Editor. The alcohol and criminality strawman. If the Mayor had used alcohol and criminality statistics, along with his own facts, in a second paragraph, he would have solidified a solid logical argument.

In closing, Decker uses another purity, or, no true Scotsman argument. He follows it with my favorite logical fallacy: the loaded question. This writer is going to do him a service, free of charge: reorganize and rescue what can be in a whole new letter:

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Letter to the Editor:
re: “A methadone clinic is not a crime scene.”

For starters, “I have never said ‘No.’ I said put [the methadone clinic] in a medical facility, especially one with detox and mental health.”

“Your [claim] that I am making the situation more dangerous [is unfounded…] It’s called Mens Rea, or the guilty mind of criminal intent, and [to then act] on that criminal intent is Actus Reus. The majority of Cornerstone’s clientele are heroin [addicts]. Heroin is illegal. [….] Therefore, these patients not only have Mens Rea but also Actus Reus[,] and those are the people I don’t want [to be] invited to our city[.]”

“[I invite you to hire more reporters for our growing city to see that there’s more than only an] opioid epidemic in our community[. For instance, there could be more coverage of city revenue-driving events, such as] our Soap Box Derby. This is a kid-friendly event that brings thousands of people to our city each year[.]”

Short and sweet.

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Election 2017: Who’s Running for Third Ward?

Originally written for YourPortJervisIsShowing.com.

PORT JERVIS — Polls open in little more than two weeks in Port Jervis, and around the state. Find your polling location before Tuesday, November 7, on the Port Jervis city website.

Not sure which Ward in Port Jervis you live in? Find yourself on the Ward Map.

This is a sister article to this one regarding the Fourth Ward. As there are more than two candidates for the Ward’s two seats, no candidate runs unopposed. Therefore , the Third Ward needs the public’s help in selecting the Ward’s next pair of representatives.

“No policy that does not rest upon some philosophical public opinion can be permanently maintained.” — Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States

“There is a power in public opinion in this country – and I thank God for it. For it is the most honest and best of all powers –  which will not tolerate an incompetent or unworthy man to hold in his weak or wicked hands the lives and fortunes of his fellow-citizens.” — Martin Van Buren, 8th President of the United States

The Third Ward in Port Jervis, which spans from Reservoir Number One to the Port Jervis High School, and covers that corner of the city, has three candidates running for the two seats open to the ward, as there are again for each ward this election.

Residents of the Third Ward, as citizens with the inalienable right to vote, now have a selection to gather information on and form an opinion of, as they are undeniably free to do, before choosing one, if any, that best represents them. Engaged residents in this respect came up with a list of questions for the Ward’s candidates regarding it’s hot-button issues.

All three of the Ward’s candidates answered in each interview in their own words and are unaltered, exclusively here. Commonly used abbreviations found herein are listed at the end of the article for reference:

Gina Fitzpatrick

“Hi, I’m Gina Fitzpatrick and as a resident & council member who just paid over $13,000 in school taxes on my properties, I do not want to see taxes go up any further. Working 3 jobs myself and being a mom to four children, I know how expensive it is to live. Our seniors and low income/fixed income residents really suffer when taxes are raised. The school taxes are what’s really gone way too high here. City taxes in Port are not too bad compared to surrounding towns. We have an excellent DPW and Police Dept that goes above and beyond to make this town clean & safe and making cuts to those departments will be detrimental.

As a resident of my ward for 38 years, I know almost all who live here. Most homes in my ward are well kept and maintained and I have not run into many problems with unkept properties. If there’s a problem, my fellow 3rd ward councilwoman Kristin and I address it. We work well together.

As when a councilman/councilwoman passes away or quits, I do agree that the seat should go to public vote in a special election. There are laws to follow in that regard as well.

I myself use a hashtag for my DJ business (#DJG) and sometimes for health and fitness etc. I have used #Portpride several times too. I only use it in a positive way. Other than that I am not bothered by seeing them and think it’s ok if done tastefully and doesn’t cause hate. I’m all about peace and getting along with others. When it comes to politics, it can sometimes be very dirty and hateful. I will remain calm and not be drawn into any drama that others have or create. I will do my best to represent my fellow neighbors and help anyway I can. As a volunteer & resident in my community, I see what Port has to offer. They are endless. Gina Fitzpatrick”

Niki Jones

Question 1.
“The tax increases we have seen over the last couple of years are a result of three components; first no cost of living tax increases for many years, second borrowing from the fund balance to run the City, and third no or little economic development in the City of Port Jervis.
Each budget cycle the mayor presents a budget to the Council through the finance chair. The finance chair then holds meetings with each department head. Once the budget process is completed the budget is presented to the council. Last year the finance chair voted against the very budget she proposed. Last year we had approximately a 9% tax increase, with 2018’s rumored to be the same.

Many line items make up the budget; payroll and benefits being two of the largest. But how do you run a City without the people; Police, DPW? So when asked if I would support a tax increase to support moving the City forward, protecting the people, and providing a better community, I would! The tax percentage can be negotiated but not based on not cutting City resources.

To even out our tax base, we need to increase economic development, get buildings sold, both single family homes and commercial buildings. We need to create a healthy economic environment where people want to come to the City, and invest their money.”

Question 2.
“The quality of life issues occurring in the third ward surround; drug houses, bank owned houses, waste water runoff/flooding and landlords that rent to tenants that are just not good neighbors. Smaller day to day quality of life issues can be solved with council representatives that are actively engaged in their community, and are willing to work seamlessly with the City departments to proactively seek change for their constituents. Recently work began on the drainage channel after it was compromised by hurricane Irene, and water flooded many yards. It took time, but the City was able to secure funding to repair the drainage channel. I will actively seek solutions and work tirelessly to resolve any problems that occur in the third ward.”

Question 3.
“If possible the council should wait until the nearest election; however political reality being what it is, the lack of a member or members could lead to tied votes and gridlock. Councilmembers would then be inclined to appoint someone, but always the electoral process should be followed. Special elections might be possible but it is an expensive process.”

Question 4.
“Given my business background I realize the value all kinds of social media and their success at arriving at consensus on various issues. Council members can express opposition on social media but they should not disparage the process.”

Kristin Trovei

1. Where do you stand on the property tax increases we have seen in the past few years and will you support them in the future if elected?

“I do not support the recent property tax increases, as evident in my no vote to the budget last year. This is not simply because I think taxes are bad. I understand that as a city resident we expect, and have become used to, certain services provided to us. Those services cost money and costs of services rise each year. We have an amazing group of hardworking and dedicated employees that help keep our city safe, clean and operating and we appreciate them immensely.  However, I don’t think enough has been done to thoroughly look through the city expenses and revenues, as well as implement changes that could have put the City on a better path, which is why I voted no.  I do not want to point fingers, but there have been decisions that have been made in the past by previous councils, for whatever their reasons may have been, that have contributed to the difficult financial issues that we face today. This current council has to follow through on decisions that have been previously made, such as contracts until they are up for renegotiation – a sure to be difficult process. However, we cannot keep kicking the can down the road. I cannot change or dwell on those past decisions. This is where we are at, so let’s move on from here.

I believe that the city needs to develop a reasonable financial plan. It can be difficult to enact and follow through on as the administrations change and emotions can get in the way of reason, but the basic concepts should be followed to ensure that the City can sustain. It is possible to maintain the level of employees, pay those employees well, provide good benefits to those employees, maintain services, and reduce costs. While every situation is different, tactics to achieve those goals have been utilized in other communities and I believe that if people are willing to work together, we can come up with plans and contracts that will reduce the ever-increasing burden on the tax payers while maintaining, if not enhancing, the services the City provides to its current residents and businesses as well as attract new ones. In addition, the City needs to develop a plan to properly market and promote the City to draw more residents in and increase the tax base that has been relatively stagnant for far too long as well as draw in new economic opportunities.

I see positive changes in Port Jervis that has happened over the past 2 years. Many of the old buildings in the down town area have been purchased and renovated and we are trying to utilize our natural resources and history as tourist attractions. New businesses will come in, bringing new jobs, new visitors and maybe new residents, and we need to support that as much as we can. However, we also need to make sure we support the businesses and residents that are already here so that they can remain and thrive here.

Ultimately, we all need to work together to do what’s best for the hardworking tax payers of this city. That’s the responsible thing to do.”

2. What are your thoughts and plans for improving the living conditions in our ward?
“Quality of life issues affect every ward. I think in order to combat them we need to be proactive as well as develop better communication with the police department, the code enforcement office, neighborhood watch groups and residents. If people do not communicate the problems, they cannot be fixed. Communication and the sharing of information is something I push for, which is one of the reasons why for the past year I have posted weekly ‘cliff notes’ of meetings that I have attended on my Facebook page so people who cannot attend meetings can have a glimpse of what was discussed.

The PJPD and Code Enforcement officers work very hard and spend much of their time in areas with a record of higher reported problems, which unfortunately leaves the rest of the city being monitored less often. However, if we were to hire additional resources, the budget would increase, which is often not an enjoyable prospect.

I believe we need to provide as many resources as we can reasonably afford to our city departments as well as continue to look at regulations and procedures to see what can be changed to allow the City to more easily and effectively stop some of the problems. We recently hired two part-time seasonal code enforcement officers to assist with the demand placed on our Code Enforcement office, with the expectation that their salaries would essentially be paid with the fines that will be accrued. But we also need the residents to assist. There are things that the citizens can do to help that the City cannot do while the city council and officials deal with the legalities and obstacles that stand in our way. I cannot attend neighborhood watch meetings in the 3rd ward due to the fact that I have a CDA meeting on the same day and time as those meeting are supposed to occur, but I have requested that meeting notes be forwarded to myself and Ms. Fitzpatrick so we can be apprised of issues raised and we can follow up with proper departments. Other wards have active neighborhood watch groups and I hope that these meetings occur more regularly, more residents attend and help be a part of the solution. Pride and respect of your property and community cannot be legislated, but we can lead by example and work with each other to help solve some of the issues that we face.”

3. What is your position on installing council members without a public vote in the circumstance a member quits or dies?

“Losing a member of the council is never easy and the prospect of replacement is never taken lightly. The process to fill that vacated seat is outlined by the Board of Elections and enacted by the remaining council members. I believe in the continuity of government and that part of the responsibility of the council is to make decisions to ensure that residents are being fully represented. Leaving a seat vacant for an extended period of time would not allow for full representation. I can understand the concerns of this process, but I believe in the ability for the remaining council members to agree on an appointment of a person they believe to be qualified and dedicated to the task until an election can occur and the residents of that ward can vote on the next council member.”

4. Where do you stand on sitting council members denigrating the use of hashtags, the public search engine tool for building community and organized information?

“I do not use hashtags. I have ‘hashtagged’ appx 2 times in my entire life and don’t necessarily plan on utilizing hashtags in the future. It is just not something that I participate in.  I typically do not use them, share them, follow them, search with them, or comment on them.  I can see that if utilized properly, they can be a useful tool. I can also see how they can be over used and lose their effectiveness. However, recently a hashtag has been circulating in a negative manner toward a friend of mine and fellow candidate. I disagreed with the sentiment, however, since I respect people’s rights (even councilmember’s) to have opinions, I did not say anything about the hashtag nor did I say anything about specific person(s) or publications that may or may not have started it or been associated with it. Unfortunately, the hashtag was used in a manner which I believe to be improper. Hashtags belong on social media, not anonymously placed in a person’s personal belongings, which is something that recently occurred. Whether meant to be a joke or harassment/intimidation for the candidate, I believe it to be inappropriate. I believe that one can agree with the sentiment of the intended use of the hashtag while not agreeing with the actions that transpired.

Thank you for including me in your Election 2017 coverage. If anyone has any questions, comments, concerns, suggestions or need clarification on anything, please reach out to me and I will provide you with as much factual and honest information as I can provide.”

Abbreviations above:

  • appx – approximately
  • CDA – Community Development Agency
  • DPW – Port Jervis Department of Public Works
  • PJPD – Port Jervis Police Department

Neighbors speak out against firehouse asbestos hazard

Article first published by Brienna Parsons at YourPortJervisIsShowing.com.

PORT JERVIS — Friday afternoon, friends and neighbors of mother and local do-gooder, Gina Torres gathered in front of 130 Front Street where a neighbor’s home and family was endangered by debris from a demolished firehouse at 15 Seward Avenue.

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About a dozen individuals met with concern regarding the remains and its containment of asbestos. The rubble marked by red tape reading “DANGER ASBESTOS HAZARD” has sat for a month after the City of Port Jervis destroyed the building which has been vacant and in disrepair for many years.

Residents while fearful for their health, were also critical of the timing of the building’s demolition, suspecting the property was being cleared hastily by the city, and callously without clean up planning, to be sold to the neighboring Salvation Army on Ball Street, further descending residents into financial hardship as another property is taken off the tax rolls.

As the Front Street residents gathered,  at about 4:30pm Friday afternoon, workers from the New York State Department of Labor’s Asbestos Control Bureau arrived on the scene to place Asbestos Monitors at the site and to cover windows of neighboring buildings. As many residents noted, these precautions came after a month of the carcinogenic material remained open to wind and rain, and residents of the Fourth Ward began to speak out against it.

Mayor Kelly Decker visited the group offering peace of mind. He also offered to share the air quality report from data collected by the monitors upon their conclusion. Tuesday, September 5th it is estimated that the debris will be cleared and the report finished.

Orange County Legislator Thomas Faggione, who had arrived only minutes before the Mayor, told the crowd of several people that “the city destroyed the firehouse, [and] it’s the city’s responsibility to clean it up.” He urged citizens to continue raising their voices and asking questions of their representatives no matter how redundant, especially at Common Council meetings. To this last point, many residents indicated that representation was not present or communicative in regards to the firehouse and asbestos issue among others.

When speaking about Fourth Ward appointed-Councilwoman Lisa Randazzo, Mr. Faggione had this to say: “I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t show up.”

The cleanup comes as the city continues many other projects and may cost taxpayers $145,000 or more to complete.

Mathangi in Action; aka M.I.A

Sunday night past, or Super Bowl Sunday to some, I shared a provocative gif image of my favorite female rapper, at Super Bowl XLVI. Not as saucy as this lovely collection. But this, because the goddess is almost never not on my mind, and especially on Valentine’s Day, when she also speaks the words on my mind regarding this day as well:

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Since transitioning from being firmly a graphic artist to a rapper and pop icon, M.I.A., has reserved her birthright to flip the bird, with her own struggle with immigration and being labeled a terrorist for her words and her lineage. It isn’t this fact alone that makes me a vocal follower of Mathangi‘s words, but how she’s kept a consistent and powerful theme, that certainly makes one want nothing more than to watch

M.I.A. coming back with power power (power power!)!

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