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Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson: 8 Months In

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand with Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson shopping on Warren St. August 8, 2020
NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand with Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson shopping on Warren St. August 8, 2020

Kamal Johnson was sworn in as mayor of Hudson, New York on New Year’s Day. The first-term Democrat had programs, policies and changes in mind for the Columbia County city of about 6,000. Here's an update on how Johnson thinks his term is going so far.
When he took office, Hudson's first African-American mayor told WAMC:

"This is something I've wanted to do since I was 15 years old."

Two decades later and eight months in, Kamal Johnson says he has no regrets and plenty of ambition. When the pandemic forced Hudson City schools to switch to remote learning, Johnson initiated a program in conjunction with not-for-profit Spark of Hudson to get internet access to families without it.

"You know we don't have a universal kind of internet service for people. So, a lot of the kids they get their internet online at school. So, the school was able to provide chromebooks but the gap was people didn't have internet, actually. So the Spark of Hudson was able to provide hot spots in the form of mobile phones to over 50 families in Hudson: I was able to get out there and deliver it, each phone to each family so that we could keep our kids on distance learning."

Johnson declared the program a success. When COVID-19 hit, Johnson vowed to do innovative things that would affect residents directly.

"I knew coming in that I would have to maintain the hunger that I had campaigning. So, all of the initiatives and programs and things that were getting off the ground, to be finally able to see those come into fruition is like, so much fulfilling to me that even after one program or announcement is made, like, I'm already thinking about the next."

Johnson is also active when it comes to social issues. He gained a little notoriety when, while marching during a peacful Black Lives Matter march in Kinderhook, a couple who resided along the route allegedly pointed a gun at a group. The State Police later determined no crime was committed.

"For me I just have moved on. I don't want to be always linked to a gun wavin' couple. You know they had no reason to have a gun out there at that time, you know, peacful protest, no one proceeded on to their property or anything like that, so even though I didn't neccesarily agree, I felt like the police did their due dilligence and were within the law."

Johnson is currently involved in a project that would give Universal Basic Income a test-run in Hudson:

"It's another partnership with the Spark of Hudson and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang's Humanity Forward organization. And basically what this initiative is going to do, this pilot program, is we're going to provide $500 to 25 recipients a month over the course of five years. So we're hoping to relieve people from some financial burdens. We're hoping it will give people a chance to be creative. We're gonna provide financial literacy and training for the recipients and it's an exciting new fresh idea that's gonna be coming to Hudson."

Johnson says applicants must live in the city of Hudson and cannot make more then $35,000 a year to qualify. Applications will be available online later today to coincide with a 4 p.m. virtual town hall where Johnson will explain the initiative in depth. He says the link will be posted on social media. But where is the money to pay the program participants coming from?

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"Half of the money was funded by the Spark of Hudson and the other half is being funded by Humanity Forward, Andrew Yang's initiative. Andrew Yang, you know, he ran on Universal Basic Income, UBI, he wanted to basically give all Americans $1000 a month, to help the economy, to help financial stress and burdens, so this is kind of a subset of that. And I believe Hudson is the right size to see an immediate impact with this. We're hoping that it really catches on and is successful and in year two we can add more families."

Johnson says his number one focus is housing, looking for ways to help people get into homes and apartments. He also working on police reform and police-community realtions. And like other heads of municipalities, he's keeping an eye on Hudson's cashflow during the pandemic.

"We're lucky to have a fund balance. But you know we're still going to need state and federal support. And I've been pushing our higher elected officials to make sure that they're giving support to municipalities directly, regardless of size. You know I'm trusting in them to keep fighting that fight, at Congress and on the Senate level."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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