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Will Remarkable Newburgh, New York Ever Gentrify?
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April 11, 2015, 07:30 AM
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Newburgh, 1842

Newburgh, New York is a small city in a scenic location on the Hudson River 64 miles by train north of midtown Manhattan. It has some of the most spectacular 19th Century architecture in the country, which has inspired three waves of attempted gentrification over the last 35 years. But it also remains a Section 8 dumping ground with a very high homicide rate. From the New York Times:
In Newburgh, Gangs and Violence Reign

By RAY RIVERA MAY 11, 2010

… Gang violence is nothing new in this dilapidated city an hour north of Manhattan. Built along a scenic bluff on the west bank of the Hudson River, Newburgh has long been known for problems far out of proportion to its population of 29,000. In the 1960s and ’70s, it was racial strife and disastrous urban renewal efforts. In the 1980s, when the city was known as “crack alley,” it was drug-fueled violence, which has ebbed and flowed here ever since.

But this latest round of violence is shining a harsh new glare on the city, both for the intensity of the attacks and the young ages of many of those involved. The community led the state in violent crimes per capita in 2008 and is on course to do so again this year.

 

The white church on the skyline in 1842 has now seen better days

The Guardian writes this month:
Resurrecting Newburgh, the once-grand American city that had its heart torn out

Sixty miles north of Manhattan, Newburgh is one of the most architecturally significant of US cities. But its proud history has been undermined by [dis]organised crime, drugs and decay – and its struggle to recover is a test-case for the nation

Michael Deibert in Newburgh

Wednesday 8 April 2015

But things fell apart, due, of course, to white racism:
After the second world war, many factories – whose work had been artificially revived by a war-era boom – closed or relocated, particularly to the southern states, where white workers often received preferential treatment. …
I can’t quite follow the economic logic of that sentence, but never mind because now we get to the point where the Emmanuel Goldstein of Newburgh arrives on the scene:
In 1961 Newburgh’s city council appointed as city manager Joseph Mitchell, a man of broad self-belief and intemperate speech who railed against those on public assistance as “moral chiselers and loafers”, “freeloaders”, and “spoiled children”, with particular focus given to “migrant” (ie African-American) arrivals from the south. Requiring those on public assistance to wait in queues at the local police office to collect their benefits, Mitchell also floated ideas such as the forcible removal of illegitimate children – born to mothers on the welfare roll – to foster homes.
In other words, Mitchell tried to discourage Southern black welfare mothers from moving to Newburgh just as all Newburgh’s mill jobs were moving down South because, he predicted, welfare and no jobs would be a bad combination. But the state supreme court refused to let him implement his plan to save Newburgh, so therefore he’s a racist. In contrast, other leaders of more fortunate towns who managed to keep their towns white and prosperous are celebrated today as far-sighted environmentalists, historic preservationists, and the like. Funny how that works.
Mitchell would eventually leave Newburgh, but the city’s image of dysfunction and racial animosity was one that would endure.
So it was Mitchell’s fault that the dystopia he predicted would come true came true.
… Along with the Latino community, Newburgh has seen three waves of mostly white would-be gentrifiers in recent years. In the early 1980s the city began drawing gay couples away from New York, attracted by the opportunity to make a home in one of Newburgh’s grand old mansions for a virtual song. In the early 1990s there was a still-ongoing attempt to revive Newburgh’s scenic waterfront in the form of a handful of restaurants. The newest wave consists again mainly of people priced out by New York City’s spiralling rents, but this time with a more artistic bent.
But the percentage of non-Hispanic white residents fell from 28% in 2000 to 20% in 2010. There’s no Census figure for the last 5 years, so I can’t say whether the third wave of gentrification is succeeding where the first two waves failed.

I was unfamiliar with the name Joseph Mitchell, but apparently he was a national villain in the early 1960s. NBC News ran a documentary in 1962, “T he Battle of Newburgh,” denouncing Mitchell. Here’s an example of the horrible things the Chet Huntley-narrated special showed Mitchell saying:

At one press conference, he declares, “Welfare has acted as a magnet to those who would immigrate into the city … it attracts the poor rather than repelling them.”

Mitchell goes on to blame welfare for contributing to no less than the rise of “slums,” loss in property values, the destruction of the business district, illegitimacy, over-crowding, fires, poor sanitation and the chasing away of “responsible, tax-paying citizens.”

Being right about the future made Joseph Mitchell a very, very bad man.

Here’s an interesting article from the New York Times in 1992:

METRO MATTERS; Spirit of Newburgh Past Haunts Political Present

By Sam Roberts

Published: March 9, 1992

IF Michael Harrington was a hero of American social welfare advocates in the 1960's, Joseph McDowell Mitchell was their nemesis.

When Mr. Mitchell was driven into political oblivion from his job as City Manager of Newburgh, N.Y., leaders of the welfare-rights movement heaved a collective sigh of relief. Fully 30 years later, though, he haunts the national welfare debate that he briefly dominated. Semiretired in northeast Florida, he may be smugly wondering whether revisionists will some day conclude that if he was a racist, a reactionary and a rabble-rouser he was also ahead of his time.

What is so striking about the 13 welfare regulations he sought to impose three decades ago is not how Draconian they seem in retrospect, but how many of them have been adopted, proposed or rationally discussed in recent months by Republicans and more than a few Democrats.

Before Mr. Mitchell’s regulations were voided by the State Supreme Court in 1962, they transformed Newburgh from an obscure Hudson River city of 31,000 into a national symbol of revolt against Federally mandated welfare programs, benefits that critics maintained redistributed wealth from productive taxpayers to an expanding and parasitic dependent class.

In the ensuing furor over Newburgh’s brand of welfare reform, Mr. Mitchell was hailed by Senator Barry M. Goldwater,

And denounced by Goldwater’s chief rival for the 1964 GOP nomination, New York governor Nelson Rockefeller who backed easier and more lucrative welfare. And Mitchell’s welfare reform plan was crushed almost immediately by liberal courts in New York state.
defended by the Young Americans for Freedom, and elevated from a minor local official to a national political figure with an ego and ambition to match.

His oratory grew increasingly strident, his statistics were sometimes distorted or incomplete, and he scapegoated blacks when in fact the welfare rolls in Orange County numbered more whites at that time and, regardless of their racial composition, were hardly the underlying cause of aging Newburgh’s inability to adapt to changing times.

You notice this same sleight of hand rhetoric these days in liberal rhetoric about illegal immigration: It’s irrational for voters in New Hampshire to oppose illegal immigration because there isn’t much yet in New Hampshire, and it’s irrational for voters in Arizona to oppose illegal immigration because there is so much already in Arizona.
But behind the furor he ignited was a platform that whatever its motivation, may no longer seem quite so shockingly onerous or politically accursed.

Instead of disbursing cash, Mr. Mitchell wanted to distribute vouchers for food, clothing and rent. Able-bodied adult men would be required to work or lose their benefits. Unmarried mothers would be denied welfare payments if they had more children out of wedlock. Payments to people other than the blind, elderly or disabled would be limited to three months in any year. If a family’s home life was found to be unsatisfactory, payments for the children would be ended and they would be placed in foster homes instead. Prescriptions approved for welfare recipients would be filled with generic, rather than brand-name, drugs. And welfare recipients would be photographed to prevent fraud.

Newburgh was barred from enforcing all the rules except one: the requirement that welfare recipients report monthly for a conference on their cases. …

Senator Daniel P. Moynihan is no defender of Mr. Mitchell as the Galileo of welfare reform. But in three decades the search for solutions seems to have come full circle. The Senator suggests that public resentment toward the welfare budget today is one consequence of the outright rejection of Mr. Mitchell’s answers by social-service advocates without acknowledging the validity of some of his underlying questions.

“The questions were disallowed,” Mr. Moynihan said.

Today, some of the answers sound starkly familiar. “I’m aware of that,” Mr. Mitchell said on Friday in an abbreviated telephone interview, declining to second-guess his own answers of 30 years ago to questions that are only marginally more tolerable but have not gone away.