POUGHKEEPSIE – Following two recent incidents in the Dutchess County legislative chamber, the Dutchess County Democratic Caucus is denouncing the actions of Republican County Executive Bill O’Neill, Majority Leader Will Truitt (R-Hyde Park), and Legislator Mike Polasek (R-LaGrange).
After the close of the August 10th County Legislature meeting, Assistant Minority Leader Barrington Atkins (D-City of Poughkeepsie) approached O’Neill with concerns about the County’s abrupt about-face regarding a proposed homeless shelter in his district. O’Neill responded by shouting and waving his hands in Atkins’ face.
At a subsequent August 14th meeting where residents, speaking during public comment, accused Republicans of racist behavior, Truitt rose from his seat, stormed out of the chamber, and then returned to angrily confront Atkins at his assigned seat. When Lisa Kaul, a Democratic legislative candidate, took out her phone to record the incident, Legislator Polasek forcibly pushed her hand down to prevent her. Other Republican legislators intervened and escorted Truitt away.
Atkins said, “The Republicans in power are demonstrating they have no respect for me or the City of Poughkeepsie. When Bill O’Neill confronted me, he was hostile, erratic, and aggressive. As a Black man who represents the City of Poughkeepsie, it is my duty to educate my community on what’s going on in County Government. Whether Republican legislators like it or not, my voice will not be silenced-even when I am threatened with physical violence.”
Lisa Kaul said, “I am disappointed that our elected representatives feel entitled to resort to physical force in an interaction with members of the public. The legislative chamber is a workplace and people with dissenting opinions should not be threatened or harassed. I am filing an official complaint with the County to establish that this behavior is simply not acceptable.”
Dutchess County Minority Leader Yvette Valdés Smith said, “I cannot and will not remain silent when the Republican legislators feel entitled to attack those who disagree with them. Legislator Atkins is raising valid concerns in the name of the City of Poughkeepsie residents he represents, and the Republicans respond with bullying, harassment, and outright lies.
“The truth is, County Republicans have always made the City of Poughkeepsie a dumping ground for the County’s problems, because none of them live or represent areas that will be impacted,” Valdés Smith continued. “Now, they are trying to force through an expensive, poorly planned homeless shelter and residents are standing up to say ‘no.’ I am embarrassed by the behavior of our County’s so-called leadership. Legislator Atkins and Lisa Kaul deserve an apology.”
Despite opposition from the Democratic caucus, the City of Poughkeepsie Common Council, and area residents, Republican leadership first authorized the purchase of 26 Oakley Street in March 2022, using $2.1M in federal ARPA funds. In March 2023, they reversed course, citing renovation costs drastically exceeded their initial calculations. Earlier this month, however, Republicans flip-flopped once again, announcing that the County would pursue $16M in state funding to defray the costs.
Over the past year, a multiracial stakeholders group, composed of City of Poughkeepsie residents, has continued to organize and oppose the 26 Oakley Street location as unfair and an additional burden to a formerly red-lined neighborhood that continues to be plagued by poverty and crime.
Jamar Cummings, lead organizer of the group said, “The County administration is not operating on good faith when it comes to the work of this Stakeholder Group. It’s starting to feel like our committee was formed only to give the semblance of cooperation. There is no real concern for the City of Poughkeepsie, the community in the 5th Ward or the homeless population they are supposed to be helping.”