On May 12 (Wednesday), a long piece ran in the New York Times about Newburgh’s drugs/gangs/crime/violence problems. It was quite good, for the Times — nothing that the Record’s Doyle Murphy hadn’t written 148 times in the past, but a decent summary of it all. The next day, federal, state and local cops launched a HUGE sweep here, busting into houses at 6 a.m. and arresting 78 gang members on federal charges. (i teased Doyle about it: “See? When the New York Times does a story, they get results!”) But a lot of people were upset about the “negative picture” the Times story painted of Our Fair City, and i was drafted to write a “rebuttal.” Since neither the Times (“Letters to the Editor must be 150 words or less”) nor anyone else will ever run my 750-word reply, i will paste it below, lending credence to the saying that “the power of the press belongs to those who own one.” ( i guess anyone with a blog “owns one.”) Oh: To be completely tedious, i also sent it to David Shipley, the Times Op-Ed page editor. Here it is:
May 12, 2010
Ray Rivera did a good job in these pages (“In Newburgh, Gangs and Violence Reign,” May 12) of pointing out the violence in my “dilapidated” hometown of Newburgh. I know he was taking a snapshot, not producing a travelogue. But he must have shut his eyes to many of the city’s treasures in his search for the all-too-obvious evidence of gangs, crime and drugs. Many of us are wondering how he could possibly have missed:
Washington’s Headquarters, a major tourist attraction and the nation’s first state historic site;
The Karpeles Manuscript Museum, an eccentric surprise situated in an imposing former bank;
the Ritz Theater, where Sinatra played and Lucille Ball got her start in vaudeville;
the Downing Film Center, an independent, locally-owned-and-operated movie theater showing foreign and art films;
the Dutch Reform Church, a magnificent Greek-Revival-style national historic landmark;
Downing Park, designed by the landscape architects who designed New York’s Central Park and named for their mentor, Newburgh’s Andrew Jackson Downing;
Caffe Macchiato, a Zagat-rated restaurant with European charm;
the Wherehouse, offering beers from every single microbrewery in the state, as well as pub-fare lunches and dinners; and
the plethora of first-rate Peruvian, Mexican, Guatemalan, Colombian and Italian restaurants throughout the city (plus one taco cart that was featured on the Food Network).
These are just a few attractions Rivera could have at least mentioned. But most stunning was his silence on the friendliness and kindness of the city’s residents, perhaps developed through our long years of grief, or by having to communicate across cultural and linguistic barriers. Beyond talking to one mother and one former gang member, did he not stop to even ask directions? He talked about our “narrow avenues,” but failed to say that Broadway is the widest main street in America.
By the way, he seemed baffled by Newburgh’s nickname, “The 6th Borough.” Of course, it was never intended to refer to the city’s size or density, but rather to its ethnic and racial diversity – a fact of which we are proud.
We’re also proud of our excellent schools and thriving arts community. Newburgh Free Academy routinely sends its seniors on to Ivy League colleges and universities. NFA’s physics students win the national solar-car Race Across America just about every year, in a car they designed and built themselves. And our boys’ basketball and boys’ and girls’ track teams are our pride and joy.
The Greater Newburgh Symphony Orchestra produces a full season of concerts in the high school’s auditorium, featuring performers whose “other jobs” are with the New York Philharmonic but who choose to live in the beautiful Hudson Valley.
Has Rivera never heard of Newburgh’s ReadNex Poetry Squad? They perform their socially-conscious form of rap all over the world, and were recently welcomed by cheering youths in South America. Our homegrown band The Morning Of is starting a nationwide tour, and Perfect Thyroid plays to standing-room-only crowds.
Local artists’ paintings, drawings and sculptures are on display at many Newburgh galleries and businesses, as well as at City Hall. Book clubs and poetry and literary societies flourish here, holding regular meetings at the top-notch Newburgh Free Library, which not only serves the city and surrounding areas with its books, e-books, videos, newspapers, magazines and DVDs but also lends laptops to those who have none. The Newburgh Actors Studio puts on experimental plays and classics that the entire community enjoys.
Perhaps most importantly, we have a collection of civic-minded, good-government groups determined to eliminate the city’s raging crime problems. Among them are the Newburgh Lyceum and the newly-formed Mothers and Others and Mothers for Upward Movement.
With our deep-water port on one of the widest stretches of the Hudson River, Newburgh still has the recreational, transportation and scenic chops that inspired Henry Hudson’s first mate in 1609 to write in his journal that this would be “a pleasant place to build a town.”
“Dilapidated?” Sure, but we’re coming back! Newburgh, named an All-American City in the mid-1950s, is like a beautiful woman of whom people say, she has “good bones.” That’s the real story of our city, and future coverage should not ignore it.
(Ms.) Genie Abrams, 32 Bay View Terrace, Newburgh, N.Y.
845-569-2075 (home); 845-764-0635 (cell)