It was a different crowd in the council chambers last Tuesday than is usually there, but unfortunately the scene was one that has played out several times now. This time it was a 4th Ward public meeting and members of the 69ers Motorcycle Club took turns at the podium defending against accusations made against them in public by 4th Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler. But earlier this year, it’s been members of the Creative Connections community defending the value of their programs, before that it was Recreation Director Robert Spagnola, defending against several allegations against his department that were proven false, as well as at least two other department heads who were essentially tried in the court of public opinion with unsubstantiated allegations.
As usual, the situation began on Hatzenbuhler’s Facebook forum with this announcement of the upcoming meeting.
In the announcement, Hatzenbuhler accuses the motorcycle club of buying a property on Edward St. under “false pretenses.” She claims the club is using the commercial property as a club house from which they are selling alcohol without a permit, that a former member of the club is a convicted murderer, and that the club is driving residents away and hurting business at the local tavern.
At the meeting, club members denied they were doing anything improper at the property and accused Hatzenbuhler of slander. One person called for her resignation and at least two residents from the 4th Ward not affiliated with the club spoke to say they had no problem with club members in the neighborhood.
It’s difficult for me to personally judge whether the accusations of code violations are valid or not.
According to a 2008 article in the Schenectady Gazette, a former president of the 69ers club in Troy, who also identified himself as being associated with the club at the recent meeting, was charged with murder but later acquitted.
The general public can argue the details of this situation to death, but the sad thing here is that this issue never had to become a public spectacle. Hatzenbuhler didn’t need to broadcast her accusations to the public, but rather could have pursued the matter with the codes and police departments and worked in a systematic way to resolve the issue. Instead, she incited public outrage again and had to endure yet another pile-on.
While some opponents of Hatzenbuhler may revel in the situation, it’s nothing for any of us in the city to be proud of. Hatzenbuhler’s actions reflect on the entire city, not just herself.
Further than that, I believe her actions may be perceived as reflecting on the local Republican Party, and that should be a concern for any politician thinking of running next year. I would be surprised if other Republican’s aren’t starting to view her as a potential liability. Given that there is already one announced candidate for mayor next year, I think it’s fair to say that the next election season has essentially begun already. Hatzenbuhler needs to start mending fences and reverse her pattern of publicly going after others with shaky allegations and echoing hearsay. Certainly, she needs to listen to tips from constituents, but she needs to take responsibility for checking the validity of those tips before she reports them publicly or acts on them. I was proud of Diane recently when she visited the local homeless shelter to meet with the manager there and get credible facts about the situation which informed her vote on whether to help fund the shelter this year. That’s the type of behavior we should expect from her and all elected officials.