Friday, June 2, 2023

Newburgh Illuminated May Move to Town of Newburgh Amid Hassles at City Hall

  • Councilman Grice tells Newburgh Illuminated they are welcome to leave for the Town of Newburgh
  • Councilman Shakur screams at volunteers for wanting to save City of Newburgh
  • Councilwoman Monteverde pledges support, insists City of Newburgh cannot lose festival
  • Newburgh Illuminated drew 60,000 last year; Estimates 100,000 this year

The popular Newburgh Illuminated annual festival may move to the Town of Newburgh this year amid ongoing hassles with the embattled City of Newburgh government. Many residents and business owners turned out at last night’s City Council meeting to scold government officials for balking at issuing a permit for the popular festival which drew an estimated 60,000 customers into the city last year.

Newburgh Illuminated is a large-scale festival that is held at the foot of Broadway every year. The brainchild of late Mayor Judy Kennedy, it features five stages with live music, a car show, fashion shows, carnival games, children’s activities, over one hundred vendors, food galore, historical tours, art exhibitions, dance, poetry, and much more. Last year’s event (story here) drew over 60,000 attendees flocking to Broadway from 12:00pm to 10:00pm on a warm June evening to spend money in the City of Newburgh.

In recent months, embattled Mayor Torrance Harvey has been widely criticized for censoring citizens at public meetings and for previous statements that city officials would “control the narrative” (see the series of stories here).

Harvey has recently gone on rants at public meetings complaining about people who do not live in the City of Newburgh. Harvey expressed his disdain for citizens from other municipalities plus numerous media outlets who speak badly about the political climate in the City of Newburgh. He claimed it is “colonialism” and said outsiders should not have a say in city matters, even as many non-residents conduct business in the city.

Although these tantrums were not related to Newburgh Illuminated, those outsiders who Harvey expressed disdain for may now ironically be spending their money in the Town of Newburgh instead of the City. Newburgh Illuminated organizers are meeting with the Town of Newburgh today to discuss moving the event to a municipality that might be more accepting and accommodating.

Many residents and business owners turned out at last night’s City Council meeting to oppose the city leadership for giving volunteer organizers a hard time, wanting to make Illuminated end before sunset, wanting to rearrange the festival’s location, failing to provide an adequate police presence last year, and ruling with an iron fist.

Rich Farcasse has invested tens of thousands of dollars and volunteered hundreds of hours of time, but said he does it to see the public smile. He slammed the City Council last night because city officials are balking at the event.

Newburgh Illuminated organizers say they submitted three permits to hold the event in just two months, but city officials want to shorten the duration, downsize the event, and move it to a side street.

Farcasse told the City Council that Town of Newburgh officials are “begging us to come there.”

Farcasse said the City Council always complains that nobody respects them. “We put a special spot on the stage for you guys to claim this as yours! We spend hundred and hundreds of hours doing this and we give it to you to claim!” he said.

City officials also reportedly claimed the event is not inclusive. “The only people that aren’t included here are dead people!” Farcasse declared. “We don’t care what color you are – black, white, brown, green, big, tall, gay, straight, fat, skinny, we don’t care! We want you here. That’s what Newburgh Illuminated is.”

City officials reportedly want to end this year’s event at 7:00pm, although last year’s festival ran until 10:00pm. “We are not coming here and spending $100,000 for four, five, or six hours. It ain’t gonna happen,” Farcasse exclaimed.

City officials also reportedly want organizers to shrink down the event and move it to Ann Street. Farcasse said city officials said there will be “no negotiations” about this.

“Think about this,” Farcasse rationalized with the Council. “How are you going to put 100,000 people in a situation that’s shrunk down one-third of the size?”

Farcasse explained this is “the decision of one guy sitting in this room,” who he would not name. He said this official “ill-advised our City Manager and I think the majority of the issues that took place last Newburgh Illuminated festival was directly due to this one particular person. We’re here now because of that.”

Paul Ernenwein, who resides in the Town of Newburgh, is the past chairman of Newburgh Illuminated. He also complained that city officials keep denying their permit applications. “Newburgh Illuminated has been an incredible success,” he observed.

Ernewein educated the Council about the history of Newburgh Illuminated. “When you grow up as a kid here and then you go visit other schools and communities, you hear that your hometown sucks. It’s dangerous, it’s nasty, it sucks.” He said a previous regime of the City Council and citizens wanted to do something to “illuminate who we are and extinguish the ignorance.” The late Mayor Kennedy asked Ernenwein to create a not-for-profit corporation to accomplish this.

Gabrielle Hill, a lifelong City of Newburgh resident, spoke to the Council. “Whatever we can do to shop local and support our local businesses is something we should take a really close look at,” she explained.

A resident of Lake Drive whose name was unintelligible, urged city leaders to reconsider the permit. “They are a vital part of the city,” she noted. “We look forward to this on the first weekend of June.”

Dan Brown, a business owner and resident in the City of Newburgh, said Newburgh Illuminated helped attract customers and pulled in the waterfront crowd. He said it also brought in “naysayers” from around the area and the “streets were packed with people.” He explained that this is “not the time to turn the lights out.”

Sam Satanovsky, a City of Newburgh business owner and resident, is new to town. While living in New York City in 2013, he was visiting a friend in town and attended Newburgh Illuminated. “I was amazed,” he said. After moving to the City of Newburgh post-COVID, he began volunteering to help the event grow.

“And now, I’m pretty sad that I have to stand here and defend something that sold me on this city,” Satanovsky said. “The fact that we have 100,000 people that want to come here, even for a day, that should be celebrated.”

Satanovsky added, “We should be doing everything we can to accommodate those people and work around that.”

He also explained that some problems arose last year because where was a lack of a police presence smack in the middle of the festival. “You’re telling me that at 8pm, there is no police presence there? That doesn’t make any sense!”

Jacqui Jarmann, a business owner and resident in the City of Newburgh, questioned the city’s proposal to move the main stage and block the front of her business.

“Will the public have access to go past the stage to come and visit my business or will we be blocked off?” she asked the Council. “I can’t believe that I’m standing here asking this question right now!”

Jarmann scolded the Council, “Don’t sacrifice my business because of this. It’s not fair. I work my behind off for this city. A lot of you know that. I was one of the people who brought Newburgh Illuminated to Broadway in 2015 and I worked tirelessly through 2018 for that festival. I worked tirelessly for my city!”

Dan Gilbert, a business owner and resident in the City of Newburgh, said, “I’m a little disappointed that it’s come to this.” He explained to the Council that local businesses are employing many of the residents in the City of Newburgh.

Michelle Basch, a business owner and resident in the City of Newburgh, told the Council that she was a “dear friend” of late Mayor Kennedy and worked on the Newburgh Illuminated plan with her. “People from all over the city came and said, ‘I am proud to be in this city.'”

She pointed out that out-of-town investors attended Newburgh Illuminated and saw buildings that were turning to rubble. As a result of Newburgh Illuminated, Basch said those investors purchasing several vacant properties and restored them.

“It is thanks to Judy Kennedy’s vision for this city,” Basch recalled. “We must remember that!”

Angela Paul-Gaito, a City of Newburgh business owner and resident, also expressed her disdain for the local government. “I feel like there’s been a real disconnection between the businesses in Newburgh and City Hall.” She said an ongoing problem in the City of Newburgh is “starting things that work well and then we stop.”

Paul-Gaito attempted to educate the Council, “It’s something that’s attracting people.” Even though there are many vendors that come in from other municipalities, she explained to the Council that it still gives exposure to the local businesses.

“There’s no reason why you should make it shorter,” she said. “I feel like it’s just a disconnection.”

Chuck Bivona, a business owner in the City of Newburgh, tried to rationalize with the Council, “Wherever Illuminated goes, it’s going to succeed. It’s going to be great.” He said by city officials refusing to let the festival grow, it cannot get better.

Another business owner, whose name was unintelligible, complained to the Council, “It’s always something.” He listed an array of other problems that he felt were caused by the City of Newburgh’s leadership. “The one thing I did look forward to this year was Illuminated and to find out that it’s getting taken away from us, I’m at a loss of words.”

A City of Newburgh resident, who did not provide her name, said she has volunteered at the festival and bragged about her city to her friends and family. “We don’t have that many festivals that go on but this one is a big one and it’s an important one for our city,” she observed.

“We don’t have a lot of police, we know that,” the resident said. She suggested that neighboring agencies come in and help the City of Newburgh Police Department since there are not enough officers to staff the city by themselves.

John Falcon, a business owner in the City of Newburgh and a resident of Walden, said his first time visiting Newburgh was to attend the Illuminated festival. He explained that the event drew his attention to the city and prompted him to open a business there with his friends. “It’s gotta happen,” he declared.

Chloe Schuyler, a New Windsor resident, volunteers on the Board of Directors for Newburgh Illuminated. “We have no employees and we have no funding, other than the funds we raise ourselves,” she pointed out. “We’re entirely volunteers.”

Schuyler noted that the festival can make “steps toward change” and “steps toward partnership.”

“It’s the one day that I feel like we can all be out in the street together and really enjoy it, whether you’re rich or poor or from here or not, it’s a great day for everyone.”

Harvey then called on Police Chief Anthony Geraci and Police Commissioner Jose Gomerez to explain why they recommended changes to Newburgh Illuminated.

Gomerez said the police department is not denying the permit. He spoke of the location and said it would extend from Broadway to Spring Street. He said one stage is being moved due to “safety and construction issues.” Colden Street will be dug up for the ongoing sewer project by the time of the festival. The police and fire departments need an avenue to respond to emergencies, Gomerez explained.

Gomerez and Geraci stood firm on demanding that the festival must end at 7:00pm because sunset will be at 8:25pm. Last year’s sunset was approximately the same time and the festival ended at 10:00pm. Previous waterfront festivals ran until midnight.

Councilman Anthony Grice said his wife owns a food truck in the City of Newburgh. He complained that he has not seen some of the Newburgh Illuminated volunteers visit her truck. “I would welcome that,” he said.

Grice then said the organizers should work to meet the city’s demands and complained that the City of Newburgh government is not listed as a sponsor of the event.

Grice called on the event organizers to refrain from “bullying things” and “scare tactics.” He added, “If you are threatening to go to another place, you are very welcome to do that. It will not have the same feel, but you are very welcome to do that.”

Councilwoman Ramona Monteverde, who was part of the original vision with late Mayor Kennedy, took the opposite approach. “I would hate to see it go somewhere else,” she said. “Whatever we can do to keep you guys here, let’s get back to the table. Let’s talk.”

Monteverde added, “I’m willing to compromise. I’m begging and I’m asking that we compromise on the time. 8:30, right?” which was met with applause from the crowd. “I want to see this happen. We cannot lose Newburgh Illuminated.”

Councilwoman Giselle Martinez said she attends the festival every hear and said there is a “miscommunication.” She reiterated that the permit is being approved, although it will be under the city’s restricted demands. She said she previously voted to expand curfews for events.

Councilman Omari Shakur spoke of utilizing Spring Street and screamed at the volunteers, “Don’t come here talking about like you come here saving Newburgh! You came here because the previous administration let you get that street! So don’t come here like you came here and saved us! You don’t save us ’cause our community is still tryin’ to get some of these businesses! So don’t come here talkin’ about what you got!”

Councilman Robert Sklarz said the event requires several groups of people to come together to reach a shared goal. “We have gone from a 10 pm stop last year to a 7 pm stop this year. That is a dramatic change to this event.” He said a compromise should be made.

Councilwoman Patty Sofokles explained that she helped organized the previous waterfront festivals which ran until midnight and drew upwards of 20,000 people. “I would be willing to compromise 8:30 myself,” she said. She acknowledged what the police administration is saying, but conceded, “It’s one day. It’s one day that brings 100,000 people to the city.”

She observed, “What we reap in benefits is more than enough.”

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  1. One of the reasons I moved back to the city is the illuminated festival. They better not let it move. They should be praising the event, as it helps boost moral as well as stimulate the local economy.

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