Although, Ali T. Muhammad only recently moved full time to Newburgh, he aspires to take the mayoral seat from incumbent, Mayor Torrance Harvey.
In addition to the mayoral seat, three city council positions are up for grabs this year. Just last Saturday, early voting started for the general election. The official general election is on November 5. For some, the mayoral race draws the most controversy.
If Harvey wins, this term would become his first completed full term. Harvey’s current term begun after Mayor Judy Kennedy’s passing in 2018. “I trust the people of the City of Newburgh to re-elect me for a full term,” said Harvey.
In many ways, Muhammad and Harvey are two very different men.
Muhammad is running on the Independence line while Harvey is running on the Democratic, Libertarian, and Working Families line. In April, Muhammad was initially on the Democratic line. In June, Muhammad was taken off the Democratic line. Harvey had filed a petition with the Orange County Board of Elections to have Muhammad taken off the line.
One of the issues was accusations of false signatures. “We reviewed his petitions, there were signatures that were invalid,” said Harvey. “There were made up names on his petition.”
As a result, Muhammad didn’t have enough signatures to run on the Democratic line. “To me this is a form of voter suppression,” said Muhammad. “You’re knocking off your own party members.” Muhammad said by the time he was made aware of the situation; he didn’t have enough time or money to file the recourse. Despite running only on the Independence line, Muhammad has no concerns about being at a disadvantage to Harvey.
Muhammad and Harvey also have different background stories. In 1991, Harvey officially moved to Newburgh with his family as a teenager. Harvey has been married for 19 years and has three children.
In his time living in Newburgh, he’s become a hallmark of the community. In addition to being the mayor, Harvey is a history teacher at Newburgh Free Academy.
Although Muhammad isn’t as heavily known as Harvey, he still focuses heavily on community outreach. Just recently, Muhammad had handwritten hundreds of letters, explaining his mayoral efforts, for the community.
Before moving to Newburgh, Muhammad was a Beacon councilman. Muhammad was the first African American Muslim Beacon councilman. After finding himself at odds with the Democratic Committee of Dutchess County for endorsing Republicans, Muhammad found himself at the center of two disloyalty hearings. As a result, he left Beacon behind.
In a 2016 interview with The Highlands Current, Muhammad defended his decisions. “I’ve been a Democrat my entire life and will always be a Democrat because that’s where my progressive views and my heart will always be,” said Muhammad. “I represent the people, not the establishment and if doing what is right for my constituents is considered disloyal, then so be it.”
Despite past troubles, Muhammad is hopeful that he can bring change to Newburgh and deepen his community connection. Although Muhammad has established residency in Newburgh, there are still doubts. “A lot of people don’t believe he really lives here,” said Harvey. “He established a residency about a year ago at 101 Liberty Street, and no one hardly sees him there. There are people in our community who don’t believe he really lives there.”
Regardless of critics, Muhammad remains committed. His father founded the Islamic Learning Center of Orange County on Washington Terrace. “I’ve been a part of this community since I was four years old,” said Muhammad. Although Muhammad has been in more than one place for his whole life, he still considers Newburgh home. After starting the mosque in Newburgh, Muhammad’s family started another mosque in Beacon. Muhammad grew up in Beacon and Newburgh. But from age four to 16, a majority of his time was spent in Newburgh.
“Barbeques, cleanups, community givebacks,” reminisced Muhammad. “We boycotted the gas station down the road from the mosque because they were being disrespectful. I learned about civic engagement at an early age from my parents’ activism and interfaith community work.” Muhammad emphasizes that although he only moved here as an adult recently, he’s been involved his whole life.
If elected, he would like to bring a charter change. “In 100 years, we’ve had two charter changes,” said Muhammad. “It’s time to have another one.”
Recently the council came under fire for the City Manager’s 2020 proposed budget suggesting cuts and layoffs to the city’s public safety departments. Before the proposed budget’s presentation, the council emphasized they weren’t aware of the exact details of the budget yet.
“They had [budget] hearings,” said Muhammad. “If they didn’t [know], then that’s even more negligent.” Although the position of mayor is a part time job, Muhammad says he’ll dedicate all of his time to the position.
Directly addressing the cuts, Muhammad believes cutting first responders is problematic. “You can’t say public safety is our number one priority, and then want to make those cuts,” said Muhammad. Muhammad believes cuts should be made from other areas and departments. “I looked at the top 23 people that are general employees, that aren’t fire and first responders, you look at those people.”
In an effort to avoid cuts, and tax raises, Harvey is proposing a one percent non-resident payroll tax. Harvey believes this will expand the tax base, and avoid burdening homeowners with taxes and increase revenue. Harvey also wants to ask the larger non-profits, if they can contribute to the public safety fees. “They all use police, they all use fire department,” said Harvey.
“I’ve been working very diligently, speaking with our state elected officials,” said Harvey. Harvey has been outlining ways with other elected officials to improve the budget situation. “No one wants to lay off people from our public safety department.”
More often than not, generating of revenue is brought up to the City Council. To many, increasing revenue can help improve the quality of living and avoid cuts to public safety.
“We have a very aggressive and active revitalization plan,” said Harvey. Recently, Harvey and other city officials have finalized a master plan to address issues like the quality of municipal properties. If re-elected, Harvey wants to continue to address issues like the quality of living and how to improve the city.
Harvey hopes to expand and increase efforts to generate revenue. The city has already begun progress on a 2.7-million-dollar project on 109 South William Street with Baxter Construction. In addition, the city is working on a multimillion base cider factory with Graft Cider that will increase revenue and tourism. In addition, Harvey is interested in potentially developing an ecofriendly hotel conference center on the waterfront.
“That’s why I need a four-year term,” said Harvey. “We got projects already lined up for workforce development. We want to educate and train our current workforce, and residents; so, they can have meaningful employment.”
“We need an economic engine,” said Muhammad. If elected, Muhammad wants to bring in new businesses and developers. Muhammad is interested in businesses like a potential new movie theatre, music venues, and hotels. He hopes to engage single parents, the homeless, veterans, and more with new businesses. For him, creating opportunity is a big priority. Muhammad believes that revenue will change the environment for the better.
“One person, one election is not going to change Newburgh,” said Muhammad. “It’s creating a culture that’s going to change the environment.”
Although Harvey is the incumbent, Muhammad believes he still stands a good chance at winning. Still, he finds the difference between winning and losing to be meaningless. “It’s about how are we improving together,” said Muhammad. “If I don’t get enough votes to become the next Mayor, I have plans of action. It’s about getting more people included in what’s going on, whether or not I’m elected.”
“My plans, if I theoretically lost, would be to continue to educate high school students,” said Harvey. “I would continue to work with organizations and associations which I have already built in serving the people, in a capacity in which I can educate and contribute in a positive way.”