Newburgh Mayor Nick Valentine said he originally had no intention of advocating that the trials of five suspected terrorists be held in his city. However, when the question about possibly hosting the trials was posed directly by a reporter from The New York Post, he said he answered instinctively.
“I said I would host the trials here if offered the opportunity because I am looking out for the City of Newburgh,” he said. “This is a poor and struggling community right now, and maybe once in a while you grasp at a straw and watch where the chips fall.”
Since Valentine publicly stated that he would support moving the terrorists’ trials to Newburgh’s new courthouse, residents and others in the surrounding area have debated the benefits and security risks the city would encounter if this were to become a reality.
Discussion of the trials’ location, including that of the professed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, intensified after President Barrack Obama’s ad- ministration was faced with strong objections by New York City officials to hold them in lower Manhattan. Valentine is one of the many against having the trials so close to the World Trade Center site, also citing logistical reasons why a city like Newburgh would serve as a better host.
“It would have been horrendous if these trials were in lower Manhattan,” he said. “There are so many infrastructural differences between New York and Newburgh – it’s like night and day.”
After he made his statement regarding the trials, Valentine contacted Newburgh Police Chief Eric Paolilli to discuss the practicality of this idea. Paolilli said if he and his staff were given the right resources, security assistance and funding that he would “be able to keep Newburgh safe” in spite of security risks.
The Obama administration has previously proposed to grant $200 million for security costs to the city that hosts the trials.
“This could not cost the City of Newburgh a dime,” Valentine said. “However, if all safety, security and financial conditions were met, we would be up to this challenge.”
However, Valentine said that many have questioned his willingness to bring the suspected terrorists to court in the city. Tiffany Niles, a fourth-year student at SUNY New Paltz from the neighboring town of New Windsor, said she is concerned about the currently high crime rate in the area. Although law enforcement officials said the increased police presence would curb crime, Niles said it would be “ridiculous” to introduce further security risks.
“Honestly, what would make the government choose to hold the trials in Newburgh?” she said. “Those who have managed to hide from the crime are now going to be subjected to the possibility of fatal terrorism.”
Tracy Younes, a third-year New Paltz student out of New- burgh, also cited concerns she had about raising the terror threat in the area. However, Younes said she would not be op- posed to the trials being held in the city.
“Because it is a terrorist trial that would be so close to the Stewart Air Force Base, I feel this could be a target,” she said. “But the trials have to be held somewhere, so why not here? Newburgh has political history and there’s no reason that it can’t have a political future.”
According to Valentine, 90 percent of the feedback he has received has been positive, with city officials, students at local colleges such as Mount St. Mary and residents saying that they would like to see the city be brought in a positive light by assisting in the democratic process.
If federal officials decided to bring the trials to the Orange County city, Newburgh would also play host to hundreds of media and security personnel, whose potential spending could raise revenue for the local economy.
“Not to make light of the situation, but putting the city’s name out there and housing thousands of visitors could have major effects,” Valentine said. “Media and security officials would be entrenched here for months at a time, and they are going to spend money.”
However, Valentine said he did not want his offer to come off as a sales pitch, citing that respect for people in the area affected by the Sept. 11 attacks and the safety of citizens is of utmost importance.
Consequently, the mayor will not be contacting officials in Washington to push for the trial to be held in the $22 million courthouse on the corner of Robinson Ave. and Broadway. Valentine said he does not want to appear as though he is grandstanding and will leave it to the federal government to make a decision.
“Unless I hear something, I am not going to say anything more,” he said.
According to SUNY New Paltz Director of Media Relations Eric Gullickson, the college would take precautions to maximize safety of students using the protocol outlined in the emergency communications plan, which includes addressing parent and student concerns.