Petition-signing drive Saturday aimed at sparing Ogdenburg prisons from closure
Friday, May 22, 2020 - 6:00 am

OGDENSBURG – A petition-signing drive will be held Saturday from noon until 5 p.m. at the Ogdensburg movie theater to support a push aimed at convincing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to spare Ogdensburg from the possible closure of one of the community’s prisons.

Members of City Council will be on hand to help facilitate the event, according to Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly. He said social distancing will be practiced during the five-hour signing period and that facemasks are required, according to a press release issued by the mayor.

Those signing the petition are asked to bring their own pen, but if they don’t have one, a pen will be provided that they can take home with them.

In the release Skelly said the idea was brought forward by the city’s Deputy Mayor, John Rishe. He said Rishe recently wrote a passionate letter to Gov. Cuomo asking the state’s top elected official to spare Ogdensburg from the economic devastation that would be brought should Albany decide to close one of the city’s prisons.

“John Rishe knows more about business and economics, especially the role prisons play in our local economy, than probably anyone I know,” Skelly said in the release.“When I read John’s letter to Gov. Cuomo it almost brought tears to my eyes. He’s right when he tells the governor that closing one of our prisons would have a devastating effect.”

Ogdensburg has two medium-security prisons, Ogdensburg and Riverview. As the state grapples with what many expect to be a $61 billion budget shortfall, the mayor said there is growing concern that at least one of Ogdensburg’s correctional facilities could be targeted.

“The city is already struggling financially, and the pandemic business closings have made things worse,” Skelly said in the release. “Sales tax will be lower, property tax collections may be more difficult and private businesses are struggling. If we lose a prison, it would be perfect storm for economic collapse in this community that could take decades to recover from.”

In Rishe’s open letter to the governor, he points out that Ogdensburg relies on the jobs and capital provided by good paying prison jobs more than other communities around the state.

“Ogdensburg and St. Lawrence County are consistently ranked as one of the poorest counties in the entire state with high poverty rates,” Rishe wrote. “It also has unemployment rates that are well above the average for New York State and the country.

“While I understand that these facilities should not be viewed as job creating institutions, the reality is that some correctional facilities are needed and some areas of the state can withstand a prison closure much better than Ogdensburg,” Rishe said in his letter. “Many communities have a much more diverse economy with many private sector employers or other public sector jobs.”

In the release mayor Skelly said Rishe’s father was a key figure in helping bring the prisons to Ogdensburg and “the personal tone of his deputy mayor’s letter to the governor has sparked him and others to take a proactive stand in helping ensure that the two correctional facilities already in Ogdensburg stay put.”

In the release Skelly said a special message will be placed on the marquee at the Ogdensburg theater throughout the day on Saturday, encouraging people to stop and sign the petition in support of keeping the community’s prisons.

He said the petition will later be sent to the governor and other state officials.

“We really do need as many signatures as possible on Saturday,” Mr. Skelly said. “Regardless of politics the people of Ogdensburg need to have their voices heard in Albany regarding the important economics the prisons bring to us here.”

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