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Binghamton councilwoman proposes reviving stunted human rights panel

Binghamton City Councilwoman Aviva Friedman is introducing a proposal meant to revive the city's Human Rights Commission.
Vaughn Golden
Binghamton City Councilwoman Aviva Friedman is introducing a proposal meant to revive the city's Human Rights Commission.

A Binghamton city councilwoman is proposing changes to the city’s Human Rights Commission meant to revive the panel, which has been effectively defunct since 2016.

The Human Rights Commission is supposed to fight discrimination and handle such complaints as they involve the city.

"The point is to ban discrimination, help ameliorate complaints or issues that have to do with discrimination based on a variety of characteristics and groups,” City Councilwoman Aviva Friedman said.

Friedman, a Democrat in the minority on City Council, is proposing legislation to revert the way nominations are made to the Human Rights Commission back to how they were done prior to 2016. She pointed to the violent and controversial arrest of Hamail Waddel by Binghamton police on New Year’s Day as something that the commission could theoretically handle.

In 2016, City Council voted to give the mayor complete power to make nominations. Prior to that, the commission itself accepted nominations from community organizations like the NAACP, Binghamton Pride Coalition and Office for the Aging.

Since the nomination process was handed to the mayor, then Rich David, nobody has been appointed. The city doesn’t list the Human Rights Commission alongside other committees and panels on its website.

Current Binghamton Mayor Jared Kraham, a Republican, took office in 2021 and previously served in David’s office. Kraham said he thinks the commission is duplicative of the state Division of Human Rights, which serves a similar purpose on a broader scale.

“We also shouldn't, in my opinion, have a duplicative Division of Human Rights because there is one at the state again, with attorneys and judges and state law that backs them up. That is the most effective thing,” Kraham said.

Friedman said she’s spoken with a representative of the New York attorney general’s office who believes the city having its own commission would help filter complaints before they’re taken to the state.

City Councilman Giovanni Scaringi, a Republican who currently presides over City Council, agreed with the mayor’s belief that the city’s Human Rights Commission is duplicative of the state’s agency. He also added that he believes having questions and complaints involving discrimination addressed by the state removes a layer of subjectivity that could exist if the city were to handle complaints on its own.

Friedman presented the proposal in a City Council work session last week. It’s unclear if it will make it out of committee and come before City Council for a full vote.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.