At a tense work session yesterday, Binghamton’s City Council heard a measure that would defund the Binghamton City Police.
The measure was submitted to the council’s agenda by John Solak, a Binghamton resident and a frequent critic of local government. If the referendum, entitled the Police Choice Act, passes both the council and a November vote, the department’s powers will be transferred to the state police and the Broome County Sheriff’s Office.
“Referendum [is] to be forwarded to [the Board of Elections] by Aug. 1, 2024 for placement on [the] November ballot,” Solak wrote as part of the measure’s executive summary.
The council does not vote at work sessions, and tensions rose quickly as Solak began his allotted five-minute period. After saying that a similar proposal helped lower crime in Camden, NJ, he accused Councilman Nate Hotchkiss of bias against the initiative — referring to comments reported by several local media outlets — asking him to abstain from an eventual vote on the proposal.
“We’re open to having discussions, even if it’s a touchy subject, and I don’t think we should be shutting down discourse or public conversation about things that the public cares about,” Hotchkiss said. “There wasn’t any feasibility study or really a realistic approach to the proposal that was put forward, so I don’t think anybody was really considering it. But it was a piece that would offer a conversation to be had, and that’s what we thought that [Solak] wanted, so we were entertaining it in that capacity, and we would do so for any other member of the public that requests [legislation].”
Solak also criticized Hadassah Mativetsky, the council’s president, for discussing the matter with Police Chief Joseph Zikuski.
“You people are fakes, phonies and frauds,” Solak said after citing a successful term-limit referendum that passed over the initial objections of the then-incumbent city councilmembers. “You’re no different than the last council.”
Solak then left the dais, not elaborating on his proposal — the first citizen-submitted initiative of 2024. In an email to Pipe Dream, Solak said that Binghamton taxpayers unnecessarily subsidize operations of larger law enforcement organizations.
Though the proposal has not yet made its way onto the ballot, it drew swift criticism from local Republicans, including Benji Federman, the county chair.
“Tonight, Binghamton Democrats are moving to ultimately abolish the [Binghamton City Police],” Federman wrote. “We’re calling on every Democrat elected official, including Lea Webb, Donna Lupardo, Jason Garnar and Josh Riley to condemn this blatant disregard for public safety and slap in the face to every police officer who protects our city.”
In his statement, Federman falsely conflated Solak’s initiative with council-led business, which local Democrats quickly rebutted.
“[Federman] has purposefully confused public agitator [Solak] with members of the Binghamton City Council,” the Binghamton City Democratic Committee wrote on Facebook in response. “The council had no interest or intention of approving this harebrained scheme but has pledged to give citizens a chance to raise their concerns and offer ideas.”
Solak has been a mainstay of Binghamton government for decades, having attended countless board and council meetings, calling into WNBF — a local radio station — nearly everyday and launching an unsuccessful run for a seat on Binghamton’s School Board in 2020.
His account on X, @BinghamtonDaily, features hyperlocal news, some largely based on spectacle, rumor and hearsay. He describes himself as “The Dollar Store Walter Winchell. Ultimate Local Guy,” asserting that “small town corruption flourishes with media bias by omission.”
Binghamton Mayor Jared Kraham held a media advisory Tuesday morning in response to the work session discussions, calling them “reckless.”
“City Council’s decision to consider legislation to dissolve the [Binghamton City Police] sends a terrible message to our police officers and the residents who rely on them to help keep our neighborhoods safe,” Kraham said.