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Hidy defends himself against criticism over ‘tattoos and pit bulls’ comment

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MASSENA - Last week following the announcement that the St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services has assigned a welfare fraud investigator to work in Massena, Mayor James F. Hidy, who has lobbied in the past for the county to crack down on welfare fraud, said he didn’t have a problem with people who need assistance to receiving benefits.

Mr. Hidy’s comments though didn’t stop there, as he also noted that there are many perfectly healthy people capable of getting jobs, who instead choose to live off the system, as well as others who elect to use their benefits for items other than their intended purpose.

“I’m not against people getting benefits, but I’m against the people with the tattoos and the pit bulls, and us supporting their habits,” he said.

Since that time the mayor has come under fire, receiving several phone calls and emails, as well as comments directed toward him on social media, Topix and the Daily Courier-Observer’s website.

Mr. Hidy responded to his critics on Tuesday. “The negative feedback that we’re getting is from people who clearly didn’t understand what I was saying,” he suggested.

Mr. Hidy said he has several family members who have tattoos, including a daughter, a sister and several nieces.

As for pit bulls, Mr. Hidy said he doesn’t feel all pit bulls are “bad animals. It’s a product of how they’re trained,” he said, noting that after living in Detroit for 28 years he has seen both good and bad pit bulls.

“Although there is a perception that they are very aggressive dogs, I have learned that they can also be very docile animals,” he said, adding pit bulls just aren’t his breed of choice.

“My parents had a poodle. That’s a dog in my comfort zone,” he said.

While many of the comments came from people who Mr. Hidy said “sadly hide behind fictitious names,” he said that after he’s had the opportunity to explain himself to either those who have emailed him or spoken to him on the phone, they came away with a better understanding of what the message he was attempting to convey.

“It’s the narrow-minded few who choose to listen to others without reading the comments for themselves or are incapable of comprehending what I said that have a problem with my comments,” he said. “However, I did receive calls from a few people, and once I explained the context of my message, they understood and were in favor of what I said.

Referring to his detractors online, Mr. Hidy said, “The people who have questioned my comments said they were hard working, tattoo sporting, pit bull owning, tax paying residents. My comments were fully in support of them and others who pay into social services.”

In a letter to the editor, Mr. Hidy wrote, “The point I was eluding to was awareness of misuse of EBT funds. I am in total support of individuals who through their years of hard work paid into the Social Services program. It is you who are entitled to draw from those funds in times of need. I am in total support of those who legitimately are in need of social service assistance and this community has many who are. I am totally against able-bodied individuals brought to our community through county directive who never paid into the system and most likely never will. I fail to see a justified argument to support otherwise.”

Mr. Hidy’s letter also noted this is not the first time he has spoken about welfare fraud in Massena.

“I must have struck a nerve in the past three years, because now the county feels the need to dedicate a welfare fraud investigator to Massena. EBT and SS programs are not designed to fund the purchase of anything other than the staples to feed and clothe the needy. I’m confident that any hard working taxpayer would be in agreement,” he wrote.

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