“I have a question though,” said mayoral candidate Jason West, with a smile. “Do I only have to wear the top hat on special occasions? Can’t I wear it all the time?”
On the ballot, voters will see three different questions from left to right. First, they’ll see mayoral candidates, four-year Village Board candidates and finally two-year Village Board candidates. This article examines the people running for office in just that order.
The mayoral candidates
On May 3, voters will see four names on the ballot for mayor: Jean Gallucci, Pete Healey, Jason West and Jonathan Cohen. While many of the candidates touched on themes, such as keeping New Paltz affordable for young families and seniors, their answers in the debate also pointed to where the foursome disagreed.
Gallucci, who serves now as the village’s deputy mayor, pointed to her experience historically as a bookkeeper for the Town of New Paltz, her work as the treasurer-clerk of the village and finally her most recent stint as a Village Board member.
An important function for the mayor is to understand what lawsuits the village faces, knowing where employee contracts stand and having a working relationship with workers and department heads. “I’m already familiar with the employees,” she said. “I feel confident that I could serve you well as your next mayor.”
Gallucci is interested in preserving and fixing the village infrastructure -- but she’s especially interested in getting municipal water and sewer right. She’d like to see the village go after low-interest loans or grant money to fix those systems.
Rather than consolidation of the village and town into a single government of New Paltz, the deputy mayor would like to see other, less extreme options explored. “I wanted to study shared services more than anything else,” she explained.
Gallucci said she would be available to work part-time as the mayor, and she’s currently negotiating with her employer to allow for that to happen.
At least one of the questions during the debate asked what candidates would do if they won a seat on a board filled with former Election Day opponents. Gallucci said she’d use her first month in office to try to build bridges in case that happened.
The May 3 election has the possibility of officially replacing 80 percent of everyone on the Village Board.
“I think the first 30 days will be spent to create a very close working relationship with the new board,” she said.
Jason West, who is running for a second, non-consecutive term as mayor, said he’d like to see a New Paltz that people could afford to live in from college student, to young family, to homeowner all the way to senior citizens.
“I think anyone who wants to should be able to afford to live here,” West said. In a general way, the former mayor said he’d like to see New Paltz remain the kind of place that welcomed college students with open arms -- a diverse place where art could flourish.
West, who came to New Paltz in 1995 for college and graduated with a visual arts and history degree, has run a house-painting business in town. In terms of the problems he saw facing the village now, West said that “volunteers are leaving or not being recruited,” the village’s infrastructure needs continued and diligent repair and the morale at the New Paltz Fire Department still needs to recover from an all-time low -- which saw the chief resign and more than 20 volunteers quit the ranks within four years.
“But these are not new issues,” he said, adding that all new mayors inherited a laundry list of continuing problems to solve.
In defense of his time as mayor, West pointed to the various boards and subcommittees he’d helped to form -- including the Landlord-Tenant Relations Council, the environmental conservation group and the Senior Advisory Committee.
Specifically, West would like to grow local businesses by expanding the downtown area onto Route 32 -- allowing for newer businesses to gain a foothold. “We need more Main Street,” he explained.
Like Gallucci, West also said he’d use his first month in office to put his house in order at Village Hall. However, he stressed his desire to talk to village employees at all levels to learn where the problems were, and talking to the village engineer and lawyer to get a grounding on the current situation -- as well as getting to know the new board members.
If elected, West said he would likely spend 40 to 60 hours each week at Village Hall and would serve the office of mayor as a full-time commitment.
Former Village Board member Pete Healey is the head of the One Community Party, a group which seeks to explore consolidation options that would merge the town and village of New Paltz.
His impassioned speech courting voters toward the idea of merging the town and village government drew loud applause. However, debate answers from candidates Sally Rhoads, Ariana Basco, Jason West and Stewart Glenn were also received warmly by the crowd.
Healey -- who helped get public access Channel 23 up and running -- said he remains a big advocate of the public’s right to freedom of information.
“The website is absolutely an issue,” he said, responding to what Groovy Blueberry slate candidate Emily Crocetti had said about the website. It could be much better, he admitted, adding that a revamped website could put the public in touch with their government in a whole new way.
Sound quality for meetings recorded on Channel 23 is also a big issue for Healey, who said that the poor audio often makes board table discussions hard to understand for people watching Time Warner Cable at home.
Healey’s One Community Party features a lot of well-known players in New Paltz politics -- the lawyer and businessman Stewart Glenn, and volunteer and former Elting Library Board President Sally Rhoads. It also includes relative newcomer Martin Sherow.
The former Village Board member said he felt his party members would together provide a “mature and reasonable discourse” to the board table -- one that covered a broad spectrum of political opinions. While the four slate members are unified in thinking that New Paltz might function better with one municipal government, instead of two, they have different opinions about many other matters.
“Do we have two libraries? Do we have two fire departments? Do we have two police departments now?” the mayoral candidate asked his crowd.
Healey said he’d probably put in 35 to 40 hours as a mayor each week, on a part-time schedule. However, Healey added that he’d demand to have a time punch card to clock in his hours like other municipal employees.
Within his first two months as mayor, Healey envisions himself as going after volunteers -- relentlessly trying to fill vacancies on the village Planning Board and other subcommittees.
Healey also pointed to the fact that so many people are running for the Village Board as clear evidence that people felt problems exist at Village Hall, which desperately need to be solved.
Jonathan Cohen, the owner of the tie-dye shirt shop Groovy Blueberry in New Paltz, is also running for mayor. He too would like to see New Paltz be a place that is affordable for senior citizens, young families and anyone in between.
Cohen also focused on larger, more regional issues, saying that Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan should be closed and the village should advocate against natural gas extraction involving hydro-fracking.
He said in his first month in office he’d like to “fumigate and groovitize” Village Hall. Cohen, who is running on a slate with his wife Amy and Emily Crocetti, an employee from his shop, said he felt strongly that people should have a chance to speak freely during Village Board meetings.
Cohen went as far as to say that people, under his administration, would be allowed to speak whenever they wanted outside of public comment time, unless it upheld the board meeting in an unusual way.
“We will groovitize our community,” the candidate said of his plans as mayor.
For the Groovy Blueberry’s co-owner, part of the reason he’s running is dissatisfaction. “We were quite upset with the way things were being run in the village,” he said, adding that Mayor West’s time as mayor had been particularly hard to endure.
Cohen said he’d also like to see the village step up its use of green, environmentally friendly technologies.
The local clothing store owner said that within the first month of taking office he’d like to rip out all of the metered parking spots in the village, replacing them with signs warning people they’d only get one to two hours of parking before having to move their cars.
Cohen said he’d work a part-time schedule as mayor, forsaking any pay at all whatsoever.
Four-year village trustees
Ariana Basco has lived in New Paltz for seven years. In that time, she’s worked for the New York Public Interest Research Group, gotten appointed to the town’s Police Commission and been the co-chair of the SUNY New Paltz environmental task force.
“I see myself as a real bridge builder,” Basco said, adding that she felt her time on a town commission could help her be a liaison between the town and village. “I’ve worked with the Town Board before.”
Basco thinks that the role of the village government is to maintain basic services, such as water, sewer, fire protection and keeping sidewalks up to snuff. However, she said she thought the village could be into more than just that.
“I also see it as a place where very cool things could happen,” she said.
In terms of consolidating the village and the town, Basco has her doubts about such an extreme measure and what it might do to disrupt services already provided by the village.
“I think that we all really value our services in this village,” she said. Taxpayers could benefit a lot from a town and village government that tried harder to communicate to each other.
Basco would like to see more information available online on the village’s website, but she said she felt the village government could take other steps to be transparent.
“To me it has to do with accountability and approachability,” she said, adding that she thought a lot could be done between the public and Village Board members in public -- especially with causal and frank encounters in the grocery store.
In terms of what she would do if the vote strands her without any other members of her slate, Basco joked that she was “the only person in my party.”
She’s the lone member of the Positive Party on the ballot for May 3.
However, Basco said she wanted to work with anyone who got elected to the Village Board. “I think it’s important to be approachable and accessible,” she said. “I’m really willing to listen to other people’s ideas.”
David Kip Ruger has not run for office before this year. “This is my first time running for anything,” he said.
However, the owner of Smitty’s Body Shop in New Paltz said he remembered watching the village grow. In his 26 years at the body shop, Ruger has managed to keep the shop running smoothly while keeping his employees happy.
“I would like to bring the same respect to the employees and people of New Paltz,” he added. “When it comes to personal agendas, I have none.”
Ruger said he felt he’d be a natural choice for Village Board if people were looking for someone who could work well with others.
He said he’d like to approach village government as if Village Hall were a business. “The village is a business. The people are the customers,” he said.
As far as consolidating the village and town, Ruger would like to weigh his options. “I’m not sure there’s an advantage yet,” he said.
What the candidate wouldn’t like to see is anywhere that the village has a duplication of service with the town. Those areas should be isolated and addressed, he said.
During the debate, Ruger also said he thought that transparency in village government was as easy as giving citizens a chance to speak freely during the meetings.
Technically, Ruger is running for Village Board unaided on the New Paltz Party. When asked how he would deal with being on a board made up of people with differing opinions, he said he’d listen to everyone’s point of view and try to formulate answers.
“I feel like I’m running alone,” he joked.
Sally Rhoads has sat on myriad volunteer boards in her 41 years in New Paltz. She’s been on the school board, the library board, the village-town consolidation study group, and she had a hand in the draft village noise ordinance.
For her, as a member of the One Community slate, New Paltz is just New Paltz -- a distinction that she finds important to codify.
“I do not regard New Paltz as the Town of New Paltz or the Village of New Paltz. I regard it as the community of New Paltz,” Rhoads said.
Elting Memorial Library’s renovation proved that the unified community of New Paltz could get together, work together and accomplish something larger than any petty territorial differences might imply.
By re-examining the assumption that New Paltz need always be the town and village, citizens have a chance to “design a government that works,” she said.
Having one New Paltz would cut down on having two planning boards, two zoning boards of appeal and two building departments, for instance.
Rhoads feels that the role of the village government is definitely not to micromanage affairs locally. Village officials should work with other entities and boards in the community in a cooperative manner. “The village is not an independent body,” she added.
In terms of consolidation, Rhoads said she saw a bigger disadvantage to not moving forward with joining the village and town governments.
Transparency at Village Hall should come down to what the law dictates, which right now isn’t being followed to the letter -- at least in Rhoads’ mind. It is “going the extra step to make sure your community knows.”
She’d like to see draft Village Board minutes posted two weeks after the meeting they record. She’d also like to see that Freedom of Information Law requests to the village clerk’s office function in a smooth and expedient way.
If Rhoads does not get elected with the full One Community slate, she said she will work with the other Village Board members. “I’ll give it my best shot,” she said, adding that if she disagreed with the majority opinion she would voice her dissent.
Martin Sherow, another member of the One Community Party slate, would like to see the village’s infrastructure repaired to a point where most people might even forget about it.
Cracks in the sidewalk inadvertently inspired Sherow to get interested about the village’s infrastructure and how it might be failing. For every person in town who has ever tripped over a piece of broken concrete, “you have become passionate about infrastructure at that time.”
For the most part, if a municipality is doing well at keeping up its infrastructure, nobody will ever even think to pay attention to it. The second something goes wrong, all bets are off.
He added: “You should never go through your daily lives being impassioned about infrastructure.”
Sherow said he believes that village government should act as a facilitator. Any question that villagers feel they need answered or feel concerned about should get a prompt response. After all that, with all the basic needs met, the Village Board should concern themselves with what the populace wants.
In terms of consolidating the village and town, the newcomer highlighted the positive side to things.
“How about the ability to go to one body for one issue?” Sherow said, adding that he felt many things could work better with one municipal government. “It’s basically everything we do now -- but cut in half.”
Transparency in government has a lot to do with a magic show, the candidate said. It’s a “now you see it, now you don’t” situation.
“Get rid of the ‘now you don’t’” and then you have transparency, he said.
If he gets onto the Village Board without anyone else from his party, Sherow still feels pretty confident. “I’m able to work with any one of my neighbors.”
Rick Bunt, who is a local landlord and owns a general contracting firm, would like to see the village be more mindful of finances -- especially given a situation where home values have gone down and tax rates have increased.
“Families are working harder and longer but are making less,” Bunt said, adding that he’d like to see the Village Board spend tax dollars wisely.
“For too long the political pendulum has swung too far to the left or too far to the right,” he said. Bunt added that he thought political extremes had hampered New Paltz’s ability to get by normally. “We need to have political balance on the board.”
In terms of what the village government exists for, Bunt said he felt that it should look to spend money wisely and write new laws as needed.
“But we also have the ability to create a sustainable community,” he said.
Consolidation is something that has to be considered carefully, Bunt said. It could reduce the representation for villagers and increase the influence of townies if the two governments are combined. However, it would eliminate duplication of services.
“The disadvantages, I suspect, will outweigh the advantages,” he said.
Transparency in government has to hinge on openness, however, the Village Board needs to be open up to the point where they’re not breaking the law.
Bunt said he was in favor of updating the village website so that Village Board meetings could be streamed live online.
If he’s elected to a Village Board that doesn’t give him much support, Bunt stressed how important he felt it was to listen to other people.
“You have to listen to your board, and you have to listen to the people,” he said.
Emily Crocetti, a recent graduate from SUNY New Paltz, is running for a four-year seat with the Groovy Blueberry slate. Originally she’s from Stony Brook on Long Island.
She’d like to see the village government cooperate more fully with the college campus. “I would like to bring some of that to our village.”
Crocetti bashed the village website as being woefully out of date, saying it made learning anything about the village on the part of citizens very difficult. In general, the Internet could be used as a tool to get the public much more engaged in village politics and to keep them informed.
Village government, in her opinion, should be there to hear the public’s concerns, but also to effectively spend tax dollars.
“The government is not in place to acquiesce,” she said.
Consolidation of the town and village has a lot to do with what the consolidation study group comes up with as their final result. Crocetti said she’d like that study to continue, and she’d like to see all the data before coming to a conclusion.
However, the candidate did say she thought some form of shared government would help to reduce redundancy in services and arguments between the boards.
If she’s elected to a Village Board without the support of anyone from the Groovy Blueberry Party, Crocetti said she thought she’d perform well.
“Even within our own ticket we have very different opinions,” Crocetti said. “I pride myself on being a very dynamic personality.”
Amy Cohen is married to one of this year’s mayoral candidates, but she is also the co-owner of the New Paltz-based Groovy Blueberry clothing store.
She said that the state of village politics has worried her for years. “I’m scared. I’m upset. I’m worried,” Cohen said.
The candidate said she’d like to make Village Hall a completely open public forum. “On my board, I will listen to you,” she said, adding that the board should always seek public input.
In terms of what she sees as the village government’s responsibility, Cohen said she’d thought it should be to keep track of day-to-day operations. “But that all needs to be managed appropriately,” she said.
Village Board members need to make sure they give pay raises and spend money in a consistent and logical manner, she added.
Cohen framed the possible consolidation of the town and the village in one way: “We really need money.”
She said she’d like to see more cooperation and shared employees between the town and the village. “Why can’t we take everything you have?” she said of the town.
Amy Cohen would like to see backroom deals come to an end in Village Hall. “Anything that’s going on in your village government you can find out about,” she said. “I don’t need secrets.”
If she can’t get elected with the rest of the Groovy Blueberries, Cohen said she’d be a team player.
“I don’t need to be your leader,” she said. “I can be your listener.”
Cohen added that the Village Board should lean on the skills of all of its component members. “It takes a village to do anything great.”
Two-year village trustees
All the way to the right side of the ballot will be one last box -- a box to determine the fate of a Village Board seat once held by the appointee Robert Feldman. Unlike the rest of the village seats of power, this term only lasts for two years.
Out of the 13 people vying for control of the Village of New Paltz, only two souls went for the two-year term. One of them is an incumbent -- Shari Osborn -- and the other is a well-known local businessman and lawyer, Stewart Glenn.
Osborn, who is currently serving on the Village Board, first started out in New Paltz by working for Historic Huguenot Street. Most recently, she’s worked for the Samuel Morse house museum in Locust Grove and she is a substitute teacher with the New Paltz Central School District.
As far as issues facing the village, Osborn said she’d thought the proposed noise ordinance was important. “I think we’ve finally come to the point that the nuisance premise clause is the way we’ll likely be going.”
That update to the law would allow cops to have a law they could enforce, while at the same time appeasing many critics of the current draft law.
Osborn also pointed to the Village Board’s zero percent increase budget, which they approved just recently.
The incumbent said she thought the village government’s role had to do with keeping up basic services like water, sewer and fire protection. However, one big thing other people left out is what connections can do.
Village Board members should make sure that they have a strong connection with SUNY New Paltz, the town, the public schools and other groups, she said.
Osborn also has an up-front seat for the consolidation study -- she’s a member of the committee. Some of the real problems with consolidation come down to the feel of New Paltz, which “is something that people are afraid to lose.”
In terms of transparency, Osborn pointed to recent developments at Village Hall, including the fact that village Planning Board meetings are now filmed for public access.
“Our board meetings will be available online for the first time,” she added.
If elected into a Village Board composed of competing interests, Osborn pointed to her experience as a volunteer on other boards. If she doesn’t agree with a board decision, she’s bound to let people know.
“It’s really very important to have an open mind,” she said.
Stewart Glenn, a member of the One Community Party, has lived in New Paltz for most of his life. “I grew up here, went to school here -- and I love the place,” he said.
As a lawyer, Glenn has often worked for or consulted municipal governments -- a qualification he believes will give him an extra edge on the Village Board.
Glenn said the village needs to take a serious look at new options for cost savings. “We have a problem due to tough economic times,” he said.
Along with other members of the One Community slate, Glenn would like to see the village and town governments restructured -- specifically, he’d like to see a system of government that ends the historical animosity between the boards.
“We have to have the courage and the will to make positive change,” he said.
Village government is supposed to keep basic services for citizens up and running. Village Board members need to keep the balance between taxpayers’ means and budget realities in mind.
“We don’t have much money and it’s getting more difficult every day,” he said.
While Glenn is a staunch advocate of consolidation, he did admit there’d be one big drawback. “I think the downside of the consolidation is that it takes a lot of work,” he said.
Budget hearings this year at the Village Board seemed to be closed off to the public. Glenn said he wanted to push for a board that would make every budget discussion transparent and open to the public.
Glenn also said he’d like to see the audio quality of meetings recorded for public access get a boost.
No matter who gets elected, the lawyer thinks he’d behave the same way. He also said he’d be likely to treat other Village Board members with respect -- even if his full slate didn’t make the cut. “I’d have no trouble doing that because that’s what’s expected of me.”
When and where to vote
The village board election will be held on Tuesday, May 3 from noon to 9 p.m. at the New Paltz firehouse.