Elections for the New Paltz Village Board won’t be held until May 2, but one candidate has already made their presence known. Kathleen “KT” Tobin, ‘08, is the Associate Director of the Benjamin Center, as well as a member of the Village of New Paltz’s Affordable Housing Board. Our Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor sat down with her to discuss issues currently facing the village as well as her ideas to improve the community.
JO: Why are you running for Village Trustee?
KT: I woke up the morning after the [presidential] election and I knew it was time. I’ve been a resident of the New Paltz area since 1990, when I came here to go to school. I served on the school board from 2009 to 2012, so I have experience running for office. Last year, I finally finished my PhD and I said I wasn’t going to run or volunteer for anything else until I finished it. After the election, I felt really motivated and the timing was right. I’m on the Village’s Affordable Housing Board and I was the Public Information Officer for the Emergency Preparedness Committee, which is a town-village [function]. I think local government is going to be a really big player during the next four years. I think local government has to have people’s backs with the policies that are coming out of D.C. My activism roots go back to being an environmentalist and my great concerns about climate change, things like land-use and planning and zoning come into play with that. My focus is how are we going to create a New Paltz that can adjust to this new world, not with a vision for the next couple of years, but a vision for the next 50 years?
MZ: So are human rights, protecting people from what comes out of D.C. and environmental issues the major concerns for you?
KT: Yes, but I wouldn’t just say environmental issues. I don’t even walk around saying ‘I’m an environmentalist’ anymore. I subscribe to the triple bottom line perspective, which is decision-making that looks through an environmental lense, an equality and social justice lense and an economic lense. Everything needs to be good for all three of those. Instead of saying ‘environment first’ or ‘economy first,’ it’s everything that is good for the environment, good for the people and good for the economy. Since I got into environmentalism, the language has sort of changed to ‘sustainability’ which is more of what the triple bottom line philosophy is about. Not all this, ‘one thing or another,’ but rather this vision that if something is good, it’s good for all three of those.
JO: You mentioned earlier that local governments have to step up under the Trump administration and what’s happening nationally. What ideas do you think the local government hasn’t already adopted that you’d like to see happen in order to protect citizens regardless of what happens at the national level?
KT: I wish I had a crystal ball, right? Take affordable housing and just housing in general. I think that people who are already vulnerable and at risk now are going to be more vulnerable and at risk under the Trump administration. We need to make sure that we have affordable and safe communities. With the housing stock, I’m on the board and there’s a recent affordable housing law in the village that makes it so certain-sized developments have to designate 10 percent of their property as affordable housing. I’m also very supportive of the mayor’s revitalization of the Tenant-Landlord Relations Council and making sure all of the seats are full. Student housing was an issue when I moved here, it still is, so I personally lived it and know what it’s like. When I talk to both landlords and students, it sounds like not much has changed. My perspective is that for the most part, the majority of landlords are a-OK and the majority of students are a-OK. But there are those cases where people do not have the best behavior and it clouds the whole issue, I hear stories sometimes that blow my mind. Hopefully, I am going to be on the Village Board and [luckily] it’s already on the Mayor’s and the board’s agendas. They’re paying attention to it and keeping it on our radar because student housing is not going to go away as an issue in the village.
MZ: As far as [refugee issues], do you have any specific initiatives you’d like to pass?
KT: What we’re trying to do now is getting other communities to pass resolutions like the one New Paltz passed. There were people from Gardiner, people from Kingston, that were putting together a packet that has the resolution and supporting documentation because at this point due to federal rollbacks, it doesn’t look like we’re going to be getting any more refugees any time soon. The role of [Mid Hudson Refugee Solidarity Alliance] has moved from helping refugees, placing them once they get here, towards how do we communicate with our governments that we are open to having refugees. I’m not optimistic, but we also want to persuade the federal government to open up our borders to refugees. I don’t know what the governor has said but I’d think he’s more in line with our thinking.
JO: When you see a case like Joel Guerrero’s, how does that affect you when the town has made a proclamation [as a sanctuary city] and someone can still face deportation? What can the village do, or what can you do as a leader to address that?
KT: Sanctuary cities are the kind of policy where if you have already instituted it, you don’t need to say that you are doing it. So the town didn’t actually pass anything, it’s already not something that our cops do. [Our cops] don’t go out of their way to deport people. Because people are targets, we wanted to communicate that they can be safe. There is so much about this deportation issue that we don’t know yet. My understanding with the Joel Guerrero case is that people are going in for their ICE check-ins in good faith, because maybe they had misdemeanor charges in the past, and the Obama administration was not deporting people. The Trump administration is looking to deport people. I’m concerned because people of good faith that would normally go for their check-ins are now disincentivized to do so, which then gives ICE a reason to set-up against them. These people are scared, they might think that if they show up they will get turned in. These are people like Joel, who is married and works and people who know him say he is a great guy. My question is why would we want to tear apart families like that? It’s just bad policy for the federal government to do something one way and not give anyone warning that it is going to be done differently.
JO: Do you have any plans to better the relationship of SUNY and the village, and to encourage students to get involved with local politics?
KT: I can only speak for myself as an individual not on behalf of some entity I work for. I teach engagement, political and social. In communities, I want people and students to get more involved. We have a long legacy of students involved, it’s a small subset, but because of this past election we will see students get more involved. The last few village meetings I’ve been to there have been students there and that’s great. If you are registered to vote on campus or community, get involved whether you are going to stay long-term or not. People have come before us that voted for student rights and having students recognized as valid voters in the town and village. I can’t imagine this community without SUNY New Paltz. Students have a legal right to be engaged, and they should be, just like every other person who lives in our borders.