Candidates Debate Village Issues

Dwindling volunteerism was one of the topics discussed at the forum at Woodland Pond.

Thirteen candidates for New Paltz’s village board gathered Monday, ready to combat what some called the lowest volunteer rates the areas has faced in decades.

“If you don’t have people that are willing to volunteer their time in a village of 5,000 to 7,000 people, it’s disgusting,” said mayoral candidate Jonathan Cohen to a room of about 100 people. “I believe in volunteerism. I believe that is what’s going to save our village.”

Dwindling volunteerism was one of several topics discussed at the Woodland Pond Candidates’ Forum, the first of several village mayoral and trustee debates planned before Election Day on May 3.

Panelists included mayoral candidates Jonathan Cohen, Jean Gallucci, Pete Healey and Jason West, as well as trustee candidates Ariana Basco, Rick Bunt, Amy Cohen, Emily Crocetti, Stewart Glenn, Sally Rhoads, Kip Ruger, Martin Sherow and Shari Osborn.

If elected mayor, Cohen said he plans to fix poor relationships made between the current village board and members of volunteer groups such as the New Paltz Fire Department. To avoid issues caused by spending, he said he would not accept a single penny of the mayor’s salary.

“I am not a career politician,” Cohen said. “I have a business and believe being mayor is a part-time position. Why should I take $40,000 of the village’s money?”

However, other candidates said a part-time mayor would not be able to serve the community adequately.

Former mayor West said, if elected, he would treat the position as nothing less than a full-time job.

“It requires that much work to not only get the basics done…but to do the research, have the meetings and build the organizations and networks to meet the challenges that we’re going to face in the years ahead,” West said.

Amos Sunshine, a village resident for 56 years, said who he votes for will hinge on which candidate can bring about the unity that the village and town have been sorely lacking.

Rather than dealing with serious issues faced by the community, Sunshine said he has noticed power struggles between members of government.

When mayoral candidate Healey arrived in New Paltz 30 years ago to attend SUNY New Paltz, he said he didn’t differentiate between the town and village because it wasn’t something he thought had any effect on him.

But with bickering now crippling the working relationship between board members, Healey said the issue has reached a breaking point.

“The requirements of the new period we’re coming into are to rationalize and simplify government and thereby make it more effective and make it closer to the people,” Healey said. “At one table with one government, maybe there will be twice as many fights. But at the end of the night there will be a resolution.”

Trustee candidate Bunt said over the past decade, taxes in the village have doubled and housing values have dropped. He said this has made living in New Paltz unaffordable for longtime members of the community.

Bunt said his platform focuses on bringing political balance to the village board, as well as finding ways to solve the financial unrest.

“For too long the political pendulum has swung either too far to the right or too far to the left,” Bunt said. “We must look to have balance on the board and strive to develop a sustainable future for our entire community. We need to seek out intelligent solutions to our problems, rather than expensive reactionary laws.”

The next debate between candidates will be held on Friday, April 15 from 7 to 10 p.m. at SlashRoot and will be moderated by SUNY New Paltz alumnus Justin Holmes.