Incumbent Town Supervisor Susan Zimet announced in June that she would not be seeking reelection, citing a “difficult political environment” in New Paltz. Now as the town supervisor elections nears, three declared candidates have begun publicly campaigning for the position.
Neil Bettez, an ecologist working for the Cary Institute in Millbrook and a visiting professor at Bard College, is seeking the Democratic nomination for town supervisor.
Jeff Logan, the current deputy supervisor, is also running for the Democratic nomination. He was recently endorsed by the New Paltz Democratic Committee by an 11-1 vote.
The third candidate, Robert Gabrielli, is already on the Independence Party line and is seeking the Republican nomination.
Bettez said in an interview this past weekend that his experience as a research scientist gives him an outsider’s perspective to politics, but also gives him a distinct advantage in the race.
“My work requires looking at a lot of data and analyzing it to make a decision,” Bettez said. “And I think that the position of town supervisor requires that same thought process.”
Of the numerous issues to address in this race, perhaps none are as dominant as the ongoing water crisis. The town and village are preparing for the maintenance shutdown of the Catskill Aqueduct in 2017 and 2018. The proposed solution from officials in New Paltz has been to create a new water district, Water District #5, at 101 Plains Road.
This project, subsidized by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, (DEP), would provide ample water supplies to the town and village. The plan has been vigorously opposed by residents living on Plains Road, who see it as interfering with their personal drinking wells. These objections come despite assurances from DEP that they will be provided with less expensive drinking water throughout the duration of the project.
Bettez said he is in favor of the creation of Water District #5, and Logan has expressed support for the plan in public town meetings.
In light of the controversies regarding the proposed Park Point project and the PILOT lawsuit with the development company Wilmorite, Bettez has suggested that the town and the village update their master plan for zoning, as it has not been updated in almost 20 years.
“Having an old plan is like having no plan,” Bettez said.
Town Councilman Dan Torres is supporting Bettez, citing his unique opportunity as an outsider to town politics.
“The future culture of our government is at stake,” Torres said. “We are at a turning point. You don’t bring personality to policy as an outsider.”
In the lead up to the caucus, Torres has been critical of the Democratic Committee’s decision to continue with a caucus instead of trying a primary system.
“Caucus is a terrible way to elect someone,” Torres said. “It disenfranchises so many people, and absentee ballots are not allowed for it.”
When asked for comment, former New Paltz Republican Committee Chairman Butch Dener said that he has “no horse in the race,” and was disappointed with the options for town supervisor.
“My heart is not in it,” Dener said. “No one is speaking for me. The progressives look like they’re best prepared to win this year. They’re smart, they’re organized and they have the opportunity to take the caucus.”
Dener echoed Torres’ comments about the benefits of holding a primary instead of a caucus, mentioning how the Republican caucus is taking place on a Saturday at 2 p.m.
“Most people can’t make it to a caucus, they can’t take the time off to,” Dener said. “I think they would’ve had a better turnout with a primary.”
New Paltz Democratic Committee Chairman Josh Honig said that it is important that voters know who they are voting for.
“It’s not a popularity contest,” Honig said. “You’re hiring a decision-maker. We need to put forward candidates that have the best knowledge and skills to protect the town of New Paltz. It’s not the time for single-issue candidates. It’s the time for those who have knowledge of the nut-and-bolt issues of running a town.”
Bettez, a registered member of the Working Families Party, said that if he does not win the Democratic caucus that he will continue to run on his own “New Paltz First” party line.
The Democratic caucus will be held on Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. at New Paltz High School.