On Tuesday Sept. 8, Neil Bettez won the Democratic Party’s caucus for the position of New Paltz town supervisor. Bettez defeated Deputy Town Supervisor Jeff Logan and former Deputy Inspector General for Frauds Robert Gabrielli.
Bettez finished with 166 votes, accounting for approximately 65 percent of the vote. Logan finished with 56 votes and Gabrielli finished with 17.
“I was thrilled to win. We weren’t the chosen ones of the party going into it. A caucus is hard, it’s typically filled with party loyalists,” Bettez said. “As an outsider, for all of the positives it entails, it can still be a challenge. We reached out to a lot of voters over the Labor Day weekend and we were waiting until the last vote was counted. I’ve had plenty of people who say they are now united behind my candidacy because I am the nominee.”
Logan did not respond to requests for comment.
In the lead-up to the caucus, several members of the town’s political community were critical of the decision to hold a caucus instead of a primary. Since there are no absentee ballots allowed in a caucus and voters must stay around until the end to vote, some saw the process as unfair to the average voter, particularly elderly people, college students and working people.
“Personally, I prefer the idea of a primary over a caucus,” Bettez said. “Caucuses cut people out of the political process. We should be focusing on getting everyone to participate.”
There was a moment of controversy at the caucus when Democratic chairman Josh Honig announced that the candidates would have their political affiliations presented on the chalkboard in the front of the auditorium. Some thought the motion was being used to expose non-registered Democratic candidates. Others argued that registered Democrats deserved to know who the registered Democratic candidates were.
After a series of back and forth arguments and motions, Honig ultimately decided to allow candidates to identify themselves as they pleased to the audience. Several candidates took the opportunity to identify themselves as the evening progressed.
“I disagreed with the chairman’s decision to list the candidates’ affiliations. Having said that, I am a proud member of the Working Families Party,” Bettez said. “I think the Working Families Party exists to make Democrats act like Democrats. I’ve always supported Democrats and I am proud to be the Democratic nominee.”
The only other contested election at the caucus was for two positions on the town board. The election was between current interim board member Marty Irwin and challengers Julie Seyfert Lillis and Ray Lunati. Of the three candidates running, only the top two would be the Democratic nominees. In the end, Irwin and Lillis emerged as the victors.
Currently, the only other candidate running on an opposing party line is Gabrielli, who has vowed to continue on in the race. Though not registered in a political party, Gabrielli has achieved a spot on the Reform, Independence and Republican lines for the general election.
“Ultimately, I believe people will choose who they want regardless of politics,” Gabrielli said. “I have faith in people voting on merit, not party affiliation. I want people in town to realize that politics don’t have to be like this. It doesn’t have to be blood-sport and personal and so vitriolic.”
Bettez is optimistic that he has cleared the largest hurdle on his way to winning the general election.
“The Democratic nominee historically has won several of the past elections in New Paltz,” Bettez said. “Our plan is to continue to get out there and talk to people. We’re planning a voter outreach event, we might hold a fundraiser and I’m not opposed to having some kind of a forum with Mr. Gabrielli.”