On Jan. 9, nine members of the New Paltz Democratic Committee resigned due to alleged age discrimination towards senior citizens.
According to Jane Schanberg, former vice chairwoman and spokesperson for the nine, they believe the committee has not been welcoming of older members and have created an environment where some voices are not heard.
Alongside Schanberg, the members to resign included Chairman Josh Honig, Ray Miller, Lawrence Badendyck, Amy Cohen, Terry Dungan, Randy Kitzmann, Maggie Veve and L. Pearl Lee.
“The main reason nine elected members severed their relationships with the New Paltz Democratic Committee was a sustained campaign of age discrimination, incivility and bias,” Schanberg said. “We stand against all discrimination based on age, race, gender orientation or body image. We feel the New Paltz Democratic Committee should not support any type of bias.”
The allegations of age discrimination date back to 2017 when, during Schanberg’s first meeting with the Committee, a member “essentially complained that everyone on the Committee was old.”
Schanberg states that at that time, and several times since, she objected to the ageism but saw no results as the discrimination continued.
According to the Committee website, a resident can become a member by first applying to the Committee, who then interview them. The Committee chooses who will go on to be a candidate and candidates are elected into the Committee by public petition.
Over the past six months, according to Schanberg, “seniors were not sought as candidates by the group that is left over on the Committee.” Schanberg defines senior citizens as anyone over the age of 65.
Schanberg finishes with a statement to SUNY New Paltz students: “If any students encounter any kind of discrimination, we stand with them and hope they will have the courage to make it known. We want New Paltz to be a discrimination-free community. Sadly, it is not — yet!”
Tricia Bowen, the current president for the Committee, refutes these allegiations of age discrimination.
“The New Paltz Democratic committee is a welcoming and inclusive environment,” Bowen said. “We are the party of inclusion. Diversity is not our problem, it is our promise.”
According to Bowen, in the three years she has been a member of the Committee, there has not been anyone over the age of 60 applying to be a member.
Following the resignation of the nine members, the Committee looks to the future:
“We are moving in a more positive direction, engaging those who felt left out and alienated by the old Committee, and bringing new voices to the table,” Bowen said. “In the last month we have received over a dozen requests for membership, with a range of ages and backgrounds. We plan to use this new opportunity to move forward and broaden committee participation and conversations. Part of broadening participation is being mindful of how we show up and how we use our power.”
With many spots on the Committee now open, they encourage students and community members alike to apply for membership spots.
“We welcome the opportunity to have conversations with a diverse group of Democrats,” Bowen said. “2020 is the most important election in the history of this country, and we’re stronger when all voices are heard.”