There’s been plenty of talk about Susan Zimet the politician, but Susan Zimet never wanted to be a politician. She never wanted to be supervisor for the town of New Paltz. She never even wanted to be an Ulster County legislator.
Instead, she wanted to play for the New York Yankees.
“When I was a little girl, I never dreamed of being the first female town supervisor in New Paltz’s history,” Zimet said. “I dreamed of being the first woman in major league baseball. My father had box seats at Yankee Stadium and I always wanted to have my name called and run out on to the infield to play ball.”
Zimet was not raised in an overly political family growing up. Her grandfather was involved in the New York Democratic scene, but neither of her parents’ expressed any outright political affiliation. It was during her time at SUNY Buffalo that Zimet remembered getting involved in politics, writing against the Vietnam War. During the 1972 campaign, she phone-banked for the Democratic nominee, Senator George McGovern.
For the span of time until she became supervisor, Zimet worked in media. She had aspirations to create a children’s cooking television show. The project advanced through meetings with Emmy-winning producers and studio executives, many excited about the concept. Just before she decided to run for supervisor, she was told her show was given the green-light to air.
“I gave up my life to be supervisor,” Zimet said. “I knew in this office I could still help children, which has always been my life’s goal.”
A self-proclaimed feminist, Zimet has always held herself to higher standards for the women she has inspired. When she was first elected as town supervisor in 1996, a woman approached her at the post-election reception to thank her for what she did for every girl in New Paltz. Now as she works toward 2020, the centennial anniversary of women earning the right to vote, Zimet acknowledges her influence on women.
“I have the ability to inspire women and I want to empower young women,” Zimet said. “But what is amazing to me is that in the year 2015, a woman leader still gets treated differently than a man does in politics. There’s still a lot of misogyny toward strong women, even in a place like New Paltz.”
Everyone in town has an opinion of Susan Zimet. Whether that’s good or bad depends on who you ask. As 2015 comes to a close so does Zimet’s tenure as New Paltz town supervisor, the post she has held since 2011. Zimet was first elected as town supervisor in 1996, serving until 2000. From 2003 to 2011, Zimet served in the Ulster County legislature, representing New Paltz. Now, after two elections that have been viewed as generational shifts in New Paltz, Zimet prepares to leave for the next steps in her life.
“I had no problem walking away from the job, it was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever had to make” Zimet said. “This job has taken a toll on me, both physically and mentally. Everyone has their time and it was time for me to move on.”
Zimet has mixed views on her time in office as she does with the decision to enter politics in the first place. What initially got her involved in town government was her passionate and successful opposition to two proposed Wal-Mart projects in New Paltz and Lloyd. Now at the end of her term, Zimet is open about her accomplishments in the face of sizable criticism.
“My accomplishments are pretty dramatic,” Zimet said. “Without me, New Paltz would not be what it is today. I’m as proud as can be for the accomplishments I have achieved. I think people know what we’ve done.”
Reflecting on the changing dynamics of politics in New Paltz, Zimet commented that governing in the early 2010s was far more difficult than in the late 1990s. Whereas she was the fresh progressive voice in the late 1990s, she commented that some who share her ideals have forgotten her actions and the battles she has fought for.
“The current rhetoric is nastier and social media has given those that have criticized me the ability to organize,” Zimet said. “They have shut down good government as we know it. The public doesn’t want to engage in civic dialogue for fear of being attacked.”
Pivoting to her major accomplishments, Zimet cited her work to lower taxes in New Paltz and her appointment of Jean Gallucci as town comptroller as the one she’s the most proud of. On that list, she also included how she addressed the looming water crisis by facilitating a backup water option for the town from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.
Zimet is not worried about her future. Earlier this year, she was appointed the executive director of the Hunger Action Network (HAN). Her lobbying work allows her to still focus on the less fortunate and the children she aims to care for. She also has a book deal with Random House due for publication in 2016. The book is aimed toward a young adults and discusses the women’s suffrage movement.
“I would never say never about serving in public office again, but for now I’m taking a break from politics,” Zimet said. “I am good at what I do, I’m good at policy. I was even approached this year with state party leaders about the possibility of running for the vacant congressional seat. But I’m happy with my work in Albany with HAN.”