Village Trustee Forum Raises Tension Between Candidates

Photo courtesy of Tim Rogers.

Vested interests, contentious conversation and opposing arguments surround the ongoing New Paltz Village Trustee race. 

On Monday, April 17, NYPIRG hosted a forum for New Paltz Village Board Trustee candidates at the New Paltz Community Center. The candidates, KT Tobin, associate director of the Benjamin Center, Rebecca Rotzler, current Village Trustee, William Murray, member of the Village Planning Board, Galo Vasquez, fourth-year education in physics major, and Celeste Tesoriero, local tenant attorney, were all present. 

Early on, Vasquez and Tesoriero informed the audience they are running together. The forum was memorable, and although it proved informative for voters on relevant topics, it consisted of many barbs from Tesoriero to her opponents and New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers. 

Moderated by Michael Tierney a fourth-year, the candidates were presented two predetermined questions in an atypical fashion, as well as subsequent questions from the audience. The first question asked: How long have you been here, and how have you contributed to the spirit of New Paltz?

Murray, who has been a resident of New Paltz for 14 years, emphasized that his role as a volunteer firefighter allows him to contribute to the community in a meaningful way, while simultaneously offering a new vantage point on the unique character of the village. 

In conjunction with her opening statement, Tesoriero drew attention to statistics representing that “90 percent of families in New Paltz earn under $100,000 a year.”

“I don’t know how much these people make,” Tesoriero said, referring to her opponents. “I can tell by the houses that they live in that they are definitely making a lot more than 90 percent of the village, so they don’t understand what these people are going through.” 

She reasserted herself and Vasquez as champions for renters in the area, pointing to Tobin as an example of a wealthy, disconnected individual who works in the interests of landlords. 

After Tesoriero characterized past boards as “rich white people,” Rotzler, during her response, noted that she is Native American, that her tax returns show she made under $34,000 last year and that she has been a renter since she moved to the area in 1991, paying $995 per month. 

 Following her acknowledgment of Teserio’s comment, Rotzler illuminated her appreciation for the “celebratory nature” of the village, in regards to her participation with student groups and events she has helped organize such as University Day at Hasbrouck Park. 

Rotzler mentioned that she spearheaded the effort to close down some village streets for Recruit New York, an event sponsored by the State, which was a “huge success” that she intends to repeat next year. 

The second question asked candidates to imagine a situation where they would be proposing a budget item, resolution or law that would benefit their constituents broadly, but was met with vocal opposition. 

“Rebecca is right, she is a renter, yes. If you don’t vote for me and Galo for whatever reason, probably vote for her,” Tesoriero said, redirecting the conversation. 

Afterwards, Tesoriero claimed that Tobin “lives in a half- million dollar house and is the richest person up here.”

“My state employee salary is on the internet,” Tobin responded during her closing statement. “Spoiler alert it’s not $200,000 or $100,000. Until my significant other just recently moved in, as a single mother of three I qualified for affordable housing. I work a full-time and part-time job to pay for my mortgage. It is very presumptuous to say I don’t understand what financial challenges are like.”

Vasquez, Tobin, Murray and Rotzler posed similar answers, emphasizing the importance of mutual understanding, listening and patience among constituents and politicians during a voting process of policy that affects the entire community. 

“My policy is to always always listen,” Tobin said. “When people come to a meeting to voice their opinion, it’s the elected leader’s responsibility to listen.”

Tobin drew attention to the fact that although she hopes for a presence of mutual respect in these situations, that is not always the case. 

The candidates expressed mixed reactions when asked their opinions on the possibility of a consolidation plan for of the Town of New Paltz and the village.

Murray, Rotzler and Tobin discussed the benefit of shared services between the two entities, and how the village itself qualifies for funding the town does not. 

“I think it is important that there is community input in the decision of this,” Murray said. “The village has a personality that may be lost through consolidation.” 

Towards the end of the discussion, Tesoriero highlighted the proposed Tenant Protection Act, which she said she had worked for months, but lacked Roger’s final vote to pass. 

Rogers said the Village Board looked at Tesoriero’s draft, then had the village attorney weigh-in on the matter, before allowing Tereserio to present the law formally to the board at a meeting on Feb. 22. 

“She presented it in an exasperated fashion,” Rogers said. “The draft is in the hands of the Landlord-Tenant Counsel currently, because we do want to see which of the better ideas in there can be worked into current policy.” 

Former New Paltz Village Mayor Jason West had originally formed the Landlord-Tenant Relation Counsel during his term. After it began to dissolve, the current village administration took an active roll in reviving it to the size it is today.

Following the forum, The Oracle issued an informal online poll via Facebook, asking constituents to pick their top two candidates. This was not a scientific poll, and is solely based off of online voter participation. The results were as followed, represented by percentage showing how many votes each candidate received from the votes cast: 

KT Tobin: 79.5 percent 

Rebecca Rotzler: 59 percent 

Bill Murray: 33.3 percent 

Galo Vasquez: 20.5 percent

Celeste Tesoriero: 7.7 percent