New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet has accepted a new job as the executive director of the Albany-based Hunger Action Network of New York State (HANNY), but will not be stepping down as supervisor despite public outcry from some demanding she do so, following an insensitive comment Zimet made at a town board meeting on Jan. 15.
The Hunger Action Network is a statewide membership organization of emergency food providers, advocates, faith groups and low-income New Yorkers whose goal is to end hunger and its root causes — including poverty — in New York, according to a press release. Zimet said she was first introduced to the organization seven years ago through New Paltz activist Michelle Riddell while working on a project to protect overseas soldiers from harmful exposure to depleted uranium during her time as an Ulster County legislator before her current term as town supervisor.
“It was on that phone call that Michelle first said ‘they need you!’ Michelle then proceeded to talk to me about the growing hunger crisis — an issue that was already of great concern to me — constantly saying that the cause needed me,” Zimet said. “Now, years later, the longstanding Executive Director of HANNY, Mark Dunlea, wanted to move on to work on climate change. And so the search for a new executive director began. I was called and asked to apply. I went through a process of interviews along with others and was offered the position.”
Zimet said she has been working sporadically with HANNY the past few weeks but only officially started last week. She said she is not worried about having difficulty balancing the responsibilities of both this job and the town supervisor position simultaneously; in fact, she said, there is the potential for beneficial overlap.
“Interestingly, the HANNY job has already opened doors for the town. Through this job I have access to very high-level state commissioners. In a recent meeting with the Governor’s Budget Director on budget issues relative to HANNY’s, we had conversations that impact the town. I brought up the need for Industrial Development Agency (IDA) reform and learned about plans in the works for just that,” Zimet said. “I was able to lend my strong support for the areas that would make a major difference on the impact of IDAs in the town.”
Zimet said that the need to travel to Albany for the new job will vary depending on the time of year and that any absence from New Paltz will not affect nor create additional work for town hall staff members.
“Right now is a critical time while the Legislature is in session and the state budget is being worked on. Advocating [as part of HANNY] to make sure that the budget allocates resources to address the issue of hunger adequately is of top priority,” Zimet said.
Zimet said taking the job will be “a good move for me,” allowing her to distance herself from the “negative noise overtaking civility” that has developed during her time as town supervisor. However, others have chastised Zimet taking on the new role.
Butch Dener, long-time political opponent of Zimet, said, “She can’t serve two masters — she’s barely able to do the job now, and what she’s done has been bad.”
“The same people who criticize me [for my words and actions] are the same ones who criticize me day, noon and night. Their attacks are personal, not political. This has been going on for as long as I’ve been supervisor,” she said. “You hear much of the negative appeals, but there are just as many who have come to me in support as well.”