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Suddenly Susan

The New Paltz Democratic Committee endorses Zimet as its candidate for supervisor

by Erin Quinn
August 18, 2011 11:27 AM | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo of Susan Zimet by Lauren Thomas.
Photo of Susan Zimet by Lauren Thomas.
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Former New Paltz town supervisor and current county legislator, Susan Zimet (D-New Paltz), announced that she is entering the race to regain her former post. Zimet had already received the Democratic nomination for the newly created Ulster County Legislative District 17 -- potentially putting her up for two races.

“My decision to run for town supervisor did not come easily,” said Zimet, who added that she’s been “urged to run again” every election since she lost to former Supervisor Carol Roper in 1999.

“However,” she said, “this year there was more urgency and desperation in people’s request. I started to see if people were as unhappy as I was being told. I met with many people, even those that I considered supporters of the current supervisor. I was told that it was time for a change, that there were serious problems with the management of the town, as well as its finances.

“Two weeks ago, Kevin Barry met with me to talk about running for Town Board and why I needed to run for supervisor. We spoke at length about the problems the community was facing and how to provide solutions. We shared our ideas and it was incredibly exciting because we both understood the work that needed to be done and how to get there.”

Barry and Zimet were part of a vocal group against the proposed $50 million New Paltz Middle School renovation and expansion bond, which was eventually voted down by a more-than 2-to-1 margin.

“Kevin Barry’s willingness to serve on the Town Board was a major factor in my decision to run for the position of New Paltz Supervisor,” said Zimet. “Kevin is incredibly bright with wonderful ideas that will serve the community well. He has a great grasp on finances and how to build a project to be cost neutral for the community. He is dedicated to his children and assuring that the town is a safe place to raise his family. He has a good relationship with Jeff Logan and I am sure he and Kitty will be able to work cooperatively on many issues that will be in front of the board. We are firming up the third member of the ticket and will provide that information shortly.”

The New Paltz Democratic Committee endorsed Zimet as their candidate for supervisor on Aug. 11 and not the current, three-term Democratic Supervisor Toni Hokanson, who had asked for their backing, but did not receive it.

Hokanson said that she sent out a “letter to all of the members of the Democratic Committee seeking their endorsement,” but that she did not “receive the courtesy of a response, or an interview or even a phone call.”

She was not present at the meeting when the Democratic Committee made their endorsements. “I was at the Police Commission meeting, doing the job I was elected to do and not playing party politics. This is about New Paltz, not party politics.”

Despite the brush-off from the Democratic Committee, Hokanson said that she will still be seeking the Democratic nomination from party members at large during the Aug. 23 caucus. She said that she already sought the Working Families endorsement and received it, as well as reaching out for the Republican endorsement.

“They endorsed me two years ago and frankly have treated me better than the New Paltz Democratic Committee,” the incumbent explained.

“In the last town election, the Town Board candidates were all endorsed by the Republican Committee. One of the greatest problems in government is the gridlock of the political parties. On a local level we are a more defined community with shared need,” Zimet said.

Hokanson said that she was not “surprised” to learn that Zimet had thrown her hat into the ring.

“Susan has publicly considered running every year that I’ve been in office -- and even before I was in office,” Hokanson said. “I think that if being supervisor is what she really wanted to do, then she should not have sought the Democratic endorsement, the Independent endorsement or the Working Families endorsement for county legislator.”

Hokanson is not alone in her thinking when it comes to Zimet’s being nominated for two different political seats by the local Democratic Committee -- one for County Legislator, a post she’s held for eight years, and a second for town supervisor.

Steve Greenfield, a former New Paltz school board member and an independent candidate for the District 17 county legislator seat, has publicly called for Zimet to step down from the county race now that she’s announced her intentions to run for supervisor.

“Let’s put a stop to the shenanigans,” Greenfield said. “There are two candidates in this race who actually want to serve District 17 as their county legislator, rather than treating it as a fallback position in case their real interest doesn’t pan out,” he said, referring to himself and Esopus Republican candidate Les Kalmus. “That’s the kind of legislator the citizens of this district, and every district, want and deserve. Ms. Zimet must do the fair and honorable thing, and resign from the county legislature race immediately.”

Zimet said that she is committed to the county legislator race “unless I’m nominated at the caucus. Then I have to pull out [of the county race] within three days,” she said. “The committee on vacancies will take recommendations from the New Paltz Democratic Committee as to who’d they’d like to put in to run for my seat.”

Ray Lunati, a registered Republican who announced that he’d be running this November for the supervisor’s seat, said that he would be seeking the Republican endorsement at their caucus on Sept. 7.

“I thought about interviewing with the Democratic chair and committee. It appears that Susan Zimet is seeking the Democratic endorsement at the caucus for supervisor, and I applaud her for that. I plan to attend,” he said.

According to Zimet, the local Democratic Committee decided that they would not endorse any non-Democrats for the upcoming November elections. Although there are a plethora of highway superintendent candidates, they went with former, long-time superintendent of highways, Phil Johnson, a Democrat. He lost his party’s nomination at the caucus to newcomer Mike Nielson, the current superintendent of highways.

The Democratic Committee also endorsed incumbent Jim Bacon for town justice and Rosanna Mazzaccari for town clerk.

Current Town Clerk Marian Cappillino has said that she won’t be seeking another term and Mazzaccari is one of her deputy clerks.

Two Democrats, one caucus

Although New Paltz has had some surprise winners in the past – Jason West, a young Green Party member who won the village mayor seat twice; Jeff Logan, the Town board member, who ran as a write-in candidate; Brian Kimbiz, a then-SUNY New Paltz student, who ran for trustee via a Facebook campaign; Carol Roper, a Democrat, who ran against Zimet and won on the Republican line -- for the past decade and a half, the Democratic endorsement for a town seat virtually always results in victory.

It used to be said that a “dead Republican” could get elected in New Paltz, but ever since Zimet changed the political landscape with her victory against David Lent in 1995, the situation has reversed.

The Democratic caucus holds a lot of weight, or at least it has in recent memory. What makes the current showdown even more ironic is that Zimet gave the nominating speech for Hokanson at the Democratic caucus six years ago. Back then, Hokanson successfully challenged the then-Democratic incumbent for supervisor, Don Wilen.

So what do these two Democratic leaders, once political allies, now facing off at the caucus, see as the issues facing New Paltz?

Supervisor Hokanson, who has served the town in some civic, appointed or elected capacity for the past 18 years, said that her goal when she first took office six years ago was to “work to develop water and sewer along our industrial corridor along Putt Corners Road so that we could attract businesses and help offset our tax base.”

“But when I came into office, what I heard from the community was that they were tired of starting new projects when there were so many outstanding projects that had yet to be started and/or completed, like the Moriello Pool bathhouse, the Community Center and the Field of Dreams. So I worked on getting those projects finished, or at least well on their way.”

She added: “Then we had the open space plan and the open space bond, as well as the five-year land use and transportation study, our comprehensive master plan update, a new recycling building, finding a facility for the police.”

Now that those issues have been accomplished or “put into motion,” she said that if elected for a fourth two-year term that “it’s time to focus our energy on developing water and sewer infrastructure where we’ve long targeted our industrial-commercial growth for.”

Hokanson said that she has developed many contacts, county, state and federal resources, which if elected, she will “continue to utilize as I always have to bring in as much grant money as I can to offset costs, support projects, improve services and particularly infrastructure that we so desperately need to attract businesses.”

The current supervisor also noted that she has a “very cooperative relationship with the newly elected Village Board.”

“We had our fire contract signed earlier than I can ever remember, except for the last time Jason was mayor,” she said, something that she hopes will continue to move the “entire community of New Paltz forward.”

Hokanson said that she “hopes and looks forward” to another term.

Zimet has done this job before, for two terms, and then served as a county legislator for years, with a bid for state senator against John Bonacic (Republican), which she did not win. Asked what issues facing New Paltz she felt were most pressing, she said “taxes.”

“There are more houses for sale and more people speaking about moving out of town than ever before. I was sitting in the living room of Fred and Bea Van Nostrand -- a couple that grew up here, and raised a family here and want to stay here. Their home is modest and their dedication to the community enormous,” Zimet said. “They said that if taxes go up any more, they will be forced to move. They are not the only ones.”

She added that “we can no longer operate as business as usual. The school district, college, village and town have to become partners. We have to develop a master plan together for our facilities, infrastructure, transportation, water and sewer, etc. and then assess our current and future needs. We need to do it together because the taxpayers cannot afford each municipality working in a vacuum anymore.”

Zimet said that “jobs” was the other pressing issue facing constituents in New Paltz.

“Prior to my father taking ill, I began working with Congressman Hinchey’s office on creating a hub for renewable energy industry on South Putt Corners Road,” she said. “I am very much looking forward to getting back to work on that.”

She added that “over the years, I have gained enormous contacts with state and federal officials that will prove to be a great resource to the town.”

“Additionally, I have spent a lot of time in Albany working on property tax reform. People in our community can no longer afford the crushing tax burden and the tax cap will not lower any ones taxes, it will just control government spending,” Zimet said. “With the passage of the governor’s tax cap, I understood the unique pressures that local governments are going to face. The next few years are going to be difficult times for local municipalities. However, with challenges come opportunities.”

She added: “After weighing all the issues, I realized that I can best serve the constituents that elect me by serving as the executive of the town versus a legislator for the town outside the village,” she added.

Asked why she would challenge a fellow Democrat and someone she supported during her first bid for supervisor, Zimet said that “I am not one to challenge fellow Democrats, however, when your fellow Democrats are so unhappy, you need to reconsider.”

“When the committee people were going door-to-door for signatures for the petitions,” she said that “many Democrats stated that they were no longer supporting the current supervisor. And many committee people were told they would hope that I would consider not running for legislator again and return to the town as their supervisor.”

Greenfield, her rival for the county seat, has publicly raised questions about Zimet’s house being up for sale, and questioned what her plans were if she sold the home.

However, Zimet denied that she would have a residency conflict. She said that they are selling their house because “both of our children are now out of college and working in NYC.”

“We are looking to downsize, however, we will obviously plan to stay in New Paltz,” Zimet said. “Why would I consider running for this position if I intended to leave? We love New Paltz.”

The Democratic caucus for the Town of New Paltz will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 6:30 p.m., at New Paltz High School.

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