Knowing that voting is a privilege and understanding the importance of providing a bipartisan view of political issues and candidates, Woodland Pond of New Paltz residents eagerly participate in a Political Affairs Committee to help educate fellow residents on local politics. Older adults have a tremendous influence on elections, and the residents recognize the importance of learning about the candidates and issues in advance. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, voters 65 and older had a 72 percent turnout during the last presidential election, the highest percentage of any age group. The committee invites speakers from both political parties to present a bipartisan view and also schedules transportation to the polls and political events. Most of the guest speakers are locals seeking office, have special knowledge about political issues, or are politicians explaining their programs. The group is already looking toward the next election, and since there’s plenty of time to register to vote, they’re hoping to encourage others to educate themselves and participate as well.
“We just had the New Paltz Village elections this spring and are preparing for the New Paltz Town elections, which coincide with the national and state elections,” said Dorothy Jessup, Political Affairs Committee chairperson. “During the last congressional election, we had the pleasure of welcoming two local candidates to Woodland Pond to present their viewpoints. When you do something you learn more about it. Even though many of us are Democrats, we vote across party lines. Before joining the political affairs committee, I attended only Democratic caucuses, but now I attend Republican ones as well, so I can present a bipartisan view of local politics.”
Every two years the committee has town board candidates come out to speak, as well as candidates for the biannual town and county elections. The Political Affairs Committee also schedules speakers who can present both sides of a controversial political topic, such as the recent Town/Village consolidation proposal. In addition to scheduling speaking engagements and debates at Woodland Pond, the committee also arranges transportation to take residents to local sites such as colleges, where the candidates will deliver additional speeches or conduct debates.
“Some people take the privilege of voting for granted and do not exercise their right to vote,” said Michelle Gramoglia, executive director of Woodland Pond at New Paltz. “It is amazing to see firsthand how many passionate voters and advocates we have at Woodland Pond and what positive changes they have helped implement. Our residents and team members are encouraged by the political affairs group to educate themselves on what’s happening in the political sphere and to make informed decisions when voting. I am really proud of this committee’s work.”
Recently, the political affairs committee made a strong effort to get residents out to vote on a school bond proposal that was put before the community to help repair parts of the school and restore several neglected school buildings. They had to revote on the proposal three times, and it finally passed in March. This spring, the committee also encouraged residents to participate in the Village election, the regular school board election and the operating budget vote. In late August or September, the committee will participate in local caucuses and witness firsthand how one nominee for office, whom 5,000 or so people may be voting for, will be selected by maybe 100 individuals through the open primary.
“I’ve been involved in politics since 1954, participating in grassroots efforts, local campaigning, voting and I even played a part in the Democratic Reform Movement in New York City,” said Jessup. “During my retirement I became more involved in politics when fellow citizens and I decided to work toward getting a new superintendent on the school board, someone who represented the forward-looking progressive community of New Paltz. We worked diligently to make that goal a reality. I then worked with fellow citizens to bring Woodland Pond to fruition, and now I chair the Political Affairs Committee. It was this involvement later in my life that showed me how much more of a difference one can make by acting at the local government level, as opposed to participating in the larger state or national scene. We have been able to accomplish so much just by getting both parties to compromise, which we did by simple talking to people and getting them to listen.”
Jessup feels strongly that it is important for Woodland Pond residents to vote in local elections so local political officials will know that seniors are constituents who pay attention to what they do. The residents have seen how their voices have made a difference, and they will continue with grassroots efforts leading up to the next election and others in the future. The residents look forward to getting out the vote and influencing change in the coming months.