It was high drama and fireworks at the New Paltz Republican Caucus last Wednesday night. It appeared that two Democratic candidates — Toni Hokanson and Susan Zimet — were the only two vying for the Republican endorsement, when out of the blue, the chair of the caucus, Peter Cordovano, was nominated and seconded from the floor.
After Zimet was nominated by former town Supervisor David Lent and seconded by former county Republican Chairman Peter Savago, Hokanson was nominated by Linda Donovan and seconded by Butch Dener, chair of the New Paltz Republican Committee. As Cordovano asked once, twice, three times if there were any other nominates, Diane Lucchesi raised her hand and said that she “believes that a Republican caucus needs a Republican candidate.”
She went on to nominate Cordovano, a local attorney and member of the local Republican Committee, for the position of supervisor.
Cordovano appeared shocked. “I’ve known Peter a long time, back when I was union president at SUNY New Paltz and he represented many of our members with compassion and consideration. He would serve us well as supervisor of New Paltz.”
Randall Leverette, who had just received the Republican nomination along with Ray Lunati to run for the two open Town Board seats, seconded the nomination.
There was a dramatic pause, before Cordovano said that he would have to step down as chair of the caucus, as he was now being considered as a Republican candidate for the position of supervisor.
Dener was made the chair and Zimet, a two-term former supervisor and multi-term county legislator, who recently won the Democratic endorsement against Hokanson at the local Democratic caucus in August, asked for verbal clarification as to who was on the “committee for vacancies” and “who would appoint the Republican candidate for supervisor if Cordovano won the caucus, but decided not to run?”
The committee for vacancies, established at the beginning of the caucus, included Dener, Cordovano and Bill Dubois. Quickly, Scott Schulte was named to replace Cordovano and Dener said that it would be those three who would appoint a candidate to replace Cordovano, if he won, and if he decided not to run for the position.
All three candidates gave their speeches, but as the votes were being tallied the halls of the New Paltz Community Center were abuzz with calls of foul play.
“I asked that question (about the committee for vacancies) because I wanted everyone to know what was going on here,” said Zimet. “Butch (Dener) realized that Pete Savago had turned out more Republicans to vote for me than he could for Toni (Hokanson). So they nominate Cordovano, feign it was a surprise, and then Cordovano — if he wins — will step down and Butch and his cronies on the committee for vacancies will all pick Toni. It is dirty politics and Butch Dener at his finest moment. I’m appalled.”
Zimet did say that she believed Schulte was not part of the alleged scheme.
Others who supported Hokanson feared that the nomination of Cordovano would take her votes away as the majority of Republicans voted for Lunati and Leverette and not Democratic Town Board candidates, Kevin Barry and Jean Gallucci who are running on a slate with Zimet.
“Those were Toni’s votes, but now the rank-and-file Republicans will vote for Cordovano,” said one observer. “This is bad for Toni.”
Hokanson’s supporters felt that the move was sincere and that in the end, it didn’t hurt Zimet at all, but certainly hurt Hokanson, who many believed would have gotten the Republican votes if Cordovano had not been nominated at the last minute
As the counts were being tallied, tempers began flaring with Dener claiming that Zimet and Bob Gabrielli were obstructing the process as they stood behind the vote counters.
“The vote counters included Toni’s live-in partner and Butch’s wife,” Zimet said. “Even with that I completely trusted them, but it is standard practice to have candidates, or representatives for those candidates observe the vote counting.”
“Have some respect for the process,” said Dener to Gabrielli and Zimet.
When the votes were announced it was Hokanson with 14, Cordovano with 27 and Zimet with 28. Cordovano called for a recount, the air became even more tense, but the count remained the same.
As for Zimet’s claims of foul play, Lucchesi said that “it is absolutely not true and honestly, I’m offended by such a ridiculous claim. Typical of Susan though.”
She went on, saying: “I’m a proud Republican, and I’m sick and tired of Republican caucuses being used to support Democrats. As I watched Peter run the caucus and have known him and how capable he is for so many years, I just had to put forth a nomination for a Republican that I believed could truly execute the job.
“We need to have our own candidates and he is someone who I know is competent, trustworthy, intelligent — a lawyer with compassion for people. Susan can say and will say whatever she wants. She brought more drama to this town during her tenure in the past and she’s doing it again now, before she’s even been elected.”
Both Cordovano and Dener denied any foul play and like Lucchesi were offended.
“If you saw my reaction, I think you’d know that being nominated was the furthest thought from my mind,” said the attorney. “I was just trying to run a caucus. That said, I was truly humbled and honored that fellow Republicans in this room thought I would make a good candidate for the position of supervisor.”
Cordovano even went up to Zimet to congratulate her and while she said “thank you,” she added that she was “still upset that you would be part of such a maneuver.” He denied that he was part of anything and she said, “look me in the eye and say that,” which he did.
“The true embarrassment to the Republican Party is not what Susan Zimet has drummed up in her mind, it’s that we now have endorsed a candidate that does not stand for any Republican values,” said Dener in response to Zimet’s claims. “And Zimet was not alone, but no one wanted to go on the record saying the same things she did and more. This was a complete surprise to me, to the Republican committee, to 95 percent of the people at the caucus. I trust Cordovano with my life. He’s as honest as they come and if his nomination hurt anyone, it hurt Supervisor Hokanson, not Sue Zimet.”
Zimet said at the end that even though she believed Dener had engaged in “dirty politics” that “fortunately, transparency and honesty won. I would never have sought the Republican nomination if I knew that they had their own candidate. Up until a few minutes ago the only person I knew who was seeking the Republican endorsement was Toni, so I thought that the Republicans deserved a choice.”
The Republicans did successfully endorse two of their own party’s candidates for the two seats on Town Board — including Leverette, who serves on the town’s Police Commission and was a former communications executive with Disney World, as well as Lunati, an involved student of town government and contributor to the process from the floor at many meetings.
Those two candidates won over the two Democratic Town Board candidates — Gallucci and Barry. The votes put Leverette at 47, Lunati at 40, Barry at 37 and Gallucci at 16.
Chris Marx, a former town highway department employee as well as a former Village Department of Public Works Employee who lives and works in New Paltz, also received the Republican endorsement.
There was no challenge against the Democratic candidate for town justice, incumbent Jim Bacon. Rosanna Mazzaccari, who is a deputy town clerk, was cross-endorsed by the Republicans and has no opposition on the ballot lines.
It’s now a four-person race for two seats on the Town Board and a two-person race for the position of supervisor, as Hokanson will run on the Working Families line. ++