New Paltz Village Board candidates unveil their platforms

Jonathan Cohen, Tom Rocco, Rebecca Rotzler and

Jonathan Cohen, Tom Rocco, Rebecca Rotzler and Don Kerr. (photos by Lauren Thomas)

There are four candidates vying for two positions and a four-year term on the New Paltz Village Board on May 7. Two of the current trustees, Stewart Glenn and Brian Kimbiz, have declined to run for another term, leaving two seats open.

The four candidates include former deputy mayor Rebecca Rotzler, former School Board president Don Kerr, current Village Planning Board member Thomas Rocco and local business-owner Jonathan Cohen.


But it wouldn’t be New Paltz without a proverbial wrench being thrown into the political process. Two of the four candidates — Rotzler and Kerr — had their petitions challenged. And at a hearing held by the Ulster County Board of Election Commissioners on Tuesday morning, April 9, 23 objections on Kerr’s petition were upheld and 25 on Rotzler’s were upheld, pushing them both underneath the 100 signatures required to appear on the ballot and forcing them to organize a write-in campaign, which both have told the New Paltz Times they will do.

On Tuesday, April 2, all petitions were required to be filed at Village Hall with the village clerk. There is a right reserved for petitions to be challenged by a village resident or residents. In this case, according to village clerk Kathryn Doyle-Bunker, both Kerr and Rotzler’s petitions were “foiled” (subjected to a Freedom of Information Law inquiry) by village trustee Sally Rhoads and then challenged by village resident Vici Danskin.

“She had 24 hours to report specific things in the petition which she felt merited a challenge,” said Doyle-Bunker, giving examples of what, hypothetically, people could challenge in a petition — like “someone who signed it not being a village resident, or who might not be registered to vote…”

When asked for a response to their petitions being challenged, Kerr said that in his estimation, “The New Paltz political machine has taken to heavy-handed tactics to interfere with our nonpartisan village election. Not content to let the voters decide, elected and appointed leaders in favor of the Cohen/Rocco ticket have cynically tried to control whom the Village of New Paltz residents will have the opportunity to vote for.”

Rotzler responded in a similar vein. “The petition challenge relates to the question of why I decided to run for office. During the petitioning period, I discovered that only Tom Rocco and Jon Cohen were gathering signatures for two positions. Fortunately, Don Kerr stepped up and I followed, and now we are being challenged. In a democracy, our citizenry should have the option of a choice. I wish the best to Cohen/Rocco, but if the County Board of Elections does not recognize our signatures, Don Kerr and I will be engaged in a write-in campaign.”

Rotzler added that they’re even more passionate about campaigning post-challenge to provide residents of the village with a choice.

The New Paltz Times interviewed the four candidates, and here’s what they had to say:


Tom Rocco

Why did you decide to run for office?

I am retired and was reluctant to take on more official activities than I already had, since I still do some short-term consulting. I knew, of course, that there were two positions on the Village Board that were coming open. When I was approached by several people who suggested that I could make a positive difference in the governance of our village, I decided to run in the upcoming election. I think I can make a difference.

What positions/experiences/skills do you believe will make me a competent trustee?

I have quite a lot of administrative, budgetary and leadership experience from long service as a dean, provost and president of several academic institutions, 15 of those years within the SUNY system. I also have very recent experience as chair of the Village of New Paltz Master Plan Review Task Force, as a member for almost four years of the Village Planning Board and as a member of the Ulster County Charter Review Commission. This has provided me with context for understanding the village within the county.

What do you see as the greatest challenge facing the Village of New Paltz right now?

Managing the growing tax burden on a limited number of citizens, who must support not only all of the services needed in the village but also those of the Town of New Paltz, Ulster County and New York State — not to say that this is the one issue that trumps all others, but that it has been the one most acutely felt by most of our citizens.

If elected, what would be your top one or two priorities?

Completing a new Comprehensive Plan; bringing a well-reasoned formulation of the issue of consolidation with the town to a vote; and securing a second source of fresh water in the face of a possible interruption of supply from New York City due to probable repairs.

I am running as the “Responsive Government Party” because I truly believe in the importance of participatory democracy and the necessity of citizen input to the decisions of government.