Questionable petition signatures alone didn’t sideline New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet’s state Assembly dreams. According to campaign finance reports, Zimet raised $6,949 in her now-ended challenge against Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, and two large campaign contributions came from local landowners. Samuel Plesser — who owns the 57-acre lot where Wildberry Lodge is slated to be built — gave Zimet $4,100. The Kempner Corporation — the owner of the Stop & Shop Plaza — gave $1,000.
Wildberry Lodge is a proposed $75 million resort hotel with indoor water park. It’s currently under review with the town’s Planning Board.
When news of Zimet’s campaign contributions broke last week, she addressed the concerns that accepting money from Plesser during the review of Wildberry Lodge could be viewed as unseemly.
“Sam [Plesser] does not have a project before the Town Board,” said Zimet. “Rocking Horse Ranch does. Of course Sam stands to make money, but it is up to Steve Turk [the owner of Rocking Horse Ranch] to navigate this project through the process. The donation you are referring to is for state office, which if I was successful, would have me long gone before the project got passed its initial review.”
Zimet explained that she met Plesser 20 years ago, after winning the supervisor’s race and during the time she fought to keep Wal-Mart from building on his property. “The first action [the Town Board] took was to rezone his property,” said Zimet. “Plesser would come down to try and stop the board from taking this action.”
Zimet said that after these meeting, she and Plesser often went to the diner for coffee and “became such good friends that he was invited and joined us at my daughter Hannah’s bas mitzvah. Despite the friendship, it did not stop me from speaking out on all the projects that were planned for his property. And despite my opposition, it never stopped him from donating to any and all of my campaigns.”
Zimet said she spoke with an attorney before accepting Plesser’s donation. “Because of the long history [and] the lack of influence any donation made by Plesser has had over the past two decades, I was advised that it was okay to accept,” explained Zimet. “I also understood that if I was still in office when the Town Board might need to take action, I could recuse myself. However, if elected officials had to recuse themselves based on campaign donations, there would not be a state or national elected official who could ever vote on anything.”
Other Zimet campaign contributors included her son and two other out-of-town donors. Large expenses for her campaign include about $1,000 for gasoline to drive around campaigning and gathering signatures. She also paid her husband Steve Auerbach $2,000 to be her campaign manager.
Cahill’s camp has raised $63,630 during this campaign season, including contributions from insurance companies. Zimet questioned those contributions, as Cahill serves as chair of the state Assembly’s insurance committee.
“His last filing showed over $65,000 — all from insurance companies,” said Zimet. “And when he was chair of the energy committee, he raised over $60,000 from energy companies. If I had succeeded in going to Albany, one of the first pieces of legislation I planned to introduce was prohibiting donations from companies that are in the category of the committee you serve on.”
Zimet ended July with $1,612.77 left in her campaign coffers. Cahill had $112,597 after expenses. Zimet ended up raising less money than when she ran for Ulster County executive in 2008 — and far less than when she ran for state Senate in 2006.
In a prepared statement, Cahill defended the financial support he has received, including “significant contributions from industries and interests that are regulated by the State of New York or have an interest in the matters that come before the state Legislature. I have been meticulous in reporting those contributions, following both the letter and the spirit of the law completely…I challenge anyone to show how I ever did anything to favor a contributor in any way.”
However, Cahill does have concerns about Zimet’s recent campaign contribution from Plesser and said there is a difference. “That my former primary opponent received a contribution from someone directly and immediately doing business with her and the town is something that should be viewed with some skepticism,” he said. “That there is a specific project involving her biggest (and one of her only) contributors is problematic. That it was spent on paying herself and her husband to gather a few hundred signatures within a couple miles of their homes is something worthy of further investigation, in my opinion.”
In late July, Zimet dropped her 103rd Assembly District primary race against incumbent Cahill. She submitted 640 signatures, but needed 500 to get on the primary ballot. Of those, 175 signatures were rejected. Cahill got more than 1,700 signatures.
“The campaign chose not to get into serious fundraising mode until we were successful with getting on the ballot,” said Zimet. “We knew we would have a hard time without the committee members carrying the petitions, so we decided after the initial first few fundraising calls for seed money, we would wait to pursue fundraising. We had total confidence we would raise the money needed, since a primary is a very targeted campaign and does not need the money a full-blown Senate campaign needed.”
Since there won’t be a Democratic primary, Cahill will go on to face Republican Kevin Roberts, of Plattekill, during November’s general election.
The 103rd includes most of Ulster County, but also Rhinebeck and Red Hook in Dutchess County.
“I can only hope that Assemblyman Cahill will work cooperatively with us as he continues to serve us in Albany,” said Zimet.