The deadline for filing petitions to run in the Village of New Paltz elections on May 5 is coming up fast, at the end of March. The four-year terms of mayor Jason West and two incumbent Village Board members, Sally Rhoads and Ariana Basco, are coming to a close. West continues to play his cards close to his chest when asked whether he intends to seek another term, telling the New Paltz Times this past weekend, “I’m not yet prepared to talk about the mayor’s race.” But two other Paltzonians have already thrown their hats into the ring: Rhoads and downtown business owner Amy Cohen will both be contending for the mayoral post.
“I’m going to do it! I’m going to give it my best shot,” Rhoads told the New Paltz Times. Why now? “I really feel that New Paltz needs to reassess itself. There’s a desperate need to return to civility in our public life… We have gotten into some serious tribal behaviors and turf wars, which is unnecessary. People can agree to disagree, and sit down together and talk on any given issue. Together we can come up with an answer to any question in a congenial and collaborative way to find a solution that’s in the best interest of everybody.”
The incumbent first-term village trustee points to a long track record of community involvement since she moved here in 1970 with her husband Bill, who was offered a teaching post at SUNY New Paltz. “I was on the school board for 15 years, and president for six of those. I was on the [Elting Memorial] library board for ten years, and president for ten years. During that time we raised the money and built the new library, for which I’m very proud. We took out a $3.6 million loan for five years, and paid it down six months earlier than we planned.” Rhoads was also a founding member and president of Lifetime Learning, an afterschool program for seniors.
Calling herself a “follow-through and follow-up person,” Rhoads feels that she will bring a new level of efficiency and communication to Village Hall. “I would be in the office and reachable. I’m very good about returning phone calls. We have wonderful employees in the Village of New Paltz and I’ve really enjoyed working with them. But the board’s policymaking decisions have to be communicated clearly and punctually to employees.” She says that as mayor she would prioritize “small quality-of-life issues that are important to each person, as well as big issues like sewer.”
Seeking collaborative solutions to problems affecting both the Village and the Town of New Paltz is also high on Rhoads’s agenda. “I’m in favor of getting going on a joint Master Plan and solutions to our sewer problems,” she says. “We ought to be looking at ways to share services and eliminate duplication.” That said, though she has long been known as an advocate for consolidation of the two municipalities in the form of a “townwide village,” she feels that the time is not yet ripe for that to happen. “That I am interested in one government for this community is not new news,” she says. “But by law, we can’t get rid of the town government in New York State…[which] says it wants fewer units of government, but is not providing guidelines.”
“Some people say, ‘Just disincorporate the village,’” she continues. “That has not been our history… Until such time as there can be more options than dissolving the village, I don’t think that consolidation is going to occur… We’re going to have to find a way to come together and achieve this to everybody’s benefit… I can see myself working with the next town supervisor, whoever that may be, to talk to Albany and try to resolve this.”
Groovy Blueberry proprietor and 18-year New Paltz resident Amy Cohen was just appointed in December to the Town of New Paltz Planning Board, and previously served on the Police Commission and on several town and village committees. An active member of the Downtown Business Association, she is a regular attendee at Village Board meetings, advocating for the interests of small business owners. But as a mother raising her kids in New Paltz, she also has the needs of families in mind. “I have spearheaded many community service projects including upgrading and making Hasbrouck Park safe, and ensuring our children’s safety during school hours with a crossing guard,” she notes.
Why did she decide to run for mayor at this time? “I’m a problem-solver and enjoy working collaboratively on projects to make our community the best it can be. Now that my children are older, I can give more time to my community and set an example for them. I want to instill in them a sense of community awareness and activism,” she tells the New Paltz Times. “It is also a great time now that my family business is well-developed and successful. I feel that I can devote more to the town and village because my main roles in life as a mother and businesswoman are secure and thriving. It’s a life milestone, and truly I just feel like the time is now to bring a positive voice to New Paltz politics…I’m ready to make an immediate impact in our village, and while I’m certain that I can get along with all trustees, the combination of my leadership skills, financial acumen, experience with employees and the general public makes me a better candidate for mayor than trustee.”
Like Rhoads, Cohen expresses alarm at the current level of vituperation in public discourse in New Paltz, and she vows to “lead by example and refuse to engage in mudslinging” in her mayoral race. “There will always be people who for some reason or another like to personally attack others. It’s painful to watch, and I choose not to engage in this type of behavior. It never does any good. I want to run a positivity-based campaign, and that includes respect for my running mates.”
Cohen cites her business savvy as good preparation for public office, in addition to her long track record of community volunteer involvement. “With my leadership and team-building skills acquired through my extensive business experience, I will be an efficient team leader ensuring transparency and fairness in the respectful execution of governmental duties.”
High on the list of Cohen’s priorities would be “better parking solutions, traffic alleviation and an overall better relationship between the downtown businesses, our residential community and our government,” in which she includes the police department, the school district and SUNY New Paltz. Like Rhoads, she emphasizes better communication: “transparency in our local government and constant dialogue with our businesses, residents and visitors.”
She feels that pedestrian safety downtown, better signage, beautification projects and even such basic amenities as public bathrooms are essential and often-overlooked components of a village that works for residents and visitors alike. “There’s a certain ‘vibe’ in this village, and downtown business is a big part of it,” she says. “Our wonderful shops, restaurants and other businesses are why many people choose to live in New Paltz. It’s a huge pull for seasonal tourists as well…It’s important that all the components of New Paltz culture and quality-of-living organizations are working together to help sustain financial viability, camaraderie and communication so living in, working in and visiting New Paltz is always deemed an awesome experience.”