The May 27 meeting of the New Paltz Village Board was remarkable for its brevity, as few issues of any import were put on the agenda for the last go-round for three of its five incumbents. Mayor Jason West lost his bid for reelection, trustee Sally Rhoads lost hers to unseat him and trustee Ariana Basco decided not to run again.
As a result, most of the proceedings consisted of testimonials of appreciation to the outgoing officials. Newly elected trustee Don Kerr told Rhoads, “You’ve been a mentor to me,” thanked Basco for “the times we’re been able to work together” and said to Mayor West, “Your best days are ahead of you.”
Village clerk Katie Doyle-Bunker unveiled a sheet cake on behalf of the Village Hall staff and presented her three departing colleagues with drinking glasses embossed with the official seal of the Village of New Paltz. Andrea Russo gave West a basket of goodies, including gift certificates from local businesses, “on behalf of the community.” And Town Board member Dan Torres handed West a caricature portrait of himself as mayor, created by local artist Matt Maley, saying that a group of friends had chipped in to commission the work. “It’s like Christmas,” said West. “I should lose elections more often.”
After the meeting adjourned to cut the cake, the New Paltz Times sought hints as to what was next on the agenda for the outgoing officials. All three seemed to relish the notion of some serious downtime. Though he had been overheard prior to the meeting chatting about considering the possibility of going back to school for a teaching degree, West was decidedly noncommittal about next steps when asked directly. “I’m looking forward to returning to private life,” he said. “One of the consolation prizes of losing is having my privacy again.”
Though some longtime Paltzonians will find it extremely difficult to imagine Sally Rhoads ever not wanting to have a hand in civic affairs, she was adamant about “spending time for me. I’m going to go back to my pottery. I haven’t done a painting in a long time.” Spending more time with her family is also a priority, and she spoke enthusiastically of a trip to Nova Scotia that she has planned with her husband Bill this summer.
Basco has travel plans as well: “I’m going to Burning Man! I have an RV rented. I’m really excited. I’m going to have a really fun summer, go to a lot of music festivals, do a lot of camping, sleep outside more than inside.” She added that she would definitely be back in New Paltz “in time for the Halloween Parade.”
Of the three, Basco was the only one to admit that she “might volunteer for a commission” after taking some time to unwind. “I can’t imagine not getting involved again eventually. I need a break, but I love this work.” Nevertheless, within a few days, the outgoing mayor had sent out an e-mail to attendees of the recent symposium on the future of the Wallkill River, inviting them to meet with him at Village Hall on June 4 to help “advance and update the goals of the Wallkill River Watershed Conservation and Management Plan.” So it looks like West’s future, even in the short term, won’t be entirely confined to private life.
Once the cake crumbs were cleaned up and the farewells said, the officials stepped out the front door of Village Hall — unusually, early enough for there still to be some daylight — to be greeted with a celestial blessing. “Look, Jason, there’s a rainbow over the whole village,” Rhoads enthused. “It’s a sign for you, Ariana and me.” Rainbows being the ubiquitous symbol of the gay rights movement, it was certainly a fitting sendoff for the mayor whose audacious act in a small upstate village created ripples that, within a few short years, manifested in the full legalization of same-sex marriage throughout New York State.
Tim Rogers was sworn in as the new mayor of New Paltz on May 30, along with trustees Don Kerr and Dennis Young. The next Village Board meeting is Wednesday, June 10 at 7:30 p.m. ++