The New Paltz Town Planning Board recently decided against beginning its meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance. And it was in the final moments of Thursday’s New Paltz Town Board meeting, which lasted three-and-a-half hours, that council member Jeff Logan was able to raise the subject of the Pledge. What Logan wanted was for the Pledge’s recitation to be placed upon the agendas of all volunteer boards and commissions, so that if they didn’t want to do that, they’d have to vote to remove it. His motion died without a second, and — pursuant to Robert’s Rules of Order, which board members adopted as operating rules this year — he was not permitted to discuss his rationale at that time. When he attempted to do so, a motion to adjourn the meeting was quickly made and voted upon.
While he didn’t have the opportunity to lay out his case fully, Logan did say that the controversy over reciting the Pledge fed into Planning Board member Michael Zierler’s resignation, which was formally accepted at this meeting. In his letter resigning the position, Zierler did reference “the additional stress of the recent Pledge of Allegiance controversy” as one factor among many. He was already chairman of the Village Planning Board when he accepted the town position “on a short-term basis” after longtime member Peter Muller left the board at the beginning of the year. Earlier this week, Zierler spoke on radio about why he voted not to adopt the Pledge, and clarifying that it hadn’t been recited at Planning Board meetings in 15-20 years.
Zierler reiterated that on the night of the vote, no board members had offered compelling reasons to adopt the Pledge, but added that during a meeting with members of the local VFW, “I did hear some compelling reasons from those veterans.”
Some town residents and a congressional candidate also shared their opinions with the board. Josh Honig was more concerned about the reaction to the decision than the vote itself, likening it to the violence reported at Trump rallies; he also said that it would have a “chilling effect” on people voicing opinions or running for office. He would have supported a Planning Board vote to recite the Pledge, so long as there were assurances that non-participation would be allowed.
Robin Ward lauded Planning Board member Amy Cohen’s intention to use the Pledge to “unify and reset attention,” but suggested a moment of silent meditation facing the flag might do one better. Of the pledge itself, she said that a “loyalty oath does not belong in a non-totalitarian government.”
Running for the 19th district congressional seat, Republican Andrew Heaney decided to make this issue a special focus of his campaign. After issuing two challenges to one of the candidates for the Democrats’ line in November, Heaney told Town Board members that the Pledge is not a loyalty oath, but instead honors the “sacred institution” of the flag, and its recitation espouses those “highest ideals” the flag itself represents. He agreed that no one is required to recite it, but that “freedom has been purchased by millions.” More than the question of reciting it or not, Heaney said it was the tone of the discussion that crossed the line, such as Lyle Nolan calling the ritual a “waste of time” and Lagusta Yearwood referring to it as “third-grade silliness” last fall. “Dissent can be noble, but defaming and degrading the pledge is not right.”
Council member Dan Torres took that opportunity to reply to Heaney, who is presently inviting people to sign a petition on his site in support of pressuring Planning Board members to reconsider their decision. Torres invited Heaney to donate the money he raised from that effort to the New Paltz VFW. Later, he explained that using an issue to gather data about potential supporters is standard political practice, but he thought that doing so by targeting volunteers crossed a line for any candidate. “If a candidate I supported ever came into our town as a way to score political points and raise funds for their flailing political campaign, I would no longer support them,” he said.