Emotions ran high on Election Night 2018 at the Gilded Otter in New Paltz, where supporters of Rosendale councilwoman Jen Metzger awaited the results of the vote. Shortly after the polls closed at 9 p.m., a variety of local Democratic bigwigs including Mike Hein and Kevin Cahill could be seen schmoozing with campaign volunteers and offering Metzger their well-wishes before heading off to Kingston for Congressional candidate Antonio Delgado’s poll-watch party. With each giant TV screen overlooking the bar tuned to a different news channel and a constant drone of nervous, excited conversation filling the brewpub, it took some time for word of each of the evening’s triumphs and disappointments to filter across the dining room to the spot where Metzger’s staff stood ready to track results.
Shrieks of joy rang out at intervals, as it sank in that the Democrats would take the US House of Representatives, that Juan Figueroa would topple Ulster County sheriff Paul Van Blarcum, that Delgado’s victory had been projected by major news outlets. Hopes rose for Beto O’Rourke’s strong early showing in Texas, only to plummet again as Ted Cruz edged past him. And as the precincts in the 42nd New York State Senate began reporting in their poll results, Metzger minions furiously scribbled arithmetic with markers onto easel pads.
Metzger seemed to be ahead from the beginning, but the numbers were too close for anyone to stop worrying. “It could still go either way,” the candidate kept saying. It was nearing midnight before the results of the race for what had long been John Bonacic’s State Senate seat became incontrovertibly clear: Jen Metzger had beaten Annie Rabbitt by a comfortable margin. Even on her own Orange County turf, Rabbitt only edged Metzger by less than 70 votes. And Ulster went as wild for Jen as it did for Antonio. The final, unofficial tally as of presstime gave Metzger 12,072 votes overall and Rabbitt 7,009: a resounding 63.24/36.72 percent split.
Once the cheers and hugs had died down, the rest of the night was given over mainly to expressions of gratitude to the candidate’s mostly young, highly energetic bastion of volunteers. That theme had not abated when we caught up with the Senator-elect at the Rosendale Café on the weekend following the election. “I had over a thousand people sign up to volunteer,” Metzger related. “There were so many that I relied on all volunteer drivers, sometimes driving my car, which is a Volt. I converted a lot of people to electric cars!” Being able to make phone calls, return e-mails, work on her laptop or even take a power nap instead of having to drive thousands of miles herself made a huge difference in her ability to stump the sprawling 42nd District and get her message out to her constituents-to-be, Metzger said.
She also had a lot of help based in each community, phone-banking and canvassing on her behalf. Many of them were high school students, with youth from New Paltz High School, Warwick and Goshen particularly engaged in the campaign. Her two Ulster County field directors were 17 and 18 years old. Voter turnout was remarkably high among young people as well. According to Metzger, during the previous midterm election, about 130 SUNY New Paltz students voted; this year there were more than a thousand, and 96 percent of them cast their ballot for Jen Metzger.
From the get-go, Metzger, a vocal proponent of campaign finance reform, refused to take corporate donations of any kind. “And no LLCs,” she said. “We sent some checks back. A priority of mine is to cut off the river of money flowing into Albany.” Her campaign funding came primarily in the form of small contributions from individuals, plus strong support from unions. Election reform is one of the higher priorities on her agenda, along with the passage of some proposed legislation that has long been bottled up in Republican-chaired State Senate committees: the New York Health Act, the Reproductive Health Act, the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act, the Child Victims Act among them.
With eight new Democratic members heading to Albany to be sworn in on January 9, the New York State Senate is solidly blue for the first time in a very long time, so stalled bills such as these stand a much better chance of being enacted. “This is the biggest freshman class the Democrats have ever had,” noted Metzger. “It’s an opportunity for the Senate to see things in new ways.”
High on her wish list is a revisit to the way that New York State school districts are funded; she wants school taxes to be based on income rather than ever-fluctuating real estate values. It’s one of the pocketbook issues that resonated strongly with district residents as the candidate made her way door-to-door, she said. The spiraling cost of healthcare is another widespread concern, and even in relatively conservative rural parts of the district, Metzger’s endorsement of a single-payer health insurance option for the state did not make voters flinch. Perhaps the time has finally come for that once-“radical” idea.
Of course, Metzger is widely known for her activism on sustainable energy and other environmental issues, and she’s hoping for some committee assignments that will reflect that area of interest and expertise. Concerned about the climate impacts of methane emissions, she said that she plans to fight licensing of the new gas-fired Competitive Power Ventures power plant in Wawayanda. “It shouldn’t be operating at all,” she said. She has a long list of Senate committees for which she plans to apply, including Energy and Telecommunications, Environment, Agriculture, Education, Health, Local Government and Elections. A newbie to the State Legislature won’t get every assignment that she asks for, but if anybody could juggle that many at once, those who have watched this dynamo at work would likely bet on Jen Metzger as the one to be able to do it.
No matter how heavy the workload, she won’t be moving away from her beloved Rosendale. “I just see this as a widening of my community,” she said. “I can’t believe I only have three more Town Board meetings! I’ll definitely miss it.”
Asked if she had a strategy formulated for filling out Metzger’s unexpired term, town supervisor Jeanne Walsh responded, “I have some people in mind, but we haven’t talked about it yet. We didn’t want to jinx anything!” The New Paltz Times will keep readers posted on the upcoming change in Rosendale’s leadership mix.