Village of New Paltz trustee race features four for two seats; mayor runs unopposed

On May 7, Village of New Paltz residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinion about three members of the Village Board by casting ballots. Trustees Don Kerr and Dennis Young are running for second terms in the position and are being challenged by local activists Alexandria Wojcik and Michele Zipp. Mayor Tim Rogers, also running for a second four-year term, has no challenger, and declined to answer questions for this week’s issue.

Dennis Young

What about your background do you think is important for voters to know about you?

As the oldest child of a single parent, I grew up with a strong sense of responsibility to help my mother and my younger siblings. In addition to babysitting, I began delivering newspapers at the age of 12 to help support our family. My mother worked as much as she could to afford apartments in good school districts to ensure her children had access to a quality education, and so much of who I am comes directly from her. My grandparents are also an important part of the perspective that I bring to the board, as three of my four grandparents were first-generation Americans. My grandmother often told me stories about how her parents were frustrated by language barriers in the school system. This all helps shape my perspective, which is focused on keeping the cost of living down in New Paltz to ensure it is affordable and accessible to all.

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Four years from now, what would you like to be different in the village?

I hope that four years of state-funded grants will have our aged sewer lines repaired with little expense to taxpayers. I would also hope that through the use of an overlay zone, we can protect the charm of our historic village while intelligently leveraging our density. Rather than giving away our density to developers, we can use it to foster additional affordable housing units, greener buildings and infrastructure investments. We will also be approaching the end of the single-hauler contract term, and I would like to spend the next four years ensuring that we are positioned to obtain the best deal for our community by working to reduce our overall waste production. As we continue working towards a zero waste community, programs to help expand the use of composters will be a crucial step in reducing the volume of waste sent to landfills (which also happens to lower the cost of waste collection for any potential bidders).

Is there anything which keeps you awake at night that you think village trustees can help change for the better?

When I am up at night, I am usually working on a project for the village. My current late-night project is the third request for proposals of my term, this one for sidewalk snow removal (the second was for a new Hasbrouck playground, and bids are due later this month). Currently, the village employs part-timers to shovel when property owners don’t shovel in a timely fashion. This system burdens our building department and is not quick, nor effective. Contracting to have sidewalks cleared and billed back to the offending property owner means cleaner sidewalks at no expense to law-abiding residents. The cherry on top is that our building department’s load will be lightened, allowing them additional time to focus on other enforcement issues.

What do you consider the most important accomplishment of the board during your term?

When I ran for office in 2015, I did so with the stated intent to implement a single-hauler system in our community. Many people privately told me that it was impossible to get haulers to bid on our business and that it was too large a task to stand up to the waste management industry. I understood the concerns, especially since past requests for proposals had received no bids, but I still forged forward with what I had promised the community and wrote a 46-page request for proposal (RFP). That RFP received three bids (including one from a small business) and we were able to deliver real cost savings to residents. My bill went down over $13 per month, and some folks told me that they were saving near $20 a month. A tax-neutral plan to put money back in the pockets of residents is something to be proud of, even more so when you realize that the average side-loader garbage truck produces over 186,666  pounds of carbon per year. In the village alone, we will be eliminating over one-million pounds of carbon per year with this system. That makes me smile.

Is serving on an elected board with four other people what you expected it would be like? What would you say are the strengths and shortcomings of five people making decisions together?

Having previously served the village on our Environmental Policy Board, I entered office with experience serving on a collaborative board that worked well together. While the Village Board [members] may not always agree on every issue, I feel we do an excellent job of considering each issue independently and without holding any grudges when we disagree. As a business professional, I spend much of my time making decisions alongside CEOs, CFOs, lawyers and other high-ranking executives. It’s not too different from making decisions with other elected officials, because both rely on an ability to work collaboratively and to communicate effectively. Diversity is important, both in perspective and in the abilities we bring to the table. Board members not only make decisions, we are project managers moving initiatives forward to benefit our community. Diverse abilities allow us to collaboratively tackle a wide range of projects that impact a wide range of residents.

Don Kerr

What about your background do you think it’s important for voters to know about you?

I am the son of an immigrant to America, who has expressed my patriotism via public service: high school PTSA officer, school board president, New Paltz village trustee. I have also been an advocate. When my wife’s home-birth midwives were charged with practicing medicine without a license, I had their backs — forming and leading an organization (Friends of Midwives) which, with the help of Michael Sussman, successfully brought their case to the state supreme court.

Four years from now, what would you like to be different in the village?

I would like to see a Wallkill River that is cleaner. I have been helping to lead an effort, with Riverkeeper, to ID the source of the problem. I would like to see a Mill Brook Preserve with trails and bridges; and smart growth in our new NBR and downtown business district that is safe and friendly to walkers and bikes, but also offers sufficient parking.

Is there anything which keeps you awake at night that you think village trustees can help change for the better?

Our wastewater treatment plant has a capacity of 1.5 million gallons per day and typically treats 1.2 million gallons per day during peak seasons. The head of our village environmental board and I took a look at every project proposed for the near future and before the Planning Board. If every project were actually built (unlikely), it would bring us to 91% capacity at our plant. Village of New Paltz needs to plan and weigh growth with the capacity of our wastewater plant in mind. Building a second plant would take many years and many, many dollars. I worry about that.

You’ve served on more than one elected board. Are there things about how the Village Board of Trustees operates that you’d change if you could?

Long-term: the purchase of the Mill Brook Preserve. It is New Paltz’s Central Park for generations to come. Short term: our security deposit law to protect the approximately 70% in our village who are renters. That includes me, as I have rented office space in the village for many years.

I already have instituted changes in how the board operates, borrowing from my time on the Board of Education. Meeting agendas are now posted on the Friday preceding our meetings; we have a two-meeting rule, under which no vote can occur at the same meeting where an item is discussed for the first time. In addition, I have tried to raise ‘devil’s advocate’ questions to insure that all sides of any issue are considered.

Michele Zipp

What about your background do you think it’s important for voters to know about you?

I co-founded the activist group Resisterhood in 2017 when I saw how so many people were coming together to effect change with events and activities related to the women’s marches, and I wanted to replicate that on the local level, for and with our community in New Paltz. Some of the initiatives Resisterhood has implemented include a yearly red tent drive to collect feminine hygiene products for distribution through Family of New Paltz. To date, we’ve collected over 9,000 maxi pads and tampons. We also hosted the only congressional forum for District 19 candidates that focused entirely on women’s issues. Additionally, we have spoken out about the proposed Pilgrim Pipelines, had a community potluck with the aim of coming together to build trust within our community, and, with the expertise of trauma therapists, we hosted an after #MeToo forum with the focus of empowerment after trauma. We are currently wrapping up our zero-plastic challenge, which is helping our community work toward a plastic-free future. We also support initiatives and actions our community can take to be powered by renewable energy through community choice aggregation. In 2018, I also cofounded Resisterhood Choir, which is the same community activism via song.

I’ve been an editor and writer for nearly 20 years, mostly for women’s magazines and websites. I’ve written articles for various publications advocating for women’s rights, equity, maternity leave, women’s health, better environmental practices, and to shine light on injustices far too long overlooked. As editor-in-chief, I worked with tight budgets, deadlines and a small staff to get the work done. I listened to our readership to guide the features. I have a proven record of writing and guiding editorial that resonates deeply with the readers I’ve worked for. I see being a trustee similarly employing these skills.

I’m also a wedding officiant, reiki master and postpartum doula. Above all, I’m a single mom of nine-year-old twins. The latter most effectively drives me to do all I can to be sure we live in a sustainable, safe and enriching community.

Four years from now, what would you like to be different in the village?

I’d love for the Village of New Paltz to be on 100 percent renewable energy, have easy and effective community composting and have the diverse perspectives across our community as a whole feel their voices are being heard. I’d also like for renters to experience a more fair and protective system, and for everyone to have safer and more affordable places to live. We need more activities in our public spaces: I’ve been investigating the possibility of having the amazing skate park and farmers market in Ithaca here in New Paltz. Or, the feasibility of a solar-powered trolley bus that runs up and down Main Street to reduce downtown emissions, while we effectively work towards addressing our parking and traffic issues. Plus, I’m looking into ways to get school-aged kids involved in local politics and to investigate offering child care during board meetings so more parents can attend.

Is there anything which keeps you awake at night that you think village trustees can help change for the better?

Mother Earth is experiencing a climate crisis and there are things that need to be done now so there is a future. We must act on the local level to do our part to save our planet, to become a more resilient community, and be a model for neighboring towns to follow suit. Village trustees, with the support and great knowledge and insight we have in our community, can make a difference.

What motivates you to run for office now? Is there anything in particular you’d like to help accomplish?

There is a lot that motivates me to run for office now. The fact that we have many critical issues at the forefront propelled me to step forward to run. New Paltz is where I live with my children — it’s a community I believe in and I would love the opportunity to further effect change to make our village thrive even more. In my work with Resisterhood, I’ve been so fortunate to meet so many incredible people with storied pasts and ideas to nourish our community. Collaborating with these people, and being inspired by them, motivates me to help bring these ideas to life.

Critical issues for me include the environment, equity, inclusivity, our civil liberties, our safety, affordable housing and the desire to listen and work with one another and for the oldest and youngest members of our village.

The underlying theme for me is love, compassion, caring about others and listening and executing the best next steps to help people, to better the community. I believe in standing together to find solutions. With Resisterhood, we’ve been able to make strides in the right direction. We’ve inspired and encouraged each other to look for new ways to foster change. I’d love the opportunity to do that on the local level as a village trustee.

Alexandria Wojcik

What about your background do you think it’s important for voters to know about you?

I’ve spent most of my life working (and fighting) in the public interest. While some voters may know me as the effervescent campaigner urging them to please knock on a few more doors or make a few more phone calls during the 2018 midterm [elections], some other voters may know me from the years I directed the New York Public Interest Group’s (NYPIRG) summer outreach program and the work I did in my various roles with NYPIRG in the fight against fracking. Meanwhile, others still may know me as a cofounder of SUNY New Paltz’s first-ever recycling program (there was no recycling on campus prior to 2003), or as an on-and-off active member of the Climate Action Coalition, or as the lead organizer of the People’s Climate March on the Walkway Over the Hudson. Others know me simply as the organizer behind countless “parties with a purpose” held to raise awareness about the dangers of fracking or simply to register voters in a fun nightlife setting; others might not even know my name but know me as the “fairy of social justice” who brings her clipboard stocked with voter registration forms to the bar. At the same time, other voters know me best for my work on the front lines of the feminist movement: as the original leader of Slut Paltz, the organization known for the annual march against rape culture, or a consistent force within March on Hudson Valley. My resume as an activist — an almost-tireless agent of positive social change, always with a pinch of eco-glitter involved — is too long to properly address in this space or probably ever, but my point is if you know me from one world, please get to know me in all these other roles in order to fully understand where I am coming from. It’s like I’ve been unintentionally training for a role like village trustee my entire life.

Four years from now, what would you like to be different in the village?

Four years from now, I hope to see the village fulfilling its destiny as a leader in the people’s climate-justice movement, which demands radical inclusivity and intersectionality in every matter. Climate justice is a planning and zoning issue, an infrastructure issue, an affordable housing issue, a feminist issue, a black lives matter issue, an LGBTQ+ issue [and] an immigration issue; I believe the litany of intersections of issues continues, but you get the idea. If there is any community who can look this reality in the eye in a way that works for everyone, it’s the Village of New Paltz! That’s why my priorities include tenant rights, affordable housing, sustainability and climate justice; and the intersection of these issues on the local level through the unabashedly eco-feminist lens of my own experiences and identities, including that of a lifelong renter.

Over the next four years, our streets need to transition into truly “complete” status, and start to resemble a bicycle critical mass (much like the ones I participated in on our Main Street when first making New Paltz my home circa 2003) rather than a parking lot to the untrained eye of visiting tourists. Our roads should be able to accommodate folks traveling by foot, bicycle, skateboard, roller skates, scooter and automobiles safely; this is doable in just four years, but we’ll have to reconsider our reliance on and perpetuation of car culture, which also means rethinking our approach to parking. I also hope to do whatever a trustee can to support expansion of the DeFacto Community Project’s ad-hoc pocket gardens, which serve to both feed folks on the fly and support our bees.

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Over the next four years, I hope to also further “gay up Main Street.” One major reason I stayed in New Paltz when I had originally planned to attend college here for a year then transfer elsewhere to a school with a more intensive writing program is the fact that all are truly welcome here. Being present at the first same-sex weddings in the Peace Park was one of those defining moments in my life: the actions of our then-mayor and Village Board changed my life and inspired me to finally come out as queer; I will never forget the relief I felt realizing I can be myself, live my best life, here in New Paltz. As village trustee, I will do everything in my power to make sure our LGBTQ+ community — and other marginalized communities — know that the entire community has their back. I believe the (now faded) rainbow crosswalk represents a great step in the right direction, as did the addition of a rainbow flag to village hall’s pole every June, but we need to seriously think about ways to offer more ways to bring the Hudson Valley LGBTQ+ Center’s resources and programming to our own people.

Finally, and perhaps most central to my candidacy, I would like the village to be more creative and proactive in the ways in which we approach the opiate epidemic as well as mental health in general, particularly among adolescents as well as among low-income folks. Speaking as someone who lost a best friend and dear musician in our community to suicide after years of struggling with addiction as a young member of our community, I know for a fact that there are a lot of things we can all do better. A day does not go by in which I don’t ask myself, “what could I have done differently?” and since a major role of local government is to stand up for and support those who need it most, I believe the Village Board has a duty to think of new ways to offer that support.

That is the primary reason why a major priority of mine is to establish a Volunteer Arts, Parks and Community Engagement Commission which would be tasked with fostering greater community engagement through supporting a more robust municipal recreational program. This commission would be a step in the right direction to help ensure there’s always something free and fun to do. The board should be doing what it can to build up things like the Church Street summer market and the New Paltz Shorts film festival, and make sure these activities continue after the original organizers move on to other projects. This commission would also be tasked with ensuring the ongoing success of beloved events like the Christmas tree bonfire (and perhaps coming up with an alternative to that event that does not cause undue wear and tear on Hasbrouck Park, and our air). We need more spaces to work and play, besides our local businesses, with free and fast wifi. We need a village square and a skate park. We also need rooftop gardens and beer gardens, and any other similar space that brings nature (even in small doses) to folks who work every daylight hour. Again, such spaces should not be limited to businesses — just because I’ll never own a home doesn’t mean I don’t deserve a chance to admire the stars at the end of a long day. It is the duty of the Village Board to make life a little bit more livable for those who cannot afford to buy a cup of coffee — or a pint — every time we want to enjoy life here in New Paltz.

Is there anything which keeps you awake at night that you think village trustees can help change for the better?

Climate change, racial inequity and rape culture keep me up at night. Nighttime is when I do my best planning, which has suited my role as an activist well all these years, but in order to enact real systemic change addressing these issues, we need a Village Board that considers these issues at every turn. No meeting should pass without the board [members] seriously asking, “how have we been the voice for every village person and not just those with the loudest voices? How can we do more for those who need our help most?” I believe taking on the four-year time-lined projects I noted in the above question demonstrates exactly how the village board can and should achieve exactly this.

What motivates you to run for office now? Is there anything in particular you’d like to help accomplish?

Why now? The world can’t wait — neither can our small community.

Last March, I left my post as deputy clerk/assistant to the mayor to work as a field organizer in the 2018 midterm cycle with the goal of flipping New York’s 19th Congressional District in November, and then focus on getting into law school. I had totally different plans than running for trustee, but then in October, the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 oC by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change dropped, followed soon thereafter by the Fourth National Climate Assessment report; it turns out it’s later than we thought when it comes to climate change. Thus, I’ve decided to cast aside my doubts as well as my dreams in the name of fighting the good fight in the public interest. There is no planet B, and the world literally cannot wait for me to pay off my student loans or pursue getting further into student loan debt, or achieving the type of stability that probably just is not in the cards for most millennials. It’s time to apply my nearly 20 years of experience organizing and advocating here in New Paltz — as well as my experiences working as deputy clerk for the present board — to serve the public how I know best: as a grassroots leader, a good listener and a voice for those not always heard or seen.

A debate-style meet the candidates forum for the Village of New Paltz election, with an audience question-and-answer session, will be held on Thursday, April 18, 8 p.m., in room 100 North of the Student Union Building at SUNY New Paltz. The event is sponsored by NYPIRG, the Political Science Department and Political Science Club at SUNY New Paltz.

There is one comment

  1. King Normus

    Alex is a great choice. Once I was at a bonfire with Alex and some other people. Alex talked a lot and after listening to her stupid bull—- for a while I just layed down in the fire. I figured that I would suffer less this way. But don’t worry after my charred body was pulled from the fire Alex pulled out a bag of eco pixie dust. The ecounicorn pixie warrior sprinkled it on and I was good as new.

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