Nearly half the members of the Democratic committee in New Paltz are “severing their relationships” with that group, citing backroom politics and age discrimination, according to a statement released by the now-former committee members. There are now nine openings on this political committee, members of which are charged with drumming up support for candidates in this largely one-party town. They laid out their reasons in a press release, asserting that they reached this decision “due to a toxic six-month campaign of age discrimination, threats and bullying by a newly-minted majority backed by New Paltz town, village and county officials.” Some of that rationale has been called into question by those they left behind, among other community members.
Jane Schanberg, contact person for the group of nine, stressed that the statement in full was written, edited and agreed upon by all. She contrasted the process to participating on the Democratic Committee itself, which in her experience was characterized by divisive comments that caused rancor and age-related bias that she said was present for during her entire two-and-a-half years as a member. Schanberg was vice-chair of the committee. The other eight parting ways with the committee are chair Josh Honig, recording secretary Ray Miller, Lawrence Badendyck, Amy Cohen, Terry Dungan, Randy Kitzmann, Maggie Veve and L. Pearl Lee.
The statement recounts that, in July of last year, committee member Dan Torres calculated the median ages of “two factions,” and then Torres “went on to blame communication problems on age disparity.” While that’s one of the identifiable differences in the two groups, the framing of the statement presents another, with those “severing” labeling themselves as “independent” in contrast to the ones left behind, many of whom are serving in other elected capacities.
According to Schanberg, that’s an important distinction. “It’s a high percentage of elected officials. They have night meetings, and are very busy, and can’t give as much time, and some of us believe [committee membership] should be . . . representatives of the community.”
Committee seats are, in fact, elected positions. Any registered Democrat can collect signatures on a petition to run for one of the 20 seats, two for each of the town’s election districts. If more people get the requisite number of names during the petition period, voters select the winner during the primary election, but usually that doesn’t happen. What does occur as candidates for the committee collect signatures for themselves, is that they also get signatures for other party candidates, which is arguably their most important function. Another job which could be seen as equally important is getting party members out to vote for their candidates. Members of each faction fall short in one of those jobs, if members of the other faction are to be believed.
“I didn’t see any of them getting out the vote this year or last,” Schanberg said, saying that most of the critical work of the committee has been done by a minority of members. “It’s service to the voters. It’s not about prestige, or networking, or finding a job or prominence in the community. It’s about telling people what’s going on, who the candidates are and how to find out more.”
Committee member Torres, the calculator of median ages, observed shortcuts in the committee membership process itself. “Committee seats are elected offices that anyone who is an enrolled Democrat can run for,” he agreed. “In the past, large portions of the committee would not circulate petitions and thus a small faction who did would simply appoint the remaining vacant positions. While this practice has largely ended, the fear of expanding the committee to new community members has not. It is my hope that more people will decide to take part in the democratic process and the work of the committee.”
The severed nine maintain in their statement that one of their collective concerns was the expansion of membership through appointment of new associate members “that decreased diversity and increased discrimination based on age.” Schanberg could not name anyone over 60 who was voted down for an appointed committee seat, but said, “I’m sure there were some.” Moreover, she maintains that the “toxic” atmosphere served as a deterrent generally.
Committee member Eve Walter agrees with that sentiment. “From my start on the [committee] nearly every member expressed, at least one point or another, that [it] was dysfunctional. Many meetings were spent in this dysfunction rather than on the objectives of getting good Democrats elected … On many occasions multiple members articulated that it is the primary responsibility of the chair to respond to and actively work to make the group a functioning group. The chair at the time made no effort to achieve this.”
According to Walter, two processes which erupted from that dysfunction will have effectively been resolved by this mass resignation: an attempt to remove Honig as committee chair, and pending charges against Dungan for disloyalty.
Dungan “publicly disparaged elected Democrats in the local paper, including a Democratic candidate resulting in a request to the county for removal of this member due to disloyalty.” The candidate was Walter herself, whose campaign Dungan linked in his October 3, 2019 letter to “sordid intrigues” and “cheap-shot politics.”
Walter explained how issues with Honig unfolded in her recollection: he had missed some meetings, and allowed Schanberg to run others, due to health reasons, and then “the regularly-scheduled November meeting was never called. . . . The chair [Honig] was unresponsive to many attempts to communicate regarding this meeting by many members. As a result, the corresponding secretary called the meeting. The chair didn’t attend. This occurred again in December. Again the corresponding secretary called and the chair remained silent. A motion was made and passed to remove the chair.” It was determined with the help of attorneys that neither the town nor county committee by-laws are particularly clear on that point, “however, there is clear language on replacing a chair due to vacancy,” and most members of the executive board thought it was warranted.
“We were advised that the town committee should make the determination of vacancy at our next meeting and set a special election for a new chair. The vice-chair [Schanberg] asked for my assistance to identify dates for the special meeting, and asked the county vice-chair who agreed to attend to assist with the election.” The process was going to be explained at the January 9 meeting, but, “Several hours before the meeting nine members, including the chair and vice-chair, publicly resigned. None attended the January 9 meeting. Those resignations [were] accepted.”
Schanberg affirmed the sentiment in the statement that the former committee members intend on remaining active in local politics, leveraging their experience and refusing to be recast as irrelevant. Their former colleagues were reportedly scheduled to interview a new potential member on January 9, who allegedly is 60 years old.