New Paltz village voters offered two candidates for two positions

“May the fourth be with you” may have been a theme for this year’s Village of new Paltz elections, if people weren’t still mostly avoiding gathering in groups and knocking on doors due to the ongoing pandemic. It will be a relatively quiet voting day this May 4, with only two candidates for the two available village trustee seats. Whoever does show up the polls will be deciding whether village elections should be moved from May to November, however.

The language of the referendum to be decided is, “shall the date for the general village election and for any special election for elective village offices pursuant to the election law be changed to coincide with the November general election and be fully administered by the Ulster County Board of Elections?”

William Wheeler-Murray is seeking to secure a second term on the village’s board of trustees, and Stana Weisburd is looking to replace KT Tobin, who is not seeking reelection.

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Stana Weisburd (photos by Lauren Thomas)

Stana Weisburd

Weisburd has been an active volunteer in the community in recent years, including service on the town planning board and local Democrat political committee, as well as being the sort of person to show up for short-term and last-minute projects, such as building the new Hasbrouck Park playground and helping to manage social-distancing rules during protests over racial violence. Weisburd opted to answer these questions over the phone.

You recently announced your candidacy for the town council, and now you’re running for village board. Are you running for both offices?

Running for Village Board was something of a last-minute decision for Weisburd, who previously filed petitions to run for Town Council alongside fellow Democrats Dan Torres and Neil Bettez. However, village elections tend to either draw a great many candidates or very few of them, and when KT Tobin announced no intention of running again, no one else stepped up, either. Local Democrats did identify someone else interested in running for the open Town Council seat and Weisburd, being a village resident, decided to make the switch at the last minute from the partisan town race to a the non-partisan village election. Weisburd will be on the “Equity and Equality” ballot line because “those principles guide me.”

What in your life has led you to run for public office now?

“I’ve always been passionate about finding solutions to problems in my community,” Weisburd said, having grown up in a family of “civically minded people.” Weisburd’s father and grandfather marched in Washington with Martin Luther King Jr., and father Gene was also jailed alongside King in Selma, Alabama. After spending several years helping others get elected by organizing fundraising events and carrying petitions, Weisburd decided it was time serve in a different way. “Let’s see what I can do” for this local community.

Becoming a village trustee isn’t likely to lead to jail time, but it is a commitment. Weisburd has an eleven-year-old son, and they had a heart-to-heart discussion about this decision. The child “at first asked me not to run and we talked about what it would mean. I stepped down from the Planning Board” to keep civic engagement from eating up more and more time. Weisburd’s son is now supportive, which was important: “I couldn’t do this without the support of family. It will be bumpy, but we’ll get through it together.”

Weisburd brings to the board table the skills of a learner and a listener, saying, “I learn before I pass judgment.” It’s a desire to make the village better for all residents that has led to this decision to serve in a different capacity, shifting from volunteer to paid elected official.

What do you feel are the most pressing issues in the village right now?

Weisburd is focused on what emerging from a pandemic will look like in the community and wants to “find a way to build back better.” One of the impacts felt in the village is that the cost of housing — already kept high by the fact that there are many more students going to SUNY New Paltz than live on campus — has been pushed up all the more by buyers seeking to move farther from New York City. Local people — including some lifelong residents — are being priced out of the market for ownership and renting alike. In the presence of the college the vast majority of village residents are renters, which is why Weisburd believes the concerns of renters are central concerns in this village.

“New Paltz is at risk of losing its unique identity,” Weisburd said. “How do we stabilize access to housing, encourage responsible growth and keep New Paltz unique?” With the current trend, “Only rich people will be able to afford New Paltz, and I don’t want that. I want to find ways to make it a more equitable village.”

How would you describe the community character of New Paltz?

Weisburd has had to wrestle with this slippery concept when evaluating Planning Board applications, because state environmental law requires that how projects fit the community character be considered. “It feels like a positive place . . . I see a lot of people who help each other and the environment. It’s a multi-generational community with new people coming all the time, all learning how we can grow in sustainable and resilient ways together.” Weisburd acknowledges that from time to time residents snipe at one another via social media, but does not believe that this is a central quality of the New Paltz community character.

Thus far, that growth hasn’t meant a sea of strip malls that have replaced historic homes and buildings. It’s the sort of character that allows entrepreneurs to open small business and keep them open. “With sustainable growth, we can keep that rather than the big-box stores you can find anywhere.” Much of how that’s preserved is through tourism and Weisburd understands there are impacts to that: “Getting across town on a Saturday is not ideal, but we are the ones who get to live here.”

Having moved to New Paltz just under eight years ago, Weisburd is still amazed by the natural beauty that surrounds and infuses the village. “I’m grateful every day of the view of the Ridge, the trees and the sky. I feel lucky every time I take a hike. There’s nothing like this in New York City. I’m proud to be part of this community.”

For Weisburd, community character is all these things, but first and foremost it’s the people who live in the community who define that character. “I think about the people, and what it looks like, and how it feels; it feels like home.”

What impacts do you foresee if voters agree to hold future village elections in November?

Weisburd is an active political volunteer, but doesn’t think that this year’s referendum to place village elections under county control — which would legally make them partisan elections — would in any way change the essential nature of village elections. With plans to “weigh the pros and cons” before voting on the question on May 4, at the moment Weisburd is focused on the anticipated increase in voter turnout and the certain shift of the expense from the village tax bill to the county tax bill.

William Wheeler-Murray

William Wheeler-Murray

William Wheeler-Murray is, in addition to a current village trustee, a member of the village’s fire company. Murray’s community service ranges from helping to build the new playground at Hasbrouck Park to working shifts in vaccine distribution centers. Murray provided responses in writing.

What do you feel are the most pressing issues in the village right now?

Affordable housing comes immediately to mind. With a large influence of investors putting money into housing for short-term rentals (a lucrative business for a tourist area such as our own), too many people are displaced. A landlord or residential homeowner can make more money renting a portion of a month to tourists than what can be earned from those renting long-term. The demand on our housing inventory has gone up, driving prices up, making it very difficult, if not impossible, for young people to buy, and very attractive to current owners not to sell. It’s madness as well as destructive, but our short-term rental law should stem the tide, and perhaps by the time this is published, we will have voted for approval. Since “pressing issues” are what we need and what’s in our purview, I’d also say water that’s locally sourced, infrastructure that’s more 21st century than 19th, an increase in more-than-minimum-wage jobs, greater pedestrian and bicycle safety measures, more volunteers to serve on our community boards and fire department, and more electric vehicle charging stations and pollinator gardens, to name just a few.

What impacts do you foresee if voters agree to hold future village elections in November?

Voters will be asked this election to vote on whether or not to move our village-only elections to November, rather than continuing to hold them in May. The thinking behind the move is to increase voter turnout and to save approximately $8,000 in operational costs, since the county’s Board of Elections would run and pay for the November election. I certainly am in favor of both increasing voter turnout and saving money. However, there will be consequences to such a proposed move, and the devil is in the details. An election in November would be a county-run partisan contest. At present, the May village election is nonpartisan, meaning it consists of candidates who run on their own independent party, of their creation, gathered among friends, family and supporters — not on a major party ticket. The difficulty is that it’s quite possible a small group of people belonging to a major party could pick who should serve in a village position. In an intimate political and cultural setting, such as we have here in the Village of New Paltz, this could be divisive. Just a handful of people would decide who would run our local government. It’s true that a candidate could run for a village office without a major party’s choice and backing, but the odds would not be in that person’s favor. The present structure has a great deal of wisdom behind it and allows for more grassroots involvement and engagement in our local government workings. It is progressive and open-minded at its core, and does not warrant a date change.

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How would you describe the community character of New Paltz?

I sort of bristle when I read somewhere that New Paltz is “eclectic,” which puts us in a small, tidy, touristy basket. It doesn’t recognize this population who values the life of a progressive, thoughtful and caring community. Without a doubt, there’s conflict aired on social media, which shields people from discussing and resolving differences directly, but overall, we come together during the most needed and difficult times. That can be a challenge, but I find the way New Paltzians unite during stressful times extraordinary.

What have you learned during your first term as a trustee, and how does it inform how you do this job?

I think my term has been divided into pre-pandemic and pandemic periods, which of course we’re still in. Pre-pandemic saw a community more involved and engaged with goings on around town. I knew, but learned better, that we have residents who are very passionate about what we do on the village board. That was demonstrated pre-pandemic in meeting attendance where more voices and a greater variety of voices were heard. That feedback is essential in guiding direction and decision-making. What’s been lacking is that level of engagement due to the necessary restrictions enacted these past 13 months. Did that passion for community government disappear? I think to a degree it did, but as we enter into a life with a reduced pandemic, I’m seeing glimpses of that constructive engagement return, and it is welcome.

Looking back at the past four years as a trustee, what of that work makes you most proud to serve?

I don’t think pride is singular. The things we do and achieve are shared experiences, so I’m proud of the collective effort of this village board. From being a part of climate, housing, infrastructure and social justice issues, to the building of our new playground, to bringing an ethical circus to town, to launching the New Paltz neighbor to neighbor initiative that reached out to home-bound residents early in the pandemic, to the start of construction for our new firehouse after many years of hard work by so many people — all are pride-inducing.

Murray also suggested, and answered, the following question related question:

How has the pandemic impacted village operations and your role?

I think we all should be thankful for Mayor Tim Rogers, deputy Mayor KT Tobin, trustees Alex Wojcik and Michele Zipp and all the employees of the village who have kept our village government going during the pandemic without missing a beat. It’s worth remembering that before the pandemic hit, New Paltz experienced a water crisis that in some way was a primer or trainer for what was to come. Having to operate in crisis mode from that time onward made unprecedented demands on this administration, but this group of dedicated people have dealt with New Paltz’s pandemic issues thoroughly, efficiently and really mindfully, and it’s been a pleasure to be a part of that.

Murray’s name will be found on the “Villagers People’s” line on the ballot.

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