In Gardiner, two terms on the Town Board will end in 2021. And whichever of the three candidates currently vying for them prove successful, the tenor of council meetings seems almost certain to change. Meeting length might also increase, given that the two new contenders are both known for being considerably more confrontational than the laid-back incumbent who has decided to retire, David Dukler.
The councilman seeking reelection, Democrat Warren Wiegand, seems at first glance to have a lock on his seat, given his track record. Retired from a corporate career, Wiegand has been an active community volunteer in Gardiner since the turn of the millennium. He spearheaded the fundraising campaign to rebuild the town library, served on the Board of Assessment Review, was chair of the Open Space Commission during the years when it successfully preserved the Kiernan and Hess Farms and led the recent effort to revive it after a period of inactivity. During a hiatus between Town Board terms from 2017 to 2019, he served on the Planning Board.
For his first eight years as councilman, Wiegand served as deputy supervisor. He has established a reputation for calm, rational debate, a moderate political stance and an appetite for hard work. A “fiscal hawk,” he has focused on finding alternatives to tax hikes to fund necessary expenditures; he initiated an inventory of town-owned idle properties that could be sold off and identified a number of dedicated funds in the town budget that were no longer needed for their originally intended purposes.
One might think the race is his to lose, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a maverick candidate came gunning for his seat and won. In 2017, when the Gardiner Democratic Committee declined to endorse incumbent councilman Mike Reynolds, Reynolds ran on the Republican line and ended up beating Wiegand in a squeaker that took months to resolve, with a final margin of only 17 votes. Wiegand was returned to the board in the 2019 election.
The two contenders for the Democratic nomination to fill Dukler’s seat have teamed up to unseat Wiegand as well, endorsing one another.
The more familiar name of the two is Carol Richman, who served seven years on the town’s Environmental Conservation Commission (ECC), two of them as chair, before joining the Planning Board in 2015.
A Fordham-trained attorney and a staunch environmentalist, Richman is known for putting her legal training to frequent use in meetings, arguing strenuously and at length over what some of her colleagues – including the Planning Board’s last two chairs – have tended to regard as minor details in development applications. Protecting wildlife habitat, natural ecosystems and the scenic beauty of the Shawangunk Ridge have been consistent priorities for Richman. Besides a general relish for battle during meetings, she has a tense history with town supervisor Marybeth Majestic, whose driveway project on North Mountain Road drew fire from Richman as ECC chair in 2012.
The political neophyte in this race, Todd Baker, emerged over the past couple of years as the most vocal opponent of Gardiner’s proposed Short-Term Rental Law. Baker organized an ad hoc organization called the Short-Term Rental Association of Gardiner (STRAG), and has led the charge against restrictions on STR ownership and operation in all the Town Board’s recent meetings on the topic. Clashing repeatedly with Gardiner officials, he has decried what he calls the Town Board’s “intransigent, closed and often self-righteous approach.”
Given that most Gardinerites don’t own STRs, Baker’s hopes of being elected to supplant Wiegand ride on his success in portraying himself as more than a single-issue candidate. “I am running because I believe local government can and must be done better. Gardiner needs transparency, openness and vision,” he says. “We need to remove incumbents and infuse Gardiner with new ideas and new, positive energy.”
The planks in Baker’s platform include, in his words: “Transparent and data-driven decisionmaking; scientific approach to protecting high-priority land…; sensible development and inclusive, affordable housing; vitalizing Gardiner’s business center and family farms; increasing Gardiner’s infrastructure and making it green.” He also opposes the proposed Kennel Law as currently drafted.
Can one of these hopefuls, each with a specific agenda and a combative personal style, replace Warren Wiegand on the Gardiner Town Board while the other takes Dave Dukler’s seat? And if so, can they learn to be team players? Gardiner Democrats get to choose two of the three in the primary election on June 22, with early voting underway from June 12 to 20. Whether there will be a Republican candidate opposing them is yet to be determined.