Under sunny skies, with a gentle breeze blowing, the pavilion in George Majestic Memorial Park served as the setting for the Gardiner Democratic Committee’s Fall Fundraiser on Sunday, September 26. There was a plentiful buffet of tasty food; there was a lively auction, punctuated with groan-inducing jokes at the expense of Republicans by Tim Hunter. There was even a traveling Democracy Tent – the brainchild of Amy Fradon, vice-chair for voter outreach for the Ulster County Democrats – where citizens could register to vote or learn about the history of women’s suffrage and kids could vote for whether Superman, Wonder Woman or Batman should serve as president of the United Universe.
But mostly, there was an upwelling of appreciation for the civic contributions of David Dukler, who is retiring at the end of 2021 from the seat on the Gardiner Town Board that he has occupied for two four-year terms. Local officials who have worked with Dukler in a variety of capacities, including his stint as president of the Gardiner Library board and a decade on the New Paltz Central School District’s Board of Education, stepped up to the microphone to offer their praise for his dedication to the betterment of his community.
Calling him “a true public servant,” Town supervisor Marybeth Majestic took special note of Dukler’s efforts as “a strong advocate for recreation, especially for trails,” working with the Wallkill Valley Land Trust and on the Ulster County Trails Advisory Committee. She credited Dukler with singlehandedly securing a $100,000 grant to repair the dilapidated bridge spanning Forest Glen Road on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and install traffic-calming devices to deter collisions where the trail crosses Old Ford Road.
Majestic also cited Dukler’s advocacy for senior residents, and noted that he had been the obvious candidate when the Town Board decided to create a post of ambassador for peace and justice, following a spate of hate crimes in the township in 2020. Fellow councilman Warren Wiegand echoed this sentiment, noting that Dukler had urged Town officials to take action officially condemning the incidents of racist and homophobic vandalism that had been occurring. “That says everything about Dave,” Wiegand said. “He has been incredible on the Town Board. We’ve had nobody who is more prepared, more dedicated or more effective. And he has a heart as big as Majestic Park.”
Also on hand to speak were a number of Ulster County officials, including county executive Pat Ryan, a recent migrant to Gardiner. He spoke of several countywide initiatives near to the hearts of Democrats: traffic safety measures including a long-term fix for the perilous intersection of Route 44/55 and Bruynswick Road; allocation of federal pandemic relief funding to improve mental health and addiction services; finding ways to make housing more affordable as rents and home prices skyrocket; creation of a Green Growth Fund. To the local activists in attendance, Ryan said, “Gardiner Democrats, you are kicking ass and really leading by example in a way that’s resonating across the County and the region,” and described local elections as “the last line of defense for democracy in our country.”
Tracey Bartels, Ulster County legislator for Gardiner and Shawangunk, bore the distinction of being the only Democratic candidate on the Gardiner ballot in November 2021 whose seat is being contested; Shawangunk firefighter Kimberly Calderone is running on the Republican line for District 16. Bartels warned that Democrats are in danger of losing their slim 12-11 majority in the County Legislature, noting that the “very tight” split “makes consensus important – and very difficult.” She joined in acknowledging the contributions of David Dukler, who she said “exemplifies everything we want in a public servant.”
Additional speakers included Family Court judge Sarah Rakov; Carol Richman, who is running unopposed for Dukler’s vacated Town Board seat; and Ulster County comptroller March Gallagher, who said, “I need people like Tracey [Bartels] and Marisa [McClinton, seeking to unseat Kevin Roberts in Plattekill’s District 12] in the Legislature” in order to do her job of “stewarding every dollar.”
When Dave Dukler’s turn came to speak, he deflected all the praise he’d received onto his many collaborators over the years, including members of the Town Board, Climate Smart Gardiner, the Town’s Recreation, Open Space and Environmental commissions. “I’m just one of the many,” he said. In thanking the Democratic Committee for its hard work, he singled out two longtime activists who died last year: Mike Kruglinski and Barbara Sides. Dukler and Sides had worked closely together on the Library board, and he noted that it was she who had recruited him on extremely short notice to run for the Town Board when Marc Moran decided not to run in 2013.
Looking toward Gardiner’s future, Dukler foresaw “lots of challenges coming up ahead,” noting affordable housing, increasing tourism and density among them. “This doesn’t happen without all of us participating,” he said. “I’m going to continue to be involved in other venues. I hope to see you out there and on the trails.”
An avid recreational cyclist who avers that the activity helps with “slowing down the aging process,” Dukler later confirmed to Hudson Valley One that he will remain engaged with the Wallkill Valley Land Trust to help oversee resurfacing and drainage improvements on the Gardiner section of the rail trail, presuming that Ulster County approves the funding that has been requested. “That’s not a done deal yet,” he warned.
As for his accomplishments on the Town Board, Dukler looked back on “my pet project, getting the right leadership for the Parks and Recreation Committee” as a big win, expressing satisfaction that efforts to protect Gardiner’s outdoor recreation assets were being left in capable hands. He also said that he plans to work with Jean McGrane of the Open Space Commission, as well as the Town Board, to establish a Community Preservation Fund, funded by “a small fee on new buyers, based on the size of the mortgage,” to be set aside for the protection of open space. “I’ll probably stay involved with the Library,” he added.
An important part of public service, Dukler noted, is “knowing when to step away and make room for other people to step in. I’m going to go out like Bjorn Borg: I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.”