Voters in district 20 may have been happy to reelect Eve Walter to the Ulster County Legislature, but Walter has stepped down early, and that’s not an option. Instead, two dedicated community members are seeking to represent a portion of New Paltz that includes the entirety of the village at meetings in Kingston.
William Wheeler Murray
William Wheeler Murray — better known as “Bill” to many in the community — would like to be seen as “someone who is devoted to his community and his family, who notices the missing pieces and tries to rectify that, who works on improving himself and surroundings, and freely helps those in need. Someone with patience, perseverance and is not afraid to question norms and calmly face adversity. And if they mentioned having a deep sense of what is fair and just, along with a sense of humor, I’d appreciate that. We would all then continue and talk about the Yankees, politics, kids or bees.”
Asked why it would be important to step off the village board to take the legislative seat, Murray explained that with more than half of incumbent legislators leaving, there is a need for someone to work on known local issues using county resources, such as improving the public transportation system. State and federal funding for infrastructure and other local projects is often funneled through county governments, as well. That amount of turnover means that a good many people will be trying to learn the ropes, and having experience in another form of government gives a leg up on that score. “Now’s the time for my experience and leadership to step up, serve, fight for state and federal funding to support these needs and make things happen.” What will become of the village-level work if Murray vacates that position? “If elected, I’m certainly not leaving the village. I will be available to the village board beyond my work as county legislator. I’ll attend village board meetings to provide updates on what’s happening in the legislature. As long as I’m invited, I’m more than happy to participate as much as allowed.”
That experience and leadership has included the passage of a new fire sprinkler law in the village, and lobbying to increase service award cap for volunteer firefighters. “This was no small achievement, and it positively resonates throughout the state’s volunteer fire service. Murray also counts saving the Ann Oliver house from demolition, constructing the new Hasbrouck Park playground, and orchestrating sewage testing for Covid among the trustee’s accomplishments and collaborations. A capstone might be the work on getting a new village firehouse built, and it being the most green and energy efficient in the state. “I can offer this advice: never try to build a firehouse during a pandemic.”
Murray has also volunteered in the community, both as a firefighter and otherwise. Besides running into burning buildings, Murray has been behind circus performances to support youth and recreation, pulled together a program for checking on neighbors during the most intense period of pandemic shutdown, among other service. It’s the time spent as a volunteer firefighter, however, that Murray credits with the desire to step up and into other forms of community service. That led to an appointment to the village’s planning board, and from there into becoming an elected trustee in the village.
“Our county executive and former New York State Senator Jen Metzger often points to the importance of serving, as she did, in a local position such as a council person or trustee, as fundamental to conducting government business on a broader scale. I think no truer words could be spoken. My extensive work serving New Paltz as a trustee, my experience living in this great state, residing in New Paltz for 20 years, raising three children who attended our schools, the years of community contributions as discussed above, my working in the arts for four decades — which led to my becoming a creative problem solver — all these attributes make me the candidate to represent you in the Ulster County Legislature. I believe Village of New Paltz voters value experience, proven commitment and a history of local accomplishments and will support that on June 27. As Oscar Wilde so brilliantly put it, ‘Experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first and the lesson afterward’.”
Limina Grace Harmon
Limina Grace Harmon has secured a position in the New Paltz community since arriving a few years ago, participating in such work as the committee tasked with recommending changes to New Paltz’s police in recognition of the systemic racism that can be exacerbated by the badge and gun. Asked how a mutual friend might make an introduction, Harmon hopes to be described as honest, a straight shooter; “my positions may change, but my ethics don’t.” On top of that, Harmon wants to be known as someone who loves to laugh but takes life seriously, and someone who believes that one should do this work for love, or not at all. Furthermore, “I always find my way to connection.” That connection has been found in New Paltz. “Something stuck” with Harmon in this, a “community that’s open to new ways of thinking,” and that is now Harmon’s children’s home. “I’m committed not to leaving the same old messes to them.”
Harmon believes that being in the county legislature would be an opportunity to prioritize “people and the planet at the same time.” While having considered a run for elected office more than once, this is “the right place, and the right time.” There is going to be a fair amount of turnover in Kingston this year, and Harmon wants to be part of the promise that this new group is expected to bring to the county. It’s a time of apocalyptic warnings mixed with optimism, when humans in this country are wrestling with problematic parts of history and getting down on democracy in general. Harmon sees this as an important point to push toward the positive rather than the negative. The background and skills that Harmon believes make this candidate “perfectly wired” to serve in the legislature now include participation in the Greenbuild program, and years of work in racial justice.
Greenbuild is a global community of green building professionals, and the training Harmon has received at conferences is essential for addressing the dual crises of too few homes and too much environmental impact from a growing human population in need of homes. Harmon wants to see new housing in Ulster County that’s built using green principles, reducing the impact of all that construction and living as much as possible. Draw upon the expanding workforce community to build more green workforce housing would address multiple issues at once. “We can do it all, pretty much as fast, with intersectional solutions.”
Mental health is also a big concern in Ulster County. Harmon has seen the difficulties that residents face in receiving care, particularly if they are beholden to the rules governing public assistance or private health insurance. Further, “we just need to call it ‘health care’ and model a more holistic way,” that will weave back together the body and the mind, and also not overlook substance abuse. Harmon also sees this intersecting with climate and economic issues, as they are “driving to drink and despair” many young adults, who are losing hope. “We made this mess, and we must fix it.”
Harmon sees the county government as being especially important in terms of impact. “Everything is implemented on the local level,” which in New York tends to mean either through a county program, or with funds passing through the county to municipal bodies like village boards and town councils. Harmon has a lot of experience at the policy level, which is “like playing chess,” and wants to be more involved in changing the lives of individuals.
Another reason Harmon believes that this is the “right time” is because Harmon is a person of faith — and more than that, being a Methodist minister is Harmon’s profession. “I’m a person of faith who believes in the separation of church and state — I do not want a theocracy. Not everyone needs my beliefs.” It’s true that some members of some clergy have been in headlines for crossing legal and moral lines, and Harmon believes that actions are a truer test of beliefs than words. Harmon has no intention of being lumped together with “dogmatic regressionists,” and instead intends on improving life for all.
“If you long for something different, here I am!”
Early voting will take place June 17-25 — 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 17-19, noon to 8 p.m. June 20, 9 a.m. to 5p.m. June 21, noon to 8 p.m. June 22, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 23-25.
Locations for early voting will be at the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center, 56 Rock City Road, Woodstock; Midtown Neighborhood Center, 467 Broadway, Kingston; the New Paltz Community Center, 3 Veterans Drive; and the Shawangunk town office building, 14 Central Ave, Wallkill.
Residents will be able to vote at any of the early voting locations. On primary day, June 27, voting will take place at poll sites in the home districts.