New Paltz has a reputation for being a progressive community, but it was not always this way, at least electorally. In 1999, Sue Zimet was elected Town Supervisor on the tails of her successful work with in the anti-Walmart campaign. On the night of her election there were conservative Democrats at Republican headquarters sympathizing with the Republicans and grieving the election results.
In 2003, in the village we elected the first Green Party mayor in New York State. We are the home to one of the very few communities across the nation that has ever had an elected official solemnize gay marriage. However, since Jason West lost his reelection bid in 2007, the local Green Party has lost its steam. Aside from getting Edgar Rodriquez on the school board in 2007, and despite a competitive run by Margaret Human for Town Board, the local Greens have not gained any local seats since 2004.
Most of the local Green Party people I know are ideologically pretty much equivalent to most of my progressive Democratic friends. So, how come progressives don’t flock to the Green Party? How come they, like me, are registered Democrats?
- Greens are Spoilers. Brittany Turner’s late entry into the recent Town Board race reinforced the spoiler argument. A steadfast environmentalist with an impressive civic resume - Democrat Bob Hughes - lost by about 30 votes to a more moderate Jeff Logan. Brittany garnered about 125 votes. Her presence in the race was indicative of the same math that came into play when Gore and Kerry lost the presidencies in 2000 and 2004. Old school Democrats have not forgotten or forgiven the damage they found Ralph Nader guilty of inflicting: eight years of George W. Bush. The local Greens gained no new friends as a result of Brittany’s short campaign, and perhaps may have even lost of a few of their own.
- Infiltration! The progressive Democrats I know that sit at the committee table all believe the only way to beat the system is from within. Registered Democrats in general question the efficacy of the Greens with their outsider status. While the Green Party’s platform may be quite in line with their own vision, they believe the only way to achieve the goals of such a platform is within one of the two mainstream parties. As one Dem committee member likes to say, “You have to be in the house, not out on the street.”
- Primaries and Caucuses. I was registered independent for many years, but when I moved in the summer of 2007 I switched my status to Democrat so that I could vote in the Ulster County D.A. primary that fall and the presidential primary the following spring. I figured I would switch back to independent after the primaries, but at times I have considered going Green. Yet, I still find myself a registered Democrat.
I am not a member of the New Paltz Democratic committee. Last fall I started going just to check things out and have found these meetings to be equally boring and scary…
When Sue Zimet joined the New Paltz Democratic Committee in the late 1990s the table was chock full of conservative Democrats. And while yes, there may now be more progressive members on the committee and in elected positions in both the town and the village, what has it gotten us?
For example, with such overwhelming Democratic presence, how can it be that we have no wetlands protection law in either the town or village? How come it took like what felt like ages to get the village employees a signed union contract? And as Don Kerr recently said on New Paltz News – I paraphrase - why with all of our elected town leaders being Democrats is the Crossroads development even on the table? (Although I must give a shout out to our mayor and village board members who have been highly critical of Crossroads: Terry Dungan, Michael Zierler, and Shari (ok, Holden) Osborn.)
There are some weird dynamics going on right now. Our current Town Supervisor Toni Hokanson, who will be up for reelection next year, will be lucky to get the Dem votes from her peers at the committee table who oppose Crossroads, but ironically these very same people are aligned with the conservative old school cadre – which is pretty much lead by the Nyquists, both formally and informally since Corinne Nyquist is the Chair and Tom Nyquist (the incumbent mayor that Jason West ousted) is the temporary Treasurer. I posit that because of her stance on Crossroads, in the general election, Toni will get the support of conservative Democrats, many Republicans, and perhaps senior citizens irrespective of party. But who will the Democratic electorate support at the caucus? Will a progressive candidate emerge to steal the stage? Will perhaps even a Green storm the caucus and grab the nomination? (Margaret Human nearly did so in 2007.) And what about the two town board seats that will be up?
So, I guess I will stick it out with my Dem registration status so I will be permitted to continue to be pesky at the committee meetings. You can only attend if you are a registered Democrat; to which Rachel Lagodka (a registered Green) can attest is strongly enforced as she is regularly kicked out (it is often the only fun of the night). Despite my misgivings, I have been trying to get young upstarts like Dan Torres and Jeff Fonda to come along. Maybe, if you are like minded and are registered with the party, you would like to join me sometime? The meetings are held the second Thursday of the month at Village Hall.
And yup, I think I really want to keep my ability to vote in the 2009 caucuses… But I must say the Working Families Party is looking better every day. What’s a gadfly to do?
* I just heard through the grapevine, there is a sign on the door to Village Hall, tonight’s meeting was canceled due to weather.