New Paltz: some local notes & this blog

Local readers of this often local blog know that I go light with most of the local personalities. I really don’t want to set people up for embarrassment, and I think that after many posts about New Paltz politics and culture, most local readers would agree that there has been much less in the way of polemics directed at those in the hometown arena than might be expected, given my approach to national figures.

There have been and are exceptions, however.

Jason West, the former mayor of the village of New Paltz, was clearly a thorn in my side, so I returned the favor. I tried to keep it somewhat reined in, but the man was a punk. I threw off the “Jason is a good guy” gag early, because he wasn’t.

Inevitably, because she was effectively West’s public relations agent, I had to keep a cold eye on New Paltz Times reporter Erin Quinn. Though I often only referred to her as the paper’s “senior Pentagon correspondent,” everyone interested understood who that was. In a very recent post I called her both a “terrible” and “unethical” reporter by name, but that’s not something I intend to dwell on. I don’t think that the New Paltz Times is of that much consequence, precisely because the reporting is so politicized when it isn’t simply petty and dreadful.

If your reporting is rotten, your opinion columns irrelevant to incoherent, and you’ve driven off your livliest letter writers, that gift-shop page layout with the splash of color will only get you so far. The paper is dead, but will not be buried.

I have perhaps been the hardest on the person I can least stomach in local politics, New Paltz town supervisor Toni Hokanson. To my eye she is a bureaucrat transformed into a political boss who has only accidental run-ins with the truth. Her tradecraft is governmental process, for which we already have clerks at the low end and lawyers at the high end. She uses process to affect leadership and hides things in it, folding issues down into its thick batter. She resorts to un- and half-truth as needed.

She does not bear up to scrutiny, but she gets none, and certainly prefers it that way.

Distinct from that but no doubt coloring my view of her is her career in the abortion industry. While I expect that most local politicians are pro-choice, but never ask because it isn’t relevant to local politics, I do take exception to an adult lifetime background in the abortion industry for someone who leads and represents the government of my town. To put it in terms that might be understood more easily in the superannuated new age culture of New Paltz: it’s bad karma, and how.

But that’s just me. If it doesn’t have any effect on you, then jump back up to the paragraph before that one, and think about her reaction to the significant local opposition to the Crossroads project. It was an “I don’t care how many people oppose this” reaction, a reaction that suggested her reasoning was outside the scope of the public’s perception.

She twiddled with the argument that it would bring in revenues that would make the local tax burden lighter, but no one I heard was biting on that weak assertion. She certainly made no free market argument, which would have earned my respect. But she couldn’t do that because she represents the antithesis of free market principles. (Increasing, for instance, the cost of new homes in the town by mandating energy conservation measures to “fight global warming.”)

I am a localist, a conservative localist. I think that a small community should be able to say, all right, we will make this area available for commercial use, this one for residential use, and over here the two can be combined. It is a sincere effort to bring a sort of formal arrangement to a community, especially one that is traditionally quite rural and small, with modern growth issues.

No zoning plan is perfect, but it does let property owners and purchasers know what the story is. Trying to use a little bureaucratic lingo (I refer to the PUD or “planned unit development” sidestep) to maneuver around the established plan, to cheat a little on it for this or that project might indicate flexibility, and might be fair, and might be good for everyone. But trying to use a little bureaucratic lingo to place a behemoth project right where it will do the most damage is more than a little strange. It’s very strange, and when I recently asked a very savvy local political leader to explain it to me he shrugged. He couldn’t figure it out either.

I’m not a Democrat, but I know who the Democrats are, and I really do wonder if they have the institutional capacity, or the candidates, to deal with the problem of Hokanson, much less the board she leads. There is no effective Republican opposition in New Paltz right now, and there won’t be until that party finds itself new leadership. But I wonder if the Democrats are themselves functional, even though their nominees will win virtually any election in town uncontested.

My worry is that they are stumbling in the dark, squabbling internally about nothing, and will sputter into the next election either with Hokanson as their nominee again or will go with something even worse.

I see no hope from anyone on the town board. Although I think that Jeff Logan is trying damn hard to get the hang of things he won’t be ready for real leadership for at least a few years, and it won’t do him any good to rush it. David Lewis is a lovely man, with a serene sense of his surroundings, but he is not the future of that board. Jane Ann Williams is a darling woman with a lovely way about her, but she appears stifled and far less interested than when she first took that seat. Kitty Brown is a confusion wrapped in perplexed panic, or so it seems from where I sit.

Hokanson has them all snookered. Democrats who don’t necessarily want to are going to have to step up and relieve her of the nomination and thus the job. If they don’t then they will have failed the test of their dominion over local politics.

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