The second mayoral debate

Last night the candidates for mayor — Jason West, Terry Dungan, and Jonathan Cohen — got together for a second debate, this one at Elting Memorial Library.

The exuberant moderator of this debate was Charlie North, president of the Poughkeepsie Chamber of Commerce. Mr. North showed extraordinary talent at upstaging the candidates.

Mr. North appeared to take delight in booming out “30 seconds!” each time one of the three candidates neared the end of the allotted time for addressing a question, and in demanding intermittent rounds of applause from the audience. The one thing the moderator did not moderate was himself, although he did fearlessly clamp down on a woman who uttered a single word from the audience.

Oh, and then there was the debate. The thing had hardly begun when a glamourous debutante with tresses flowing down, it seemed, to her knees, fell into the chair next to us and began with some clamor to pour notes into her laptop. Between her and the vulpine beauty seated directly in front of us, it took all our strength to re-double our focus and concentrate on the candidates.

The opening statements were intriguing to us.

West got to prattling on about gloaming barning, or was it global warming? He talk fast, the boy mayor do. West has a very abstract, utopianized take on reality shadowed by apocalyptic fear, and so when he discusses his “vision” for New Paltz we see, in our mind’s eye, a little plastic model town covered with social realist murals featuring West himself depicted in such heroic efforts as holding back the rising seas, scenes befitting a young man in search of a cult of personality.

Dungan, who had greeted us warmly at the door as we entered the arena, reiterated his campaign narrative, wherein he describes his forty years in town: met his wife here, kids went to the high school and to SUNY, and he loves it here, wants to stay, wants to lead the village through its impending growth as itself — a small village perfectly pitched to the western landscape.

Dungan rejects West’s idea that New Paltz must be “urbanized,” by which West means a number of things of interest mainly to West.

We think Dungan captured the sentiments of those who love the damn place, and his version of town has warmth and energy. In an earlier time, this sort of approach was called common sense, a phenomenon largely unknown to postmoderns. We would quibble with his take on some of the issues, but have no doubt that he will, as advertised, listen.

Cohen wanted to harken back to the evanescent New Paltz past, where he imagined hippiosos (as the wonderful Jane St. Onge labeled them circa 1974) gently floating about and strumming softly on guitars and beginning stoned conversations with “Yeahhh, man.” He clearly did not know that back in the good old days, and they were good, New Paltz was much more like Deadwood than it was the Haight, a seriously rough place that would have laughed itself silly at the current dyspeptic politically correct cum retirement home atmosphere in town, not to mention the totalitarian police state up on campus. Cohen also says he believes in the Golden Rule, and we applaud that.

The lone bit of departure from New Paltz Happy Talk(TM) came when Dungan upbraided West for slandering the village at an out-of-town speaking engagement. Dungan told boy mayor that he say one thing here, to our face, and another thing behind our back, in this case telling his out-of-town audience that the village is twenty-five percent rich homeowners who hate students.

Speaking for our homeowning household, we don’t hate students, we love students. We do intensely dislike the college, however, which we view as a lusterless meat-packing plant run by paranoid clerks.

Wrapping up, the debate featured a classic used-car dealer unto Marxist dictator, an almost charming gadfly, and an ordinary grown-up, who were West, Cohen, and Dungan, respectively. We think we’d go with the ordinary grown-up, just in case we need one down the road.

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