The Gardiner Democratic Committee has endorsed a slate of candidates for 2023 that includes Emmanuel Nneji for Ulster County district attorney, Debra Clinton for county legislator for District 16, Jen Metzger for county executive, Laura Wong-Pan for town justice, Franco Carucci and Michael Hartner for town board, Julia Hansen for town clerk and Marybeth Majestic for town supervisor. But for the first time since Lisa Lindsley opposed her in 2017, incumbent Majestic has a challenger for the Democratic nomination: local environmental activist, singer/songwriter and telecom channel manager Tim Hunter. Town of Gardiner Dems will get to choose between the two candidates on Primary Day, Tuesday, June 27. Early voting will take place from June 17 through 25.
The challenger: Tim Hunter
Most recently gaining visibility as the organizer of a website and Facebook page opposing the construction of a cell tower at the Highway Department garage on South Mountain Road, near his home, Tim Hunter was a Gardiner Democratic Committee member until the recent nomination of Majestic for reelection. “The whole Democratic ticket is great; I like them all, except the top of the ticket,” he tells HV1. “I abstained when we had to endorse Marybeth, and then I resigned.” The fact that Majestic ran on the Republican ticket in some past elections was one of his qualms, Hunter says, and he presents himself as an alternative candidate who has been a “lifelong Democrat.”
Hunter grew up in Great Neck on Long Island, earning a BA in psychology and music at Stony Brook University. Changing careers to the telecom industry after some years as a stockbroker/commodities broker – not to mention as proprietor in the 1980s of the Tenth Street Russian and Turkish Baths, among whose regular clientele was the cast of Saturday Night Live – he first moved to Gardiner in 2004 with his late wife Elizabeth. Initially drawn together by a mutual interest in music, they adopted four children: Wynnefred and Theodore, born in Guatemala, and Moses and Beatrice, born in Rwanda.
Elizabeth Hunter, who ran the New Paltz franchise of Musical Munchkins, died of cancer in 2016. Says Tim, “Being a single dad of four amazing kids since has had a galvanizing effect on me. Next year, all four will be in high school and I will have all of my time for the betterment of Gardiner.”
Besides serving on the Gardiner Democratic Committee and campaigning against the cell tower project, Hunter has been involved as a volunteer for a number of other local causes over the years, including the Save Tillson Lake group. Inspired by his past work with Pete Seeger running the Clearwater Walkabout Chorus, he organized a series of Gardiner community concerts. He served on the town’s Open Space Commission during its first incarnation, helping to preserve Kiernan and Hess Farms. He also made an unsuccessful bid for the Ulster County Legislature in 2007 and volunteered for the Jen Metzger and Juan Figueroa campaigns. Most recently, Hunter put his name forward to join Gardiner’s Environmental Conservation Commission, but was passed over in favor of, in his words, “a friend of the Bradley family,” the owners of the controversial Awosting Club property.
Asked why he’s now aiming for the top of the ticket instead of first serving on the planning board or town board before running for supervisor, Hunter points out that neither of the last two to hold that post, Carl Zatz or Marybeth Majestic, took that “usual” route either. “My reason was the severity of the need,” he says.
In Hunter’s view, the biggest threat facing the Town of Gardiner is rampant development. He cites the approval of the cell tower and Wildflower Farms projects as problematic in their process, and has been a consistent critic of the expansion of the Lazy River and Awosting Club campgrounds and other development projects that have had negative impacts on their neighborhoods. “There are things being approved that are not good for the future of Gardiner,” he says, raising the possibility that some applicants get more favorable treatment because of personal connections or financial clout, or simply to avoid the threat of a lawsuit. “There’s a perception that there are two different sets of laws and codes.”
Even in cases where developers are trying to take a “green” approach, “People walk away from a development or a project and feel like they’re not being heard” during public hearings and other Town meetings, says Hunter. Specifically, he criticizes the town board’s practice of holding the “privilege of the floor” segment, in which the public is invited to speak, at the very end of each meeting. “I would place it at the beginning of meetings, as other municipalities do,” he writes in his campaign materials. “For too long, there has been a divide between the public and those elected to represent them. I intend to try to bridge that chasm.”
To learn more about Tim Hunter’s platform and campaign for the Democratic nomination for Gardiner Town supervisor, visit www.tim4gardiner.com.
The incumbent: Marybeth Majestic
First elected on the Republican line in 2015, ousting Democratic incumbent Carl Zatz, Majestic has held the supervisor post continuously ever since, often running on both the Democratic and the Republican ticket. She has lived in Gardiner for 43 years, raising three sons with her husband, Gardiner native Charley Majestic. Raised in the Bronx, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in political science at SUNY New Paltz, with a double minor in journalism and speech communication.
For her part, Majestic doesn’t seem too fazed by Hunter’s criticisms of her administration of town hall. “When I read his campaign materials, I said, ‘This sounds like me when I ran in 2015!’” she says, arguing that transparency and communication have been priorities for her from the get-go. “I’ve always let people speak, even if it’s not a public hearing. My door is always open. The reason why ‘privilege of the floor’ is done at the end is because people can comment on what was done that night.” She offers the rewriting of the proposed Solar Law as an example of a process in which public comments at meetings were taken into consideration by the town board to improve town policy.
Some of the thornier issues that have beset Gardiner during Majestic’s four terms were “inherited” from previous supervisors, she notes. The town had already committed itself to the Highway Department site for its second cell tower as far back as the Joe Katz administration, and the unpermitted expansion of the Lazy River campsite has been underway for many years. She takes pride in the fact that the town board was able to reach a compromise with Lazy River’s owners that set permanent limits without triggering a lawsuit.
Majestic points to the many infrastructure improvements achieved on her watch: upgrades to town hall; the pavilion and basketball court at Majestic Park; the Clove Road Bridge; the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, including the footbridge at Forest Glen Road; the new Riverbend Trail system at the Transfer Station; expansion of broadband service; an EV charging station at the Gardiner Library. An Inflow and Infiltration Study for the hamlet’s sewer district was completed, and “The shovels hitting the ground are supposed to happen this summer,” according to the supervisor.
Most of these improvements were partially or fully funded with grant monies, while reducing town taxes for the last three years in a row. Grantwriting is a new skill that Majestic acquired on the job. A proposal is currently pending for Ulster County ARPA funding to build a pump track and improve accessibility for skateboarders at Majestic Park.
Other feathers in her cap include updating the town’s comprehensive plan, completion of Natural Resource and Greenhouse Gas inventories, the decision to enter a Community Choice Aggregation contract for renewable electric power, conversion of streetlights to LEDs and adoption of a Community Preservation Plan and a Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT). Majestic notes that income to the town’s new Community Preservation Fund (CPF) from the RETT has already gone from $10,000 in its second month of operation to $26,000 in the third month. “This puts many more tools in our toolbox that haven’t been available to us due to a lack of a funding mechanism,” she says, adding that the parcels of open space most critically in need of preservation have already been identified via the data-driven Natural Resource Inventory. Gardiner is about to acquire new fiscal management software that will facilitate monitoring the CPF, along with the rest of the town’s budget.
For the near future, Majestic’s top priority is tweaking Gardiner’s Zoning Code to ensure that it consistently supports the goals and recommendations of the newly updated Comprehensive Plan. She says she hopes that the finished product will make it easier for the planning board and zoning board of appeals to “combat development pressures” on the town. “As beautiful as Gardiner is, and being 75 miles from Manhattan, it’s a challenge,” says Majestic. “The word’s out.”