Two seats are opening on the Gardiner Town Board next year — Councilman David Dukler is stepping down after several years of service, but Councilman Warren Wiegand is fighting to remain in his seat. Carol Richman, an attorney and Planning Board member, and Todd Baker, a financial advisor and Short Term Rental advocate, have entered the race as well.
Here’s a rundown on the three candidates vying for two spots that will appear on the Democratic primary ballots:
Incumbent Warren Wiegand has been a dedicated Councilman since his initial election in 2007, except for a brief two-year period in 2015 when he lost his bid for re-election. Rather than enjoy a two-year sabbatical, Wiegand searched for other ways to offer his time and energy to the Town of Gardiner.
“I had more to give and I wanted to continue to serve,” he said. Wiegand found a spot on the Planning Board, where he “learned first-hand what was going on with zoning.” The property knowledge and Town Code prowess proved to be vital assets for a Councilman and propelled him to a Town Board election in 2017.
Now, Wiegand wants to put those skills to the test in his bid for a fifth term. One of his major priorities is working on the Gardiner’s zoning and property laws, which he said are very restrictive and have resulted in higher pricing. One way to solve the affordability issue is by finding new ways to cluster housing so that the next generation won’t be priced out.
“We got to make the town affordable for more people. It can’t just be a place where I have mine and too bad about you,” Wiegand said.
In addition to putting in time on the Planning Board, Wiegand restarted the Open Space Commission in 2017, which had withered in the short time he was out of office. The new formation “is the best we’ve ever had in town,” according to the Councilman. His involvement as the commissions first chairperson and his expertise with the organization will be vital to protecting the area from over development and maintaining rural life in the coming years as Gardiner becomes increasingly popular, he said.
Furthermore, Wiegand believes he’s particularly valuable at balancing annual budgets and raising money for municipal necessities. He pointed to his efforts that helped raise thousands of dollars for Gardiner’s new library, and then selling the old library, which had been sitting vacant, for over $100,000 through an online auction. No money is ever wasted on his watch, Wiegand noted.
Wiegand believes his vast experience sets him apart from his challengers, but what is truly his selling point is that he’s willing to change his stance on a variety of issues to accommodate the needs of his constituents.
“Part of my personality and skillset is that I’m able to listen and change my mind. I can step back and lead a major change in government,” Wiegand said. “I understand what’s important to people in this town. I roll my sleeves up and go to work and listen and change my mind. I think it’s important.”
Anyone who has tuned into the Town of Gardiner’s Planning Board meetings knows that Carol Richman is a champion of environmental protection and consideration. She’s been an outspoken advocate for not only defenseless wildlife of the town, but for preserving the character of Gardiner itself. And the two are often intertwined.
“We have such an idyllic place to live. We have so much potential and I don’t want to see us becoming another suburbia,” Richman said. “There’s so much available to Gardiner if we asked for it.”
A Planning Board member of over a decade, Richman has also served in other municipal departments, including the Environmental Conservation Commission. She is an attorney by trade, a career she pursued because of her interest in public interest law, which focuses on helping the poor or marginalized.
Her experience working with legislation, both professionally and as a board member within Gardiner’s government, Richman is confident she can provide due process to her constituents.
“Workshops. I think when a law is being proposed, we really need to engage the population. Get Gardiners what they really want,” she said on how she’d bring transparency and inclusion to government.
Richman believes now is a prime opportunity to fulfill Gardiner’s mission of being an eco-friendly municipality. The town needs to expand its infrastructure because of increasing development and rising interest from outsiders to move into the area, she said. The infrastructure, such as parking lots, septic discharges and more, should be green.
Additionally, Richman wants to work with Ulster County to expand and better existing bike lanes. It should be enticing and safe for both residents and tourists to use while serving a dual purpose of getting more people out of their cars.
There are a slew of other issues Richman wants to address: getting more businesses in Downtown Gardiner, promoting small farms, addressing noise and nuisance concerns, solving flooding issues and creating a Short Term Rental law that works for everyone.
“We need to get more inclusion in Gardiner, more infrastructure and create a good quality of life for people who have lived here for decades and for people who just moved here.”
Disappointed at the Town Board’s responsiveness to public input concerning the Short Term Rental law, Todd Baker announced at a March meeting that he would run to be on the panel.
So he is.
“I’m not running for [STRs], per say. I’m running because I’m watching this configuration of members and it’s not working,” Baker said. The Short Term Rental Association of Gardiner member said he and his colleagues have been shouted down at over the last several years that the law has been discussed, while other, more controversial items, like the Heartwood Wildflower Farms development, have been able to “sneak their way through lack of leadership.”
Baker hopes to be an agent of change who will shake up the Town Board with a more aggressive approach, he said. He wants to rely on “data, data, data” and research for all issues in order to make informed decisions that reflect the needs of the community rather than the desires of the board. Baker never wants constituents to question his intentions.
“I want to be transparent and open hearted. I don’t want to be ruling over people,” Baker said, adding that government in small towns should be “neighbors serving neighbors,” and that leaders shouldn’t hold themselves to a higher standard just because they’ve been elected for several terms.
Baker said he’s a Progressive Democrat and would like to reflect those values within Gardiner on some issues, such as racial equality and protecting the environment from being overly developed. Additionally, he hopes to tackle the affordability issue, especially after the Ulster County Housing Action Plan found that Gardiner was the most cost-burdened town in the county.
If elected, it would be Baker’s first time working in government, which he thinks is a good thing. He’s spent a lifetime helping others on the ground — Baker has experience as a reporter, a restaurant co-owner, a touring singer and songwriter, as a mortgage loan officer and as a financial advisor.
But more importantly, Baker said, he likes people.
“I’ve met a lot of people who ask for help … I’m very proud to be able to do it,” Baker said, adding that he’s not afraid to be a voice of opposition in the Town Board to get what the community needs done. “We should agree on most things. I’m not running to argue, but you have to shake it up so it doesn’t get comfortable.”