All Politics Is Local, Indeed

This is an endorsement of my friend Alexandria Wojcik’s campaign for re-election. I reside in the Town of New Paltz, not the Village of, so I hope the anecdote that I share below means more than my current street address.

* * * *
In December 2021, my landlord informed me that he wanted to move from New Paltz, New York, to North Carolina, which meant that he needed to sell the house we both resided in. He estimated that this process would take three months or so. It actually took only three weeks for him to find his next home and receive an offer from someone to purchase the home we both resided in. In the current real estate environment, this should not have been a surprise.

In those three weeks, I placed an ad for myself as a renter/housemate (I live on a limited and fixed income, as I am disabled, which longtime readers know) in various venues like Craigslist and Facebook and others, and I responded to every ad I could find. There were no legitimate rentals—not in mid-winter, not in the middle of a month. I have friends in real estate, and they utilized their resources and knowledge on my behalf; it was obvious that a good solution would be eventually available, but not in the desperately brief window of time I was in. I started to research how to place myself in a homeless shelter. (It is not as easy as one may think.)

Two public officials stepped up on my behalf: New Paltz Village Trustee Michele Zipp, who offered me temporary space in a relative’s home, and New Paltz’s Deputy Mayor, Alexandria Wojcik. New Paltz is a small village, and these two brought this to life for me in the best possible way. I have not yet met either of them in person, yet help was offered. Online, I must come across as a good person; I hope I live up to that thought both online and in real life.

Michele Zipp announced last week that she will not run for re-election. Alexandria Wojcik has started to campaign again. As she embarks on a re-election campaign as village trustee and gathers signatures to re-qualify for the November ballot, I write here something I have said to my friends one-on-one for the last year: Alexandria exemplifies the best in our community and even helped me re-acquire a sense of hope at that difficult moment last year.

As I wrote above, Alexandria and I have not yet met even though we have many friends in common and it is likely we have lived in many of the same apartments in our New Paltz histories. I also write this as a voter in the Town of New Paltz and not the Village of New Paltz (for those in New York State, this makes sense; and for those not, it does not), so I can not vote for her or serve as a signature on her ballot petition.

Alexandria and Michele did something unique in my experience, and I share this small anecdote as something that is not unique to Alexandria—others with whom I have spoken share similar stories—and as something that I hope becomes ever more frequent among all public servants. Part of our national problem right now stems from the fact that most political figures are characters on a TV show from most voters’ perspectives and are thus viewed through our emotions rather than our experiences. Our current political climate is closer to road rage than problem-solving, but we can change this, one experience at a time.

Back to my story from last year: My landlord was a true gentleman about all this and he even offered some money to help with a deposit on an apartment, which I did not need, as there were no apartments available. Please understand, the story has a happy ending: I love where I landed, but it took almost six months to get here last summer.

Sometime in January 2022, deep in worry and almost in despair—minus the “almost”—I posted a tweet that was written as if I had commissioned my despair to write it: “I’m defeated and exhausted. Soon to be homeless. I’m sorry that I lack a positive message today.” This is not my natural emotional state, especially since I’ve experienced some weird and dark things in my life, and this situation was not in the all-time top five challenges, so I’m a bit surprised to see it now, but it is a glimpse of how shocked I was by the speed with which no solutions could be found.

I do not know what I expected to come of this tweet; likely nothing or perhaps I hoped a friend from one of the different campaigns that I have written about and done some work for (human rights, Anonymous, etc.) might appear on a metaphoric white horse and fix everything. It was Twitter, after all, where anything can not happen. Instead, an individual whom I did not even know followed me on any platform wrote to me: the deputy mayor of the community I reside in. We exchanged messages, and she offered to help me brainstorm solutions.

Even though my specific solution did not come from our conversation, our conversation did more: it helped me feel heard, learn what resources exist for those in my situation (resources that I have shared with others now that I know about them), and expand my search in the direction that led to my current rental. The fact that I could name-drop and say things like, “Our deputy mayor knows about my plight,” seemed to carry some weight. I don’t like to use the word “plight” about my challenges, but I confess that I used it last year.

Like many communities across the country, New Paltz is in a housing crisis. Our population has grown in recent years but the number of residences has not grown at a similar pace, and rental costs have increased faster than both. New construction is mostly for businesses. A growing number of local homeowners have started to rent out space but to weekend tenants as a part of the growing “Airbnb” phenomenon rather than to long-term tenants or lease-holders.

A community organizer for years before she became a public servant, affordable housing is one of Alexandria’s chief issues. She advised me of my rights as a tenant, which is also advice that I’ve been able to pass along to those in trouble. In my experience, I had rarely had a public servant speak with me in a non-election year, and I had never had a public servant whom I did not know reach out to me to help with a problem I faced.

I was and remain impressed by Alexandria Wojcik’s efforts to make sure our community does not lose sight of itself as a community, and I hope to see her continue as a public servant, along with the village’s Mayor, Tim Rogers, who is similarly diligent and solutions-oriented.

Mark Aldrich is a journalist, award-winning humor columnist, and writer/performer with the Magnificent Glass Pelican radio comedy improv group, now in its thirty-second season:

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