Farther East

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During the last few weeks, a couple of members of the Town Board have been doing their best impression of Captain Renault when he abruptly closes Rick’s Café in “Casablanca”: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” For Pete Hammerle and Pat Mansir, the version is: “We’re shocked, shocked that there is a budget deficit in East Hampton!”

These two veteran board members have been telling everyone who will listen—particularly those who don’t like Supervisor Bill McGintee—that the budget deficit, now at $8.4 million, and the inappropriate use of Community Preservation Fund money, and probably food shortages around the world, are exclusively the responsibility of the supervisor. Obviously, the fair-weather friends are looking at the 2009 town elections. Memo to Mansir and Hammerle: Give it up, chances are you’ve already lost.

Most Republicans just have to keep breathing to gain at least two seats on the Town Board next year, unless the Democrats manage a minor miracle. This would be an astonishing turn of events after the elections of 2005 and 2007, when Republicans getting elected to townwide offices were as rare as July 4th fireworks at Main Beach have been the last few years. While the Democrats were especially adept at raising money, the GOP went from one bonehead decision to another under the leadership of Bill Gardiner, and with the 5-0 majority on the Town Board, it seemed a few months ago that Democrats being at risk to lose their seats was as unlikely as John McCain being the Republican nominee for president.

Well, spring has sprung, but that “boing!” you hear are the springs popping loose inside the East Hampton Democratic Committee machine. The relentless Roger Clemens-like revelations about fiscal finagling in Town Hall and investigations launched by everyone except Kenneth Starr (no relation to Ringo) have put a huge spanner in the works. Understandably, those office-holders looking to retain their offices in 2009 are viewing McGintee with the same affection that Barack Obama now has for the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Pat Mansir is now in her 12th year on the Town Board and thus has worked with three supervisors—Cathy Lester, Jay Schneiderman, and McGintee. She has been a member of the minority as well as the majority. She knows what the routine of the town government is and how things work. She has promoted herself in her campaigns as a fiscal conservative.

So all of a sudden, are we to believe she was in the dark about how the town’s finances were being managed the last couple of years? This is not the kind of leadership for which voters have returned Mansir to office—once too many times, it appears. As a reward for her ignorance and blaming everything on McGintee, she gets to head the new financial oversight committee.

Hammerle is in his 10th year on the Town Board, and the same questions about what did he not know and when did he not know it can be applied. He has been particularly pandering to another weekly, hypocritically slamming the supervisor to the point of making Captain Renault seem like a vessel of virtue. Why? Because he is watching his last opportunity to become supervisor slip away, and Hammerle is unhinged by this.

A decade ago, it seemed possible that Lester would finish out her shelf life as supervisor and it would be Pete’s turn. But the dredging of Sammy’s Beach controversy took Lester off the shelf before she and the Democrats were ready, and the Republican Schneiderman came aboard. Hammerle had to bide his time.

It had to have been galling for him that, in 2003, the Democrats chose McGintee over him to run for supervisor, but wise heads on the committee had seen how close McGintee had come to unseating Schneiderman two years earlier and Pete was a lock to retain his council seat. Perhaps it was supposed to be his turn in 2007, but the same strategy as 2003 looked as though it would work again, and it did. So Pete, having paid plenty of dues, was poised to finally go for supervisor in 2009 with two years still left on his council term.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men. For Hammerle, there is an unhappy combination of the whiff of scandal at Town Hall on his watch—whether he likes to own up to it or not and even if the investigations conclude that there was no malfeasance—plus a lips-licking, resuscitated GOP Committee doing John Behan’s bidding, and the Democrats in disarray. What is the Democratic Committee doing to plan for the 2009 elections, factoring in the fiasco of the first third of 2008?

The good news for everyone except hard-core Democrats is that next year’s town elections are wide open. Only Highway Superintendent Scott King is safe, but he could be as damned as any Dem, too, if we get a big snowstorm next February and the plows don’t work.

I’m not sure about the GOP’s wisdom of nominating Bill Wilkinson so soon to run for supervisor. He did a very good job for the GOP in the race last year and the experience of it and better knowledge of the nuts and bolts of town issues will make him a more formidable candidate. But for better dramatic effect, maybe the Republicans should have waited. It’s like what Spielberg did with “Jaws”—don’t reveal the shark in the first act.

If the elections were held tomorrow—a doomsday scenario for the Democratic Committee—it would be Hammerle vs. Wilkinson for supervisor, and Mansir and Brad Loewen vs. Bill Mott and A Candidate To Be Determined for council seats. Maybe Mansir could be a total opportunist and go back to the GOP, which unwisely let her go in 2005. The superior fund-raising abilities of the Democrats are not going to be enough next year; in fact, anything to do with money is going to be a sore topic.

In 2003 and 2005, the East Hampton Democrats depended on former Republicans McGintee and Mansir to gain their overwhelming majority, and now both are tainted politically. Loewen has an understated style that might not make enough of an impression next year, assuming he doesn’t simply want out. The early forecast is that Julia Prince, elected to the Town Board just seven months ago and showing leadership chops, and her generation of voters are the future for the Democrats.

Comments, questions, and an autographed photo of Claude Rains can be sent to “Farther East” at Hondo7@optonline.net.

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