A picture of this year’s East Hampton Town Board race is starting to emerge from the alphabet soup of potential contenders.
Town Republicans formally decided last April that they would again back their 2007 supervisor candidate, Bill Wilkinson of Montauk, who challenged incumbent Supervisor Bill McGintee and lost by about 100 votes, just months before the extent of the town’s financial crisis came to light.
Mr. McGintee, who has served for three terms, said this week that he has not yet decided whether he will run again and will probably wait to make that decision until he receives a number of financial reports on the current status of the town and consults with the Democratic Committee and his family.
Meanwhile, incumbent Town Board member Brad Loewen confirmed that he will attend a Democratic Party candidate screening in February for one of the two open positions on the Town Board. John Whelan, an architect from Amagansett who was involved with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, confirmed that he will also seek the party’s nomination for a Town Board seat.
Another wild card in the upcoming election is board member Pat Mansir, who has switched her party affiliation twice. Though Ms. Mansir had served the town for nearly a decade as a Republican, she joined the Democratic Party four years ago, then dropped her enrollment with the Democrats last fall and is now an independent. Ms. Mansir said that she would like to end her tenure on the board, but is concerned that if she does not run for re-election she will not be able to push through several projects she is currently working on.
“There’s no peace left in this job,” she said. “But if there are obstacles and things left undone, it will make me mad enough to run.”
Ms. Mansir said that she hopes to finish improvements to the landfill, drainage and mass gathering permits before she leaves the board. She said, if she runs, she may seek the backing of the town’s Independence party, and is not likely to turn to the Republicans or the Democrats. “It’s all about people,” not party affiliation, she said.
GOP co-chair John Behan said that he has reservations about backing Ms. Mansir again.
“Pat Mansir hasn’t contacted me. I haven’t spoken to her directly,” he said. “I don’t think she has any intention of running for reelection. Pat and her brother Terry were old high school friends of mine and I don’t want to see her without a job.”
He said, however, that personal friendship and politics were two separate matters.
“She seems to be part of the problem we’re considering. A light has gone on in her head about the town supervisor and what’s going on, but I don’t think she’d be a good candidate to run for reelection.”
Democratic Party Chairman Bill Taylor said that he thought Ms. Mansir may have quit his party “before we quit her.”
Republicans are holding their cards closer to their chests when it comes to the Town Board race, which—with three seats at stake—could shift the five-member board’s majority from Democratic to Republican. Mr. Behan said this week that he expects at least six candidates to screen on February 5 for the two Town Board positions. He said he hopes to announce a full slate by St. Patrick’s Day.
He wasn’t naming who those candidates might be, but said “the last person that we want is a guy by the name of Joe Six-Pack to show up and think it’s a town anyone can run. We want people who know a little bit about politics and what it is to campaign. We need people who know how to handle the finances and know what it is to spend money before they collect it. We don’t want someone who’s in favor of open space and wants to save the world at any cost. Not that we’re against open space …”
A round of calls to possible Republican candidates produced few answers this week.
Dominick Stanzione, a financial planner with Colonial Capital Advisors who lives in Amagansett, said that a run for Town Board was “an interesting proposition.” Though he said several people have asked him to run, he has not yet made up his mind.
Brian Gilbride, a Sag Harbor Village Board member who ran for the East Hampton Town Board in 2007, said that he won’t be running, but, as a Republican committeeman, he will attend the screenings.
Trace Duryea, the co-chair of the GOP committee, said this week she had no interest in running for a Town Board seat. She has organized two public forums on town issues and some people have mentioned her as a possible candidate.
Bill Gardiner, who has run for the Town Board several times, did not return calls for comment, and Len Bernard, East Hampton’s former budget officer who had challenged Mr. McGintee for the supervisor’s spot in 2003, said that he had no interest in running again.
Mr. McGintee said that his presence as a lightning rod for criticism might play a role in his eventual decision whether or not to run.
“I’m a team player. If I become a distraction from that, that would be part of my decision,” he said. “I have to sit and meet with the Democratic Party. It’s important that the Democrats remain in power. The alternative would be cessation of open space preservation and a reversal of all good work we’ve done to protect environment.”
“Right now, I’m just concentrating on moving the finances back in order. My biggest decision will be how my family feels about it,” he added. “It’s one thing to be in government and discuss issues, it’s another thing to be in government and deal with all these sophomoric childish attacks. Business is business. I don’t mind people disagreeing with my position. But we’re not dealing with issues, just personal attacks.”
Mr. Taylor said that he would be amenable to a McGintee candidacy.
“I don’t know if he’s made a definitive choice. It’s really early in the process,” said Mr. Taylor. “I have a pretty good understanding of what went on with the finances. He’s been under pretty vicious attack. I truly believe that when the public understands what happened to the town finances, they’ll understand that the Schneiderman administration put the town into deficit financing. Under the last Republican regime, the town started a lot of projects and incurred a lot of obligations without providing a revenue stream. Bill happened to be sitting in the chief financial officer’s seat when the music stopped.
Len Bernard, who served as former Republican Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman’s budget officer, said that could not be further from the truth.
“Bill Taylor can say what he wants. He’s the head of the party and he should know better than anyone that the town’s finances were in excellent order at the end of 2003,” he said. “All the documentation shows that. That’s not me talking, that’s Moody’s. As soon as they took office, it was a spending spree.”
John Whelan, who plans to screen with the Democrats in February, has the advantage of a well-known name in town—his father was a town attorney for 25 years and he comes from a large local family—yet has not been involved with the troubles plaguing the town’s Democratic administration.
Mr. Whelan, who works for Stelle Architects in Bridgehampton, was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention for Barack Obama and spent much of the past year volunteering for the Obama campaign.
“I have a master’s degree in architecture and urban planning. Architecture is all about problem solving anyway. I worked with the Ross School as a liaison with boards and the state, I know a lot of people, and I hope I can be a voice for local people as well as summer residents,” he said. “I hope to bring good common sense and non-reactionary judgement to the position.”
Though the Republicans have a head start in organizing for the upcoming election season, Mr. Taylor said that he believes that people in East Hampton still hold the values upon which they elected the current Town Board.
“The Republicans are practically gleeful. Let them stay gleeful. The Democrats have been so nuts about trying to get Obama elected that they’re just starting to think about the town,” said Mr. Taylor, who said he expects the party’s choices will be made public in late March or April. “I still think the people of East Hampton want to support open space and historic preservation and want to protect the beauty of this place.”