After months of deliberation, Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman announced on Monday he would turn down the nomination of the Republican Party and not run for East Hampton Town supervisor this year.
The move leaves the East Hampton Town Republican Committee without a candidate for supervisor, since Mr. Schneiderman, who was nominated last month, was the only person to screen for the position. But the party plans to reopen the screening process, and Town Clerk Fred Overton, nominated to run for Town Board, said he’s contemplating stepping up to run for supervisor.
Mr. Schneiderman, an Independence Party member, screened for his former post as supervisor with both the local Republican and Democratic parties, and commissioned a poll to gauge his chances at victory against potential Democratic opponents such as East Hampton Village Administrator Larry Cantwell and former supervisor candidate Zachary Cohen. But the five-term Suffolk County legislator never made an official decision on whether he would run until Monday morning. Instead, he plans to seek a final two-year term on the County Legislature.
“I am grateful for the overwhelming support and encouragement I have received as I have weighed how best to serve our community,” Mr. Schneiderman said in a prepared statement. “After great thought and deliberation, I have chosen to seek reelection to the Suffolk County Legislature.
“East Hampton is a special place, and the idea of bringing our town together as supervisor is very appealing to me,” he continued. “However, there is still more work I feel I need to do in the legislature.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone also supports Mr. Schneiderman’s stay at the county.
“Jay is a strong voice and a relentless advocate for the East End,” Mr. Bellone said. “As we work to put our finances in order, deliver services more efficiently and rebuild after Sandy, I need Jay Schneiderman’s voice in the legislature.”
Mr. Schneiderman ended the statement by saying that he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a future run for supervisor.
It’s only March, but already, this year’s race for East Hampton Town Board has seen more than its share of twists and turns. Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, both Republicans, announced they won’t seek reelection, leaving the board’s Republican majority hanging in the balance. Republican Councilman Dominick Stanzione has already been endorsed by Republicans to run again.
The Republican Party chose Mr. Schneiderman for supervisor, surprising many by not putting their support behind Mr. Wilkinson, who refused to screen with the party. At the time, Mr. Wilkinson, who would have been seeking his third two-year term, said he should not have to screen in order to earn the GOP’s endorsement.
“I think Jay wanted a coronation and he didn’t get it,” Mr. Wilkinson said this week.
The incumbent supervisor has made no secret of his disappointment in the East Hampton Town Republican Committee. He and Ms. Quigley said this week they weren’t surprised by Mr. Schneiderman’s decision not to run.
“I said a while back that I thought the Republican Party was dysfunctional,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “This is another indication of it. As I said, I feel sorry for the Republicans in the Town of East Hampton, that this is the type of leadership, that this is the type of strategic and tactical thinking that’s going on in Republican headquarters, and it’s embarrassing. “
It’s unclear who the Republican Party will tap to run for supervisor, but Town Republican Committee Chairman Kurt Kappel said he isn’t worried because the party doesn’t need to have a candidate in place until June at the latest. Petitions are due to the Suffolk County Board of Elections in July, he said.
“We’re not in a panic mode,” Mr. Kappel said. “We still have time.”
Mr. Kappel said Mr. Schneiderman’s decision wasn’t a surprise to him, since the two had been communicating regularly. “I’m a little disappointed,” Mr. Kappel said. “He let us know now and not in a month from now, so that was good.”
It’s now back to the drawing board for Republicans. Mr. Kappel said he will be making phone calls to people who were interested in running for supervisor before Mr. Schneiderman publicized his interest.
Republicans may not have to look further than their current ticket. Mr. Overton said he’s giving the idea “very serious thought” after Mr. Kappel reached out to him on Monday morning. Mr. Overton has been in town government for 26 years, and has gotten to know “all sides of every issue.”
“I think that I’m a reasonable candidate,” Mr. Overton said. “I know the issues. I know the arguments on both sides. I listen well. I don’t shoot from the hip. I think it’s important to have input from the community and from the people who live in the Town of East Hampton. I think I would make a good candidate.”
Mr. Overton said he plans to arrive at a decision around mid-April.
“Maybe I will,” Mr. Overton said on Monday evening. “I’m going to talk to some friends and family and some people that I trust in the party, and some friends that are knowledgeable about the issues and make a decision.”
Asked if Mr. Overton could be tapped for supervisor, Mr. Kappel said, “I think Fred can definitely run for supervisor. That would be totally up to him.”
Mr. Schneiderman has not released the results of the poll he commissioned recently. He claims that it portrays him leading in a head-to-head race against Mr. Cantwell, but “not by what I would consider comfortable margins,” he said.
“Basically, the town seems fairly split,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “For me, one of my preconditions is, why would I leave my post at the county unless there was an overwhelming sense within the community they felt that I was the best person to lead the town at this time? That’s really why I did the poll.”
“I did not get the overwhelming numbers that I was hoping for,” he added. “I think that’s fair to say.”
East Hampton Town Democratic Chairwoman Jeanne Frankl sees it slightly differently.
“I think it’s very likely that Jay decided he couldn’t win and better stick with his buddies in the county,” she said. She added that she felt Mr. Schneiderman “didn’t want to take the risk of being beaten.”
“I think if Jay had run, we would have beaten him,” she said. “I think that we’ll beat anybody they’ll put up.”
East Hampton Independence Party Chairwoman Elaine Jones rejected the idea that Mr. Schneiderman backed out because would have lost to Mr. Cantwell. She called it “a bunch of bull.”
“I mean, he made the decision based on his own future,” she said. “He really did in his heart want to run for supervisor. And then he just thought about it, and thought about it, and it just came down to his family and his future and his choices. It wasn’t just about the politics of it all.”
Mr. Schneiderman’s decision will also send a ripple effect through the Southampton Town races this year as well.
Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi, a two-term Republican, is prevented from seeking reelection to his current post by term limits and had been considered a shoe-in for the County Legislature race—if Mr. Schneiderman headed back to East Hampton. Whether he would challenge Mr. Schneiderman—who won reelection by landslide in 2011 and was unopposed in 2009 and 2007—is not clear. Mr. Nuzzi has declined to comment on whether that is something he is considering.
Southampton Town Republicans have not yet tapped a candidate to challenge Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, an Independence Party member who has won two elections with Democratic endorsement and is seeking election to what would be her third and final term as supervisor. If Mr. Nuzzi does not run for the legislature, the supervisor candidacy is widely seen to be an option for him—except that in 2011 when the party nominated him for the position, he backed down a few days later, leaving the GOP without a candidate on the ballot. The GOP flag was carried that year by a write-in effort from former Supervisor Linda Kabot, who has said she plans to screen for the post again this year.
Southampton Town Councilman Jim Malone is up for reelection and has been mum about his own plans as well, waiting for Mr. Schneiderman, and thus Mr. Nuzzi, to make their respective decisions. He has not ruled out making a run for supervisor this year either.
Along with Ms. Kabot, those around Town Hall have said that Town Tax Receiver Theresa Kiernan has been talked about as a possible supervisor candidate as well.
Party chairman William Wright has said the party will not begin its screening process until next month and that nearly any possibility is open in the mean time.