This year’s mayoral race in Sag Harbor—to be decided on Tuesday—is highly contested, with four candidates battling for the right to lead the historic maritime village for the next two years.
Incumbent Mayor Brian Gilbride is seeking to keep his seat following a year marked by turbulence fueled by a contract deadlock with village’s Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (PBA). Political rival and Former Mayor Pierce Hance is aiming to oust him, as are former Village Administrator Sandra Schroeder and Bruce Tait, chairman of the village’s Harbor Committee.
The last contract expired two years ago, and the village and police union entered binding arbitration this year. Under Mr. Gilbride’s leadership, the Village Board shaved two police officer positions from the budget, laying off the department’s “police officer of the year” and choosing not to replace another officer who transferred out. The police have harshly criticized the mayor’s positions, while he has maintained that he is trying to keep a handle on future costs.
The fate of Long Wharf, flooding in low-lying areas and the long-awaited remediation of Havens Beach are other hot topics.
The polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18, at the Sag Harbor Fire Department’s main firehouse on Brick Kiln Road.
BRIAN GILBRIDEMr. Gilbride, 65, is seeking a third straight term, having been in village government for nearly 20 years. Running on the Sag Harbor Party line with Trustee and Deputy Mayor Ed Gregory, Mr. Gilbride is the village police commissioner and public works liaison. He served as trustee from 1994 to 2009, when he was first elected mayor.
The incumbent is a manager for Emil Norsic & Son. In his 44th year with the Sag Harbor Fire Department, the Brandywine Drive resident is a member of the fire police and an ex-chief. He worked as a sanitation supervisor for Southampton Town until, as he says, he was written out of the budget.
Having dropped out of Pierson High School at age 16 when his father died, Mr. Gilbride later received two equivalency diplomas. He has served in the U.S. Navy and taken various courses on management and insurance, for example.
“It would have been very easy to walk away,” he said, repeating his familiar refrain, “but I’m involved in these negotiations with the PBA and I’d like to see that through. Probably one of the most important things for the Village of Sag Harbor is the cost of policing, and I hope that we get things under control to try to stabilize the cost and keep services as they are today.”
He recently rejected the possibility of a $125,000 grant proposed to help save the laid-off police officer’s position, saying it would be too expensive, among other reasons.
The mayor disputed claims among some in the department that he has been a bully. “It’s absolutely false,” he replied. “The only bully in this thing is the PBA threatening to go to arbitration.”
Mr. Gilbride said he is proud of several recent village actions, including sidewalk and drainage improvements, completing a project to protect West Water Street from storm washovers and repairing storm-damaged docks. He said he is also pleased that the Havens Beach remediation is finally moving forward, although he acknowledged that it did not meet an earlier finish date of June 1. It is still slated to be done before the Fourth of July weekend.
PIERCE HANCEMr. Hance, 68, Sag Harbor Village mayor from 1993 to 1999 and a trustee for two years after that, has been present and outspoken at many Village Board meetings the past year in his runup to this race.
The self-employed financial consultant, a Main Street resident running on the Economy Party line, holds an MBA and a master’s degree in economics from Tulane University and a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of South Carolina. He is a member of the Breakwater Yacht Club Community Sailing Center, the Sag Harbor Historical Society and the Eastville Community Historical Society, among others.
“The main issue for me is that I feel we’ve lost open government in that too many decisions are being made without public input,” he said, “and one of the results has been that government seems to have become very confrontational, and that’s not a productive way of doing the village’s business.”
His suggested solution is to not hold any meetings that are not open to the public. Several times, he said, proposed new legislation appears for the first time before the public as a proposed local law with no prior discussion in public. “The public is always playing catch-up,” he said. “Anytime you get three members of that board together, it’s a meeting and that has to be in public and I don’t think that happens.”
Sag Harbor also has some “serious personnel issues” to deal with, he said. “Most glaring is the Police Department and the antagonism between this administration and the police, but there is also a lot of discord in the Highway Department that’s somewhat visible.”
In terms of police, Mr. Hance said he would like to see better communication with the department and that its staffing level should be based on factual evidence, not opinion. He questioned why the recently laid-off officer was hired to begin with, if the proper number of officers for the force is 10 plus a chief. “That falls on Mayor Gilbride’s desk with a big thump,” he said.
SANDRA SCHROEDERMs. Schroeder, 56, is a first-time political candidate. She served as Sag Harbor’s village clerk beginning in 2002 and retired as village administrator in 2010.
Running on the Residents Party line, the “professional grandma” and Division Street resident is a high school graduate whose subsequent education has come from night and weekend classes in accounting at Suffolk Community College. An honorary member of the Sag Harbor Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary, Ms. Schroeder said she has volunteered with the Cub Scouts in the past, but has separated herself from organizations since deciding to run for mayor.
“My main platform is helping the residents of Sag Harbor,” she said, naming the future of Long Wharf and PBA contract as two issues that need to be addressed. She also said the village’s planning, zoning and other boards “may need a little more oomph” in the form of a comprehensive village plan. Such a plan, she said, could help the village in many needed areas, such as addressing drainage and flooding.
In terms of police, Ms. Schroeder said, “I don’t think any of that should have been done publicly. Now half the village is perturbed with the police, and the other half is perturbed with the Village Board.” She said the matter should have been resolved quietly long ago and that reductions in force size should be made through attrition. The department should also know ahead of time the “lucky number” of officers it can have, she said, adding that she is also concerned that a lot of the officers are at the top of the pay scale now.
Ms. Schroeder said there are numerous other issues that do not get as much attention, but should be looked into. For example, she said, some residents on the East Hampton Town side of Route 114 have complained to her about their leaves not getting picked up.
“Sag Harbor is near and dear to my heart and I want to try to keep it that way,” she said. “I’m not running against anyone. I’m doing what I can to help.”
BRUCE TAITMr. Tait, 61, chairman of the village’s Harbor Committee, is a first-time mayoral candidate.
The Rector Street resident owns a yacht brokerage firm, Bruce Tait and Associates, and is a founder and on the board of directors of the Breakwater Yacht Club Community Sailing Center. For the last 15 years he has run a junior sailing program out of the center, and he was also instrumental in starting a sailing program at Pierson High School about 10 years ago.
Mr. Tait this week reflected on his status as a first-time political candidate in a field dominated by past and current mayors, trustees and village employees.
“I’m a really big fan of recycling,” he said, “except I’m not sure we have to recycle the same ideas over and over again.”
Mr. Tait, a yacht captain with a merchant marine license, went out to sea to pursue his sailing career following high school graduation.
“I think Sag Harbor needs fresh ideas and new ideas to deal with serious problems as we move into the future,” he said.
The police issue, he said, was “frankly just a disaster and was really just a failure in the last two years. The main kernel of the problem was that it was a failure of this administration to successfully negotiate a contract with the PBA. They had two years. They didn’t do it. They couldn’t do it.” The way to deal with long-term costs was through negotiation, not a budget ax, he said.
“I think the village is reacting to problems as they’re put in front of them and not planning for what’s coming down the pike,” Mr. Tait said. Addressing long-term flooding by pursuing federal grants and doing some public planning to deal with traffic calming are some suggestions he named.
Long Wharf, he said, is not only poorly designed for pedestrians and boats alike, but it is also dangerous. He said the village must decide what it would like the dock to look like, rather than just react to maintenance needs as they arise.
“I think it’s too great of an asset to let it remain the same,” he said.
Making about 50 to 75 feet of the wharf parkland and having the yachts tie off closer to the mainland are part of his vision, which also includes a pedestrian walkway, all of which would be paid for through the Community Preservation Fund.
Making the village more bike- and pedestrian-friendly and discussing the future of the sewage treatment plant are other ideas.