Larry Cantwell, the East Hampton Town Board supervisor candidate on the Democratic Party line who also has been cross-endorsed by the Independence and Working Families parties, announced on Tuesday that he is declining a Republican nod.
In an emailed statement and follow-up phone interview, Mr. Cantwell said he would mail a candidate declination form to the Suffolk County Board of Elections to make it clear that he is not a candidate in the GOP write-in primary to be held on Tuesday, September 10, despite efforts among some Republicans to urge voters to pencil in his name.
The town’s Republican Party, having missed a petition deadline earlier this summer to field a candidate in the supervisor’s race, filed a petition instead to hold a write-in primary as a last-ditch effort to get a name on the ballot.
The GOP was left without a candidate after former Supervisor Jay Schneiderman turned down the party’s nomination, opting instead to seek reelection to his current post as a county legislator.
“I am doing so now because I do not want Republican voters who may cast a vote in the primary to be misled,” Mr. Cantwell wrote in his statement. “Republicans have every right to select a candidate, and I hope they do,” he added over the phone. “I think the town is better served in an election where there’s more than one choice for supervisor. If I’m the candidate that appears on every line, I think that undermines the voters’ ability to have a choice.”
Should he win the write-in primary, he would not accept the nomination, he said.
The longtime Democrat, who recently retired as East Hampton Village administrator and is seen as a shoo-in to be Republican Supervisor Bill Wilkinson’s successor, said the GOP asked him in May or early June if he would consider screening with it after being selected by the Democratic and Independence parties. He said he declined, saying voters deserve a choice.
The town’s Republican Committee chairman, Kurt Kappel, on Tuesday said Mr. Cantwell had said he was flattered by the offer, but that he had been told by the Democratic Party hierarchy that he was not to accept a GOP nod and upset the apple cart.
As for his statement, Mr. Cantwell said it was prompted, in part, by recent letters to the editor in The East Hampton Star.
In the most recent issue, published on Thursday, August 22, Beverly Bond pressed registered Republicans to write in Mr. Cantwell’s name, saying he would be a “uniting force” for the town. A similar letter from Ms. Bond appears in today’s East Hampton Press.
“He actively decries the us-against-them mentality that has smothered this town and its board meetings for too many years,” she wrote. “Let’s tell Larry that: We Republicans the people—not Republicans the party—want him as our candidate for supervisor, at the head of the Republican ticket in November. To accomplish this, registered Republican voters, go to the polls Sept. 10 and write in Larry Cantwell for supervisor.”
Mr. Cantwell on Tuesday said he hopes the GOP chooses a candidate who wants to debate the serious issues that face the town and noted how, because he has so far been running unopposed, he has not been invited to at least two debates.
“Not having an opponent, in effect, is denying opportunities to present my vision of the future in East Hampton,” he said. “It’s another reason why I would encourage the Republicans to choose a candidate.”
Mr. Kappel on Tuesday called Mr. Cantwell’s decision odd, given that he has not officially received the nod.
Committee vice chairman Tom Knobel said he was unaware of Mr. Cantwell’s declination on Tuesday morning when reached by phone, but called it disappointing and unnecessary.
“I’m not aware that you can preemptively decline what you don’t have,” he said. “I’m frankly surprised that he’d want to declare to his potential constituents—a substantial section of them—that he doesn’t want them. That’s a disappointment.”
Asked about Mr. Cantwell’s reasoning, Mr. Knobel noted that it’s dealing in hypotheticals about a candidacy the Democrat does not yet have, but noted that the Democratic Party actively solicited and cross-endorsed already designated GOP candidates in the races for highway superintendent and town clerk.
“It’s baffling to me that there could be some inhibition about accepting the Republican nomination in turn,” he said. “It’s very peculiar that it doesn’t extend to all the citizens of the town, that all this talk of unity is a sham.
“He doesn’t need to file a declination,” he continued. There’s some form of statement here, but it’s an unnecessary one. The question is, why doesn’t he want to represent Republicans?”
Mr. Cantwell wrote in his letter that should he win election, with or without opposition, his style of governing, building consensus and seeking compromise, will serve everyone well.
Mr. Knobel added that he wrote a letter to The Star for publication this week, saying that he believes Mr. Cantwell would be a good selection.
He said the primary results will largely depend on turnout. Voters involved in law enforcement may turn out in big numbers, he said, because of their interest in primaries for the county district attorney and sheriff’s races, also to be held that day.
Mr. Cantwell, meanwhile, concluded his statement by saying that adding his name to the Republican ticket would call into question his support for his Democratic running mates.