Theresa Quigley has been, arguably, one of the most colorful characters on the East Hampton Town Board during her short—and nearly completed—tenure.
Known for her impassioned arguments; her snappish exchanges with fellow Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, a Democrat, over who is interrupting whom at Town Board meetings; and her tendency to voice her ideas without fear of attack, the outgoing one-term Republican deputy town supervisor epitomizes the kind of “bright, aggressive” women whom outgoing Town Supervisor and fellow Republican Bill Wilkinson says he has worked with his entire career.
Yet Ms. Quigley says she is now eager to slip back into the private sector and out of the limelight.
In a recent interview in her corner office in Town Hall—which was already mostly cleared out late last week, and whose nearly bare walls echoed—she described her four years as a councilwoman as “tumultuous and disappointing.”
That is, most of her term was tumultuous and disappointing. For the first six months, the first half of 2010, it was new and confusing, she said. It was jolting, she found, to take office and immediately to have a plan in her head.
Ms. Quigley, an attorney, now 58, was accustomed to absorbing everything she could before speaking. “Likewise, I came into town trying to absorb and I was being confronted with”—here, her tone turns urgent, and she shakes some papers on her desk for emphasis—“‘Tell me what you’re doing!’ And it was, like, ‘I’m not doing anything. I’m absorbing.’ But I think it created an instant clash.”
As she reflected on her turbulent term, she said that, in her mind, her biggest achievement is one that hasn’t yet been fulfilled: the launching of a bike path system in town. “I think that is really in tune with what our town is about,” she said, adding that it is about being exposed to nature and the great outdoors and being healthy.
She notes that many credit her and her fellow running mates, Mr. Wilkinson and outgoing Councilman Dominick Stanzione, for fixing the town’s troubled finances, but she rejects the credit, explaining that her fellow GOP mates put the plan together and she just went over it.
She also drew a distinction. The bike path, she said, represents a long-lasting change, but the finances were a “momentary fix,” in her view. “I think it’ll die on the vine the minute we leave,” she said of the town’s righted financial direction.
The Northwest Woods resident said she hopes to be remembered as someone who tried to get the bike paths through, tried to open a new public beach, tried to make the processes in the town better for the people of the town, and who focused on the community as a whole. “If I have disappointments,” she said, “it’s that I’ve failed in having people understand that’s who I am.”
She added that she is disappointed, also, because “I was characterized and vilified by people because I do not, I am not, on the page of the environment first. And it’s so difficult to say those words because … people are going to say you want to destroy the community. But look around you. What do I like?” She gestured to the remaining pictures on her walls. “I like cows and fields and boats and ducks. This is who I am. I am a person who believes in the community.”
Thumbing a green, rubber “WILKINSON” bracelet from a past campaign, Ms. Quigley said she believes that the Wilkinson administration badly wanted to make the town a better community, but that it proved a difficult task, much as for a “salmon swimming upstream.”
While she’s proud of the accomplishments of the town’s business needs committee, she doesn’t feel that any particular piece of legislation she’s sponsored has risen to a level about which she is overjoyed. She attributes that to politicking, fear-mongering, a lack of civil discourse, propaganda and negative campaigns, she said. She didn’t belong to a party when she first thought of running for office and then sided with the Republicans because they were the underdogs in town, she said.
She said she tried to do the best thing for the community, but, over time, grew cynical of politics. “It has nothing to do with doing the right thing for the town,” she said. “It has to do with who has the biggest mouthpiece.”
Nevertheless, she offered an outgoing message: “I am extremely grateful for having been elected and proud that I was elected. I thank the people of this town … I wish I could have done more, and I apologize to those who supported me and either were disappointed in what I accomplished or in how I handled situations … I’m grateful they gave me the chance.”