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Jun 13, 2017 3:02 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Village To Hold Special Election To Finish Board Term

Arthur Graham and Philip O’Connell
Jun 13, 2017 3:30 PM

East Hampton Village will hold a special election this week to determine who will complete the last year of the four-year Village Board term of the late Elbert Edwards, who died in October.

The term is currently filled by Philip O’Connell, who was appointed to the board last November to fill the seat until the date of the next election cycle, which is Tuesday, June 20. The polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. at the Emergency Services Center on Cedar Street. Mr. O’Connell, who is running to keep the seat for one more year, has been challenged by Arthur Graham, who was appointed to the Village Planning Board around the same time as Mr. O’Connell was appointed to the Village Board.

This is the first contested race for a Village Board seat since 2000.

Philip O’Connell

Mr. O’Connell, 50, has been in East Hampton for more than 35 years; he and his parents moved to the area in 1979. A graduate of East Hampton Middle School and East Hampton High School, he worked as a lawyer for the Birthwhistle & Gibson Law Firm from 2005 to 2008, after which he became an independent attorney. Presently he works as a licensed real estate broker and senior managing director of the Southampton office of Corcoran Group Real Estate. He is a former chairman of the Planning Board, a former member of the village’s planning and zoning committee, and the village liaison to the East Hampton Town Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board. He also served the community outside of board work as a member of the East Hampton Fire Department for 15 years.

His tenure on the Village Board arose from a phone call from Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., who asked Mr. O’Connell if he would be willing to fill the seat Mr. Edwards had held.

“I’m very qualified and have served a significant amount of time on other village boards,” Mr. O’Connell said over the phone on Monday. “I’ve learned how important it is to balance development and change with preservation. I always thought the village was very well run, so maintaining that efficiency of the village was important.”

Among the ongoing issues the Village Board has to address, Mr. O’Connell said, are water quality, parking, traffic, beaches and simply efficiently running the village itself. Although his time on the board of trustees has been relatively limited, he said his experience serving on other boards helped prepare him for his current role.

“The important thing about being on the Planning Board and being on the planning and zoning committee is how important it is to not only express your view, but to listen and truly understand the other members’ views and the applicant’s views,” he said. “You may have a preconceived notion, and you should be able to take that notion and put it to the side until all the information and facts are known.”

One issue that stands out in his mind is water quality, Mr. O’Connell said. He cited the toxic algae bloom in Georgica Pond last year—there is another one this week—as a call for a “long-term solution.”

Arthur Graham

“I’m not running for Phil’s seat, I’m running for Elbert Edwards’s seat,” Mr. Graham, 69, emphasized in a recent interview.

Mr. Graham said that he had intended to run for Mr. Edwards’s seat after his current unexpired term, which Mr. Edwards had indicated would be his last one before retiring. Mr. Graham said that he knew Mr. Edwards for some time, as Mr. Edwards and Mr. Graham’s wife, Katherine, both served on the board of the Village Preservation Society.

Mr. Graham said he first spoke to Mr. Edwards about his intent to run about three years ago.

“He knew I was thinking about it then, but since he was going to run I wasn’t going to run against him because I think that would’ve been pretty tough,” Mr. Graham said, sitting in his backyard in East Hampton on Friday. “Elbert was a well-known, well-versed, interesting individual.”

In addition to being a member of the Planning Board, Mr. Graham, who moved to East Hampton full-time in 2003, is a former president of the East Hampton Historical Society, where he currently serves on the board, and former chairman of the Thomas Moran Trust, where he currently serves as secretary. He worked as a first vice president for the Salomon Smith Barney investment banking firm in New York City from 1975 to 1994, then as a managing director first for the institutional broker dealer R.W. Pressprich from 1994 to 2007, and then for Beacon Capital Strategies from 2007 to 2011.

Mr. Graham said that his financial experience with bonds, trading and budgeting would provide useful insight for Village Board affairs.

“I’ve always been able to reach consensus with people,” he added. “To me, it’s a matter of faith that reasonable people can come up with reasonable accommodations to any problem.

“I think I’ve proven that my abilities to work with others on any kind of problem has been a very valuable commodity to me,” he continued.

Mr. Graham said the village is run very well and that he wants to help it continue by taking such measures as reviewing the village’s comprehensive plan and maintaining the appeal of the village itself. One of the essential issues he thinks the Village Board should focus on is zoning, and he specifically cited concerns about larger structures on small pieces of land that don’t fit well with the village’s aesthetic.

“I think we really want to maintain the character of the village—that’s one of the things we have and would be very easy to lose,” hr said. “People come in and they spend a couple million dollars for a piece of property, they want what they want and I don’t blame them for that. But it’s got to be within the confines of the neighborhood.”

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