We Mark Our East Hampton Village Ballot - 27 East


We Mark Our East Hampton Village Ballot

authorStaff Writer on Sep 10, 2020

It must be noted: In both Southampton and East Hampton villages this year, the voters (and local newspapers) have a wealth of candidates to choose from — and the quality of those candidates is truly exceptional. Rare is the local election when it can be said: A vote for any of the candidates is not ill-cast. That means a choice is less an imperative than some years.

But, as with village voters, a newspaper must finally make choices and mark its ballot.

East Hampton Village voters will have both a mayor’s seat — one that, until recently, was never the subject of a particularly competitive race in decades — and two Village Board seats to fill, and a bevy of choices, both familiar faces and newcomers promising change.

The most prominent challenger is Jerry Larsen, the former village police chief, who has run a seemingly endless campaign for mayor. He has raised more than six figures in political contributions for his slate of candidates, a remarkable yet dubious accomplishment in a village race. For one thing, it’s created something of an arms race, with Mr. Larsen now taking issue with a political action committee formed to support Barbara Borsack’s candidacy. These kinds of funding issues in a race for a job with a $26,000 salary, for a village where a little more than 1,500 votes are up for grabs, would be farcical if it weren’t so poisonous.

Mr. Larsen doesn’t shy away from controversy: He’s notably sued the village upon his departure from its employ, and his calls for change have pulled no punches in naming names. Quite honestly, that energy has its merits: In the relatively sedate atmosphere of East Hampton Village, it can feel like a breath of fresh air, even as some see it as a foul wind.

But is it tempting? In truth, Barbara Borsack, a veteran of the Village Board, seems to better embody East Hampton Village energy — it’s not a village that lurches easily into new territory. The methodical pace can be problematic; in fact, Ms. Borsack’s reluctance to engage Mr. Larsen too early is exactly what got her Arthur “Tiger” Graham as a bonus opponent to run against for mayor, and it might end up with a split vote handing Mr. Larsen the win. (Mr. Graham is a good Village Board member, and, impatient or not, that’s the better role for him.)

And Mr. Larsen and his team truly did inject some life into the village political scene, and their efforts to raise questions and talk with residents is laudable. Ultimately, though, his energy feels … perilous. It demands change, big change, and a village that had the same mayor for some 30 years isn’t likely ready for that kind of leader, or the tumult he could bring.

There’s something to be said for consistency, and it’s not always wrong to reject sweeping change of the sort Mr. Larsen promises. East Hampton was late to begin the actual process of installing sewers, a key to the village’s economic future in so many ways, but Ms. Borsack has been part of that effort and, as mayor, can be trusted to guide it through an extremely complicated planning process.

Post-COVID-19, the village faces the same challenges as other South Fork villages, and a few unique ones. Innovation will be essential, but there’s no need to start from scratch. Ms. Borsack is a steady, capable hand who deserves the chance to lead.

For the two Village Board seats, there is literally a banquet of interesting options, none easily eliminated. Given the choices, however, a few stand out.

Narrowed to two, our choices come from two different slates: Ray Harden, from Ms. Borsack’s Elms Party, and David Driscoll, from the Fish Hooks Party.

There are other strong candidates. Chris Minardi’s pledge of “youth and energy” is appealing, and his Newtown Party running mate, Sandra Melendez, has an appealing background as a lawyer with accounting skills. Rick Lawler, currently serving as appointed mayor, has plenty of institutional knowledge.

But Mr. Harden deserves a chance to continue in his recently appointed role on the board. His strong reputation in the community is notable, and he is passionate on the subject of the need to get sewers done, describing it as an existential issue for the village.

What set Mr. Driscoll apart from his rivals were two things. First, an impressive resume of leadership roles in law enforcement, demonstrating a skill set that transfers nicely to local government. Also, he put forward a proposal that was notable in its specificity: the need for a data-driven system at Village Hall to follow up on interactions with the community and instill some accountability to a process where it’s needed. It’s not a glamorous idea, but it’s a good, solid improvement that’s been beneficial as nearby as neighboring Southampton Town.

Those are ideas, rather than vague promises of change, that drive real innovation in constructive ways. That’s the essence of where East Hampton Village’s focus should be in the future: New ideas, built on a solid foundation that need not be dynamited.