What a difference a year makes. In 2020, incumbent Sag Harbor Village Trustees James Larocca and Thomas Gardella ran unopposed — and hardly noticed — for new terms.
This year, Mr. Larocca, who has a year remaining on his trustee term, has announced that he would challenge incumbent Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy for her seat with the support of Mr. Gardella.
Meanwhile, two incumbents, Trustee Aidan Corish and Trustee Bob Plumb, are also seeking reelection, and they have thrown their full support behind Ms. Mulcahy.
Newcomer Bayard Fenwick is also planning to run for one of the two open trustee seats, and Christopher Backlund, 19, who lives just outside the village, said he was seriously toying with the idea of running, but that finding housing within the village limits had proven to be too difficult.
Tuesday, May 11, was the last day for candidates to submit petitions to run for village office. The election takes place on June 15.
After Ms. Mulcahy won an overwhelming victory over then incumbent Mayor Sandra Schroeder in 2019, her administration got off to a fast start, with the mayor encouraging more public comment at board meetings and holding regular office hours; undertaking the renovation of Long Wharf, trying to upgrade village cellphone service, exploring options to raise revenue for infrastructure repair through paid parking, entertaining alternative transportation proposals, and undertaking a number of updates to the village code.
Then COVID-19 hit, putting the village into lockdown almost immediately and disrupting day-to-day business for much of the past year.
“I want to finish some of the things I’ve started,” the mayor said this week, checking off efforts to improve water quality, not only at Havens Beach but elsewhere in the coves and bay surrounding the village; update the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan; expand the area served by the sewage treatment plant; and most importantly, complete the effort to protect the remaining village waterfront from overdevelopment by adopting new zoning code tools for use in a Waterfront Overlay District.
That process, begun in August, is slowly winding its way to toward the home stretch, with planning consultants putting the finishing touches, with input from the board, on a proposal that should be ready for its first public hearing next month.
In announcing his candidacy in front of the Municipal Building last week, Mr. Larocca criticized the mayor for the way that zoning revision has been undertaken, saying the committee behind it was overloaded with developers and did not contain any environmentalists. He has also questioned the goal of the effort and has insisted that the board should be provided with examples of what could be developed on a given parcel under current zoning, and in the future, if the new code is adopted.
Mr. Larocca has also taken aim at Ms. Mulcahy’s initial support of Bay Street Theater’s purchase of the Water Street Shops property for a new home, and he has criticized her for writing a letter supporting the theater’s effort to buy the National Grid gas ball property, which is currently a village parking lot, even though he has called for that same property to be used as a new site for the theater. Ms. Mulcahy has said she wrote in support of Bay Street because the Village Board had determined it could not afford to buy the property and rescinded her support when National Grid put the property up for lease again and the village decided to actively pursue a lease
Mr. Plumb, who was elected in 2019 with Ms. Mulcahy, said he was eager to finish the waterfront rezoning effort, calling the threat of development there “a fire that must be put out.”
A contractor by profession, Mr. Plumb has also spearheaded efforts to overhaul the village Building Department to streamline the building permit process and ramp up enforcement efforts.
“I’m trying to maintain the village, trying to save what’s here from becoming something like those condos on the waterfront,” he said.
Mr. Plumb added that he fully supported Ms. Mulcahy, calling Mr. Larocca, who has enjoyed a long career in public service for a number of state agencies, “a lifelong bureaucrat” who “is ill-suited for the job of mayor.”
He said if Mr. Larocca was honored for his work in obtaining John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, he should be blamed for the three large condos currently under construction next to the park. He said the Village Board, of which Mr. Larocca was a member, did not push back strongly enough against the proposal for the structures presented by developer Jay Bialsky, who agreed to sell that portion of his property that became Steinbeck Park.
Mr. Corish took a more conciliatory approach. “I’m not running against Jim,” he said, calling Mr. Larocca a valued member of the board. “But he described Kathleen’s first term as chaotic, and it’s just not true. I think she has served the village well and deserves another term.”
If elected, Mr. Corish said this, his third term, would be his last. Mr. Corish, who has headed efforts to expand the reach of the sewage treatment plant and institute limited paid parking, among other initiatives, said he wanted to turn his attention to water quality issues, especially what he called “a legacy issue — restoring Havens Beach.”
He said he would like to revisit a proposal to recreate a natural wetland buffer system at Havens Beach, a project he said could sharply reduce pollutants entering the bay.
Although he is a political newcomer, Mr. Fenwick comes from a family with deep political roots. His father was mayor of the town he grew up in New Jersey, and his grandmother was well respected congresswoman, Millicent Fenwick.
Mr. Fenwick, who moved to Sag Harbor from New York in 2012, is a real estate agent with Saunders and Associates in Bridgehampton.
“I straddle two worlds,” he said, “the old Sag Harbor and the new Sag Harbor.” He pointed to his membership in the fire department of how he has become involved in his new community.
Mr. Fenwick said he had decided to run for office primarily because of his own interactions with the village, citing its slow and ineffective responses to his complaints about a neighbor’s potential code violations, two old village cisterns on his property, and chronic water pooling on Jermain Avenue near his house.
“I’ve experienced directly how the village works,” he said, “and it seems like a lot of attention is needed all around.”
Mr. Backlund said he had considered running because he found the proposed Bay Street Theater design to be out of place in the village, and said the village was facing a housing crisis — something he learned about firsthand when he tried to find an apartment in the village. He said he would consider running again in the near future.
“I’m young, but I’m not stupid,” he said. “I can see that the village is in dire need of change. It’s also apparent to me that nobody is stepping up to the plate to make these changes possible.”