Sag Harbor has never been a community of apathy; its residents — both old and new — are fiercely protective of the village and have, for decades, routinely packed the second-floor meeting room at the Municipal Building when controversial issues arise.
And there have always been divergent views on the best path forward for a village carved out of a whaling industry and into an industrial town largely populated by immigrants. Today, Sag Harbor is a world-class waterfront destination prized for its bays and harbors, its history, and a quaint Main Street with mom-and-pop businesses that dominate the landscape, while other villages look more and more like Rodeo Drive, and less and less like the South Fork of Long Island.
As a result, village elections have often been spirited. Despite differing views, and occasionally raised voices, most village elections in Sag Harbor have been respectful. They’ve rarely been laced with innuendo meant to sow seeds of distrust — as we have seen in this year’s mayoral race between Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy and her challenger, current Trustee Jim Larocca. Due to a climate manufactured in part by outside interests, that has not been the case this year.
The race for two seats on the Village Board has largely been issued-based. Incumbent Aidan Corish is a standout among the three candidates, including incumbent Bob Plumb and newcomer Bayard Fenwick. Mr. Corish has a clear platform with plans to address water quality across the board, with a particular eye on Havens Beach and resurrecting plans for the creation of wetlands to help combat ongoing water quality issues at the village’s lone bathing beach. A third term for Aidan Corish is a no-brainer.
It is always good to see a contested race and new faces. That said, while we appreciate Mr. Fenwick’s candidacy and his work as a volunteer firefighter, he was unprepared to discuss key issues like zoning at a recent debate. Conversely, Mr. Plumb, a former member of the zoning board, has quietly worked to improve the village Building Department and is well-versed in the development pressures facing Sag Harbor.
In the next year, having experienced board members will be important, and Bob Plumb should be elected to another term.
Kathleen Mulcahy won a landslide victory two years ago with a campaign of bringing more community voices into decisions made at Village Hall. She brought back public comment at meetings and reintroduced monthly work sessions, giving the board — and residents — the opportunity to workshop ideas in a public forum.
The COVID-19 crisis hit, and the village was a leader in its response, instituting mask mandates before most and creating a public awareness campaign that Southampton Village quickly adopted. The village worked one on one with businesses and coordinated efforts to ensure the safety of emergency service providers. Ask any local government leader: Ms. Mulcahy was there every step of the way.
Village residents felt another crisis on the horizon as waterfront condominiums — approved by regulatory boards prior to Ms. Mulcahy’s term in office — began to be constructed. Last summer, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the Village Board moved forward with plans to change its zoning code to protect from such overzealous waterfront development. The process has been far from perfect, but Ms. Mulcahy has listened to criticism, pulling back on aspects of the plan opposed by residents and several community groups. The result is a waterfront overlay code that, if adopted, would limit the height of waterfront buildings, protect views to the water and prevent the waterfront from being lined with condominiums. Many concerns about a yet-to-be-proposed new building for Bay Street Theater on West Water Street would be addressed with the adoption of that code.
Jim Larocca has many successes under his belt as well, most notably the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, public parkland that he and former Mayor Sandra Schroeder fought to make a reality. Mr. Larocca was on the board that planned the renovation of Long Wharf, which resulted in a safer and more beautiful waterfront facility. He does not shy away from sharing his opinions and has been a successful trustee.
Mr. Larocca has made no bones about his lack of faith in Ms. Mulcahy’s leadership: From the first meeting she led as mayor in 2019, he was critical of the newcomer to village politics. His campaign has focused on the Friends of Bay Street plans for West Water Street and the mayor’s role in their successful lease of the nearby former gas ball property, long used as village parking. When that property was for sale, Ms. Mulcahy supported Bay Street Theater in a bid to buy the property with a letter. She rescinded the letter when National Grid announced that it would look to lease the land instead, and rightfully admits now that she never should have sent the letter without sharing it with board members.
To say there was a communication breakdown between these two leaders is an understatement, and something they both should take responsibility for.
What Kathleen Mulcahy has accomplished as a freshman mayor far outweighs her missteps. The waterfront overlay district code has good bones, and that process needs to be completed under her leadership. She fully deserves a second term.
Mr. Larocca is a strong trustee, and his position on the board is important. A diversity of opinions can result in a better outcome for everyone, when not bogged down by ego or politics.
We hope this current board — and these two candidates, in particular — can begin to work together, constructively, for the betterment of the entire village.