Former Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride set off an alarm Sunday when he drove a retired Sag Harbor Fire Department truck in a parade of President Trump supporters that traveled across Long Island to the Montauk Lighthouse.
A number of onlookers saw the Sag Harbor lettering on the doors of the 1991 GMC heavy rescue truck and thought it was an official vehicle being used improperly for a political rally.
“Absolutely not,” Mr. Gilbride responded when asked on Monday if he wanted people to think he was taking part in the parade as an official representative of the department. “As an ex-chief, I wouldn’t have allowed it if it was an active truck.”
Mr. Gilbride, who has a collection of old cars and trucks, including an old Sag Harbor pumper, bought the 1991 GMC heavy rescue truck from the village when it was decommissioned by the fire department several years ago. He described the trucks as “toys” he bought, in part, to entertain his grandson.
“I bought it ‘as is,’” he said, noting that he scraped off the “Fire Department” decal from the vehicle but left the “Sag Harbor” lettering on it. “Why would I take it off?” he asked. “I was born and raised here.”
Mr. Gilbride was also roundly criticized on the day of the 2018 Sag Harbor Village election when he parked his decommissioned pumper with signs supporting Jennifer Ponzini, a candidate for Village Board, across the street from the Sag Harbor Firehouse, which is also the village polling place. At the time, many voters complained that it appeared the fire department was backing Ms. Ponzini.
Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy, who happened to be elected that same day, issued a statement on Monday distancing the village from Mr. Gilbride’s show of support for the president.
“The Village of Sag Harbor government and its emergency response groups are non-partisan and strive to publicly be party neutral,” she said. “We were disappointed to learn that an out-of-commission and retired fire truck, that is now owned personally, was used in a political fashion on Sunday on the East End. The heavy rescue truck was bought a number of years back by a Sag Harbor resident and should have had all official decals taken off the vehicle. While the Fire Department seal was removed the Sag Harbor remains. We hope the current owner can remedy this before using it to show political preferences in the future.”
Mr. Gilbride said he wasn’t planning to take the mayor’s advice. “We still live in a country with a First Amendment,” he said. And he asked why nobody in village government complained when the Sag Harbor Cinema, which has received millions of dollars in taxpayer funding for its rebuilding project, displayed a “Black Lives Matter” sign earlier this fall.
Mr. Gilbride said he joined the parade, which started in Seaford, when it passed through Wainscott. “I knew something was going to happen when I left my house to pick up my grandson and was driving down Jermain Avenue,” he said. “A woman stopped her car in the middle of the street and started waving her arms.”
He said he encountered a number of angry people along the route. “There were a lot of people giving us the finger and saying outrageous things,” he said. “I’ll tell you this. You can really feel the divide in this country.”