Sag Harbor’s Mayor-elect Kathleen Mulcahy, a former marketing executive and now real estate agent who moved to Sag Harbor in 1995 and raised her son and daughter here, was a founder of Main Street Conversations, a group that meets every month at the Main Street home of Gigi Morris to hear speakers and discuss local and regional issues. It also functioned as a get-out-the-vote operation for Ms. Mulcahy last Tuesday and previously for the Democratic candidate for Congress, Perry Gershon, in November of 2018, turning the vote bluer in Sag Harbor’s election districts than anywhere else on the East End.
How did the personal decision come to you to run for mayor?
You know about Main Street Conversations. We had a dinner meeting March, April, and we were talking to Cindy Morris, she runs Take Action Suffolk County, and Bryan Erwin [who founded TASC] … they spoke to the group and then they stayed for dinner. Cindy was talking about the Port Jefferson mayor’s race, which was the same day as ours … And then after we talked about that for a while, we started talking about our own mayor’s race and we were all lamenting the fact that no one was running.
Two years ago, when I voted and no one was running, it made me sick to my stomach. Not that Sandra [Schroeder, the outgoing mayor] was doing an awful job; the fact that nobody was running was ridiculous. And so, we were lamenting it and Cindy went around the table. I was to her right and she turned to her left and there were 12 of us at this big, round table and she asked, ‘Why aren’t you running?’
And every single person had a very valid excuse why they couldn’t run including many women who lived outside the village [boundary so couldn’t run here]. And as it got closer to me, I noticed that everybody was sort of looking at me. And they got to me and before I could even open my mouth they were saying to me, ‘You have none of those excuses. You live in the village you are a real estate agent, you can do this, you’d be good at this damn thing.’
Was that an awful feeling?
No; it was very flattering that anybody thought that this was even something possible. Of course, I hemmed and hawed, but then Cindy said something really interesting. She said, ‘You know if a man is asked to run for office, he’ll say yes after one person asks. If a woman is asked, it usually takes about six people to ask her. I took it as that as a challenge, damn it … I said I’ll think about it and wrote them back within four or five days. I checked in with a number of people, checked if anybody else was running, and kept hearing ‘No, but if you think you really want to do it, if you think you’re up to it’ … This is what I do for a living: grass roots local marketing.
Was the same get-out-the-vote operation at work for you that worked for Perry Gershon?
Oh yes. Gigi’s house was campaign central for the day of the election. We did it slightly differently, in that I had a great group of people just reach out to me, some I’d never even met before; they reached out to me and said, ‘What can I do.’ So we took the voter rolls and we talked to everybody, and everybody identified friends of theirs, so going in we had about 600 people identified as a friend of a friend. And everybody had their lists and we would send out different emails to people about their lists: Okay, it’s coming up for voter registration, if you have friends and others, make sure they change their registration by the 7th.’ ‘Okay, it’s coming up to absentee ballot time; make sure that they have their absentee ballots; it’s coming to be time to mail in the absentee ballots, here are the rules …
Was there an us-versus-them aspect to the race or is that changing?
I never felt an us-versus-them aspect when we moved here. We were embraced. And my son’s and daughter’s friends were a wide range of fourth- and fifth-generation Sag Harbor people to Christy Brinkley’s kids. It was just this wide range, which is what makes Sag Harbor so wonderful. It wasn’t this homogeneous place like Rye, New York …. I felt it a little near the end [of the race] but when you look at the numbers, I don’t think it went that way … I do think it was an across-the-board vote.
I was in such shock by the numbers. When the counting took so long [at the fire house after the vote, from 9 to nearly 10:30 p.m.], we figured it had to be within a vote for somebody. But I feel really there was a village mandate. People ask me if I’m daunted about going in and I’ll tell you I feel a lot less daunted than I would have been had the vote been 360 to 310 [instead of 489 to 179]. That would be scary going in. This is something I had a lot of support for.
There was a lot of conversation near the end that I had no experience, no board of trustees experience and how dare I run ….
Where was that?
It was Facebook nonsense, and there was just scuttlebutt. But I kept saying I have all the management experience that’s needed for the management side of the job and, as far as the village government experience goes, I have a lot of people around me who aren’t going to let me fail. Starting with you and Kathryn [the editor of the Express] … if I’m doing something wrong, I expect to hear from you. There are talented people in the village office and there are very good people on the boards. No one’s going to let me fail because whether they like me or not they love the village.
Do you know what the plan is for rehabilitating Long Wharf?
I don’t know if the contract is written yet … I know there’s a contract that we’ve accepted for the bid but whether it’s all signed, sealed and delivered back or not, I don’t know. I’ll find out much more tomorrow. The last set of plans that I saw, I don’t hate. I think it only took eight [parking] spaces, maybe four or five spaces — we don’t lose a lot of spaces. It is nice. I do think it’s more expensive than anybody expected it to be, without a doubt, and that’s one of the things I want to find out.
What else is on your plate?
There are lot of empty spots on our boards and our commissions. I would like to get some of those filled by next Monday, by the organizational meeting. That’s how I’m going to spend a good part of tomorrow. I get sworn in at noon on July 1, at the organization meeting, as would many of these new board people. So, I would get some people lined up for that. That is first.
By July 9, that will be out first [regular board] meeting. By July 9, I want the village to have purchased some kind of a timer, a red, yellow, green timer so we can put public input back at the beginning of the meeting with a very strict three-minute policy. Strict, absolutely, you are cut off in the middle of your words … Worst case, I’ll donate and iPad to the village and we’ll do it that way. But that’s going to be the first thing that changes with that meeting.
And then just environmentally, overall, the Havens Beach sponge thing [the filtering system for runoff before it enters the water at the beach] I think works, what they proposed a couple of weeks ago at the Harbor Committee meeting [to be able to better service and replace the Abtech Smart Sponge filtration system], I think that sounds like a good first step. I want to make sure those sponges that are in there are disposed of properly and gotten as far away from here as possible … It’s not the ultimate solution but it’s at least something …
Do you think the expansion of the sewage treatment district will be the best solution?
Yep, and that [planning effort] is in full swing. There’s a grant writer who is working on that as we speak. So that would be amazing to have that but we’re just going to have lots of people, all wanting that [to be connected to the sewage plant for septic waste treatment].
Will you start having regular work sessions of the Village Board?
Yes. Every other week. We’re going to do every other Tuesday a work session; every other Tuesday there will be a board meeting. That’s the way we’re supposed to do it.
You spoke of a new comprehensive plan during your campaign.
I would like to, by fall, start that process. We have to get through the summer. Because you’ve got to get through the summer with all hands on deck. But by fall, we would start the planning process. By winter, we would have that plan as the basis for our budget and for that budget we would then put in that project manager and everything to go from there.
So your comprehensive plan isn’t just about land use and zoning?
Oh no. It’s because I come at it from a marketing background. It’s ‘what does Sag Harbor mean?’ It’s really what is our image, what do we mean what do, what do we want to be? Do we want to be a Marbella or a San Tropez? Or do we want to be an old whaling village, you know, in like Cape Cod? There are different ways we can go and this is one of those times in our world and our lives and our village when we have to stop and say this is a crossroads. Because if you look out at the water, we’re Marbella. You look up the street and we’re still the old Sag Harbor … we’re up in Maine. Both are okay but both aren’t okay to everybody. So where do we find something to balance it out? We’re not going to make everybody happy but at least let everybody have their say and let’s talk about how we can find some common issues.
It sounds like you’re not having any butterflies about jumping right into it. You seem gung ho.
I probably should but I don’t, I’m very gung ho. I wish it was today at noon [that I get sworn in]. My plan is that I’m going to be in an office there—I never have seen the mayor’s office; I have no idea of anything there, I’ve never been beyond that [front] desk, but I’d like to be in my office all day Tuesdays and Thursdays. I will be there; my door will be open unless I’m in a meeting. I’ve asked Beth [Kamper, the village clerk-administrator] that if I have meetings that we can try to keep them to those two days for the most part. Because I figure Tuesday is before a work session or a meeting and then Thursdays is the day the Express comes out and that’s the day that people have the most questions.
The Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees reorganizational meeting will take place on Monday, July 1, beginning at noon in the Municipal Building, 55 Main Street, Sag Harbor. For more information, visit sagharborny.gov.