This past election cycle brought one of the nastiest political seasons in recent memory to the East End as Congressman Tim Bishop and St. James businessman Randy Altschuler duked it out over who would represent the First Congressional District in the House of Representatives. It was bloody, targeted Bishop’s own family in some cases, and was a downright depressing example of how polarized – and politicized – we can be.
As we head into the next eight months, during which we will see elections in Sag Harbor Village and the two towns on the local level, our greatest hope is we see campaigns focused on real issues, rather than competing personalities.
And maybe that is too much to ask, but we hope not.
Particularly in Sag Harbor Village, as of late it is impossible not to notice how tense it has become – in the Municipal Building, within the fire department, sometimes even the smallest issues being exploited for political gain and not just one side has engaged in these tactics in what has become a multi-faceted power struggle.
Power struggles, particularly in communities with such diversity – and Sag Harbor is quite diverse in terms of its population, as well as the focus different factions believe the village should have – are common, and frankly healthy. However, we do believe those who seek to represent the whole of Sag Harbor, which is in the midst of a tremendous amount of change, should hold themselves to a higher standard. As candidates officially emerge in what we are expecting to be a contested race for the mayor’s seat, we encourage them to focus on facts rather than fights, and try to keep the debate to what really matters – how we hope to shape this two-square-mile village in coming years.
The election in June will come at a time where Sag Harbor is continuing to contend with a number of significant changes. Our downtown is evolving, for better or for worse. Some familiar Main Street faces are ready to move on and out of the village or already have, many citing the increased cost of commercial property in Sag Harbor – a canary in the coal mine all too familiar for those year round residents who remember an off-season East Hampton abundant with local businesses.
The village has also become the proprietor of Long Wharf, an asset underutilized and underfunded. Understanding the correct way forward is not black and white, but must be thought out and planned carefully with the input of the whole community, and not just a small few.
Like Long Wharf, we are going to have to assess – as a community– the cost of services in Sag Harbor. What are we willing to pay for and what can we afford to pay for? The reality for the village, as well as surrounding municipalities, is we do not have a bottomless well of tax dollars to pull from. Can we have a community conversation about where our focus should lay? Is it reasonable for us to believe that is what the dialogue should be moving into this campaign?
We believe, yes.
On the East End of Long Island, we have often looked to government leaders who defy party politics, but are working as public servants to better where we live and have been lucky enough to count many among those ranks. We hope it is leaders cut from that cloth we see enter the fray this spring, summer and fall, or if not, at least those willing to strive to strike that balance.