There’s an irony in the fact that the Southampton Town Board of Trustees used to pride itself in being “above politics,” something it stressed every campaign season. (It was a time, it must be said, when the Republican Party reliably held every board seat, which takes some of the politics out of it.) The board, which manages the town’s commonly held waters and lands, prefers to stay focused on bigger, loftier matters that are its purview.
Today, though, there arguably is no more political board than the Town Trustees — and no more dysfunctional one. Its members openly feud, undercut each other, block each other from important conversations. Election time is no longer a coming together; there is as much vitriol in the Trustees race as in any other, and more than in some.
The Press is taking an unusual step this year: We are withholding an endorsement in the Trustees race.
It’s a dynamic race: There are 10 candidates for five seats, with four incumbents running, Bruce Stafford being the lone Trustee not to seek reelection. It’s fair to say that the 10 assembled candidates offer a rich banquet to choose from — there really are no unqualified options, and there is a bounty of respectable, thoughtful and passionate choices.
In truth, the four incumbents — Republicans Ed Warner Jr. and Scott Horowitz, and Independence Party members Ann Welker and Bill Pell — are committed, active Trustees, and their institutional knowledge is essential for the board to succeed. There is much good to say about them.
However, we cannot in good conscience endorse any of them, for one reason: Rose Hill Road. The well-documented 5-0 decision is being defended by the incumbents even as they walk it back and face a court battle that could invalidate it. The bottom line: It was a startling betrayal of trust that the freeholders put in them — it’s right there in the name of the Board of Trustees — and there must be a price paid for that, despite the second-guessing coming out of the group now.
It’s tempting to call for a complete clearing of the board, in the same way Mecox Bay is regularly flushed to keep it healthy, but that’s a step too far. Instead, we will point out that there are six challengers with differing levels of appeal, and for a variety of reasons. Eric Shultz is a veteran Trustee whose no-nonsense savvy on legal issues is much needed on this board. Andrew Brosnan brings an expertise, Thea Fry has energy, Don Law has the perfect background on the waters. Others bring common sense and a willingness to work together — two things the Board of Trustees sorely needs.
A note to the incumbents, and particularly Mr. Warner and Mr. Horowitz, the leaders of the board: If you win, it’s time for a serious change in the way affairs are conducted. It’s not healthy now.
The town races are, by comparison, a simpler affair.
For supervisor, Jay Schneiderman is the easy choice for reelection. Neither Republican challenger Greg Robins nor Independence Party challenger Alex Gregor have made a strong case as his replacement. Mr. Schneiderman is canny, which sometimes slips into calculating, and his desire for a county post is simply a given that Southampton Town voters must accept. But he’s also a capable hand at the wheel.
The four candidates for two Town Board seats are all stellar this time around. John Bouvier deserves a new term, as his expertise in water issues and his steadfast work to advance solutions is important. For the open seat — Republican Christine Scalera is term-limited — the choice is Rick Martel by the tiniest of edges over Craig Catalanotto; both are local residents who have reputations for working for the greater good (as does Charlie McArdle, also a reasonable choice), and the only real difference is Mr. Martel’s party affiliation. A board is always healthier with a dissenting voice, and there’s reason to think Mr. Martel would serve well in that role.
For town receiver of taxes, Theresa Kiernan has done a fine job of keeping her office spending in control and has performed her duties, which is all you can ask. Democratic Party Chairman Gordon Herr looks as though he took on the task of placeholder to give voters a choice — but there’s no need for one this time. (And it’s worth asking whether voters should be choosing a tax receiver anyway — why is this, along with highway superintendent, not an appointed position?)
Finally, in the race for Suffolk County legislator, Republican nominee Linda Kabot put forth a vigorous effort in challenging the incumbent, but Democrat Bridget Fleming is engaged, getting things done at the county level for her constituents on the South Fork, and deserves another term in office. Sometimes it’s smart for voters to stay the course when an elected official is delivering. This is one of those times.s