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Nov 10, 2009 4:58 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Wilkinson drew on his Montauk stronghold in a solid victory

Nov 10, 2009 4:58 PM

Republican Bill Wilkinson, who was elected East Hampton Town supervisor last week, captured 18 of East Hampton’s 19 election districts and took home nearly 67 percent of the vote in trouncing Democrat Ben Zwirn.

Mr. Zwirn won only District 2 in Sag Harbor, by a narrow margin of 165 to 144 votes. In his 2007 race against former Supervisor Bill McGintee, Mr. Wilkinson took just six of East Hampton’s 19 election districts.

Republican Town Board candidate Theresa Quigley took home the most votes in each of the town’s election districts other than Sag Harbor, with her running mate, Dominick Stanzione, close behind. Democratic candidate John Whelan took home the most Town Board votes in Sag Harbor, with his running mate, Patti Leber, a close second.

Though on the surface, the GOP victory seems to denote a sea change in public opinion in a town where Democrats make up the largest number of registered voters, Democratic Party Chairman Bill Taylor said this week that a perfect storm of bad news—from Mr. McGintee’s resignation at the beginning of October to the complete meltdown of budget talks at a recent Town Board meeting—played a major role in the solid Republican victory.

Roughly 6,400 East Hampton voters are Democrats, 4,300 are Republicans, and 4,300 are not affiliated with any party. Nearly 900 residents are members of the Independence Party

“This particular election, I really think we had a very good group of candidates and we ran a very good campaign. In a normal year we would have won very large,” said Mr. Taylor.

“A couple things really messed everything up. Obviously having McGintee in trouble with the District Attorney, having a deficit, with people who were all elected through the efforts of the Democratic Party, didn’t help. I thought we were going to do better than we did. Having the dissension on the Town Board at one Town Board meeting, in particular, I think that was the final nail in the coffin. It just concentrated the public perception on everything that was wrong. That Town Board meeting was kind of like the Republican poster child for what was wrong with the town. This is probably the most toxic atmosphere I’ve ever seen the Democrats try to run a campaign in. The Republicans were really energized.”

Mr. Taylor also said that he thought many Democratic voters may have stayed home this year, though the voter turnout figures show a slight increase in turnout to 43.2 percent, up from 41.7 percent in 2007. In comparison, 64 percent of East Hampton voters turned out for last year’s presidential election.

What is certain is that Mr. Wilkinson has built up his base in Montauk, where he won three of his six districts in 2007. Mr. Wilkinson trounced Mr. Zwirn in all of Montauk’s four election districts, and in District 10, which makes up the area to the west of Lake Montauk, he took the largest margin in the race, with 478 votes to Mr. Zwirn’s 69. In Mr. Zwirn’s home district in Northwest Woods, the Democratic candidate’s showing was slightly better, at 186 votes to Mr. Wilkinson’s 266.

Mr. Taylor said that the party’s philosophy in this year’s race was an attempt to win back the public’s trust in Democrats, by running competent candidates who were not associated with the current mess at Town Hall.

Mr. Taylor said that he believes Town Board candidate John Whelan “is going to be an ongoing player in the political thing.” Indeed, Mr. Whelan spent much of Thursday morning sitting near the front of a packed budget hearing at Town Hall listening to residents’ concerns about the town’s priorities.

“I think we had really good candidates. I just don’t think the public was in the mood to listen. We were clobbered by the actions of the last Town Board,” said Mr. Taylor. “We were trying to put people in there who were qualified and had a plan for cutting down the size of town government and were trying to do so in the best way possible. I imagine the next election is going to be about ‘what has the Wilkinson administration accomplished?.’ I personally want to work together with the incoming government to do whatever we can to fix this problem. We’ll be the loyal opposition. If Wilkinson thinks borrowing $14 million and kicking the can down the road is the right thing to do, I don’t think that’s a plan. It’s easy taking shots. Now people are going to see how they deliver.”

Only two Democrats, incumbent Town Justice Cathy Cahill and incumbent Highway Superintendent Scott King, were elected last Tuesday.

In other election news, write-in candidate Prudence Carabine will have to wait until Wednesday, November 11, to learn how many votes she received. She will be traveling to the Suffolk County Board of Elections headquarters in Yaphank as the voting machines are opened and the write-in ballots are counted. The latest poll figures show a shortfall in the number of lever-based votes for Town Board, as compared with the number of voters for supervisor, of 784 votes. However it is difficult to extrapolate how many of those missing votes might have gone to Ms. Carabine. In 2007, when there were no write-in candidates for Town Board, there was a 734-vote shortfall in the number of votes for Town Board candidates in comparison to votes for supervisor.

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I find it very interesting that Mr. Taylor takes a very hands off approach to why the Democrats lost. Mr. Taylor, while McGintee was looting town hall, while the Democrat administration's incompetence deepened, while no-bid contracts were handed out to politically connected friends, while taxpayers were socked with a 24 percent tax increase, what were you and the other Democrat leaders doing? You enabled, you abetted, you allowed and you covered up Democrat shennaigans, while East Hampton spiraled ...more
By Carole Campolo (46), East Hampton on Nov 11, 09 10:17 PM