“I’m retiring because it’s been a good run and 30 years is enough. I’m not retiring to run for office,” Larry Cantwell, the East Hampton Village administrator, said Tuesday, when asked if his retirement announcement last week signaled a possible return to East Hampton Town politics.
“Almost every election over the past 30 years I’ve been asked and certainly it’s been suggested recently and that gives me pause to consider it,” Mr. Cantwell said of talk that he might consider a 2013 run for supervisor on the Democratic ticket.
“Part of me is interested, because I have a lifetime of experience in East Hampton and 37 years of public service.” On the other hand, he said, “To leave on a high note from the village is a wonderful thing. I question whether I want to subject myself to the nastiness that politics has become in East Hampton.”
Mr. Cantwell served on the East Hampton Town Board for five and a half years, from 1977 to 1982, and made an unsuccessful bid for supervisor against the Republican incumbent, Mary Fallon, in 1981. He has since served on the town planning board and the East Hampton Housing Authority. But he first entered town politics in 1975, when at age 25 he was elected bay constable, becoming the town’s youngest elected official and “the first Democrat elected to that position in 42 years,” he said.
His final year on the town board was a fractious one. Just after the 1981 election, he said, Republicans announced plans to abolish the Planning Department and hire a consultant instead. At the time, there was still a Democratic majority on the board, which opposed the move. “We were able to pass a local law before the end of the year that said prior to abolishment of any department, the town is required to pass a local law and have a public hearing,” he said. “We were able to get the public involved.” In the end, the Planning Department was dissolved and a consultant was hired. Mr. Cantwell resigned as councilman the following year to become East Hampton Village’s clerk-treasurer. (After five years on the job, his duties were expanded and he became the village administrator.)
Still, Mr. Cantwell remembers Town Hall then as a more civil place than it seems to be today. “We had our moments and sometimes there were disagreements and sometimes they were sharp, but afterwards, we could go to lunch together,” Mr. Cantwell said. “There was a civility between the board members and between the board members and the public.”
“I’ve been fortunate to have a successful career with the village where politics is left outside the front door,” he said Tuesday.
His position with the village is an appointed one, with a term that runs concurrent with that of the mayor, but in his 30 years on the job, the village has had only three mayors.
Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. has worked with Mr. Cantwell throughout his 20-year tenure. When the village administrator told the board last week of his plans to retire in June or July of 2013, “you could hear a pin drop,” Mayor Rickenbach said at Friday’s village board meeting. “You’re a legend, and you will be noticed and recognized for your contribution to our community,” the mayor said to Mr. Cantwell, adding that it had been an “esteemed honor” to work with him.
Only one village board member, Elbert Edwards, has held his post longer than Mr. Cantwell.
Barbara Borsack, the deputy mayor, said Mr. Cantwell’s departure would be “a sad day . . . I’m sorry to see it coming.” And Richard Lawler, a board member who serves as village police commissioner, praised Mr. Cantwell for his dedication and professionalism.
Mr. Cantwell thanked the village board on Friday for “instilling me with the confidence it takes to do my job.” He also praised the village employees, “from the beach personnel to the firemen — they are the real heroes.”
“There is a unique relationship between village government and village residents,” Mr. Cantwell said Tuesday. In East Hampton Village, he said, “there is an unusual sense of trust that exists between residents and the government. It makes it a lot easier to do the job.”
The village has started taking applications to replace Mr. Cantwell, who will, Ms. Borsack said, leave big shoes to fill. Résumés are to be sent to Village Hall, attention Larry Cantwell.
He hopes that with a nine-month lead, he will be able to help make the transition to a new village administrator as smooth as possible.
As for a possible run for supervisor, he said, “I’m balancing my desire to continue to serve the community I love and . . . the personal sacrifices you have to make to be an elected official in the Town of East Hampton.”
Zachary Cohen, who lost to Supervisor Bill Wilkinson by just 15 votes in 2011, has been presumed to be the Democrats’ choice for the top of the ticket in 2013. He had only good things to say about Mr. Cantwell. “Larry would be an ideal candidate for any elected office since he is highly qualified, has already sat on the town board, is a proven manager, is well known and well liked, and will beat any Republican or Independence Party candidate he runs against,” he wrote in an e-mail. “He would also be ideal as the first-ever town administrator.”
In recent local election years, many have suggested that East Hampton Town needs a professional town manager similar to a village administrator. Mr. Cantwell thinks there’s “merit” to this, especially because it would help provide continuity from supervisor to supervisor.
Mr. Wilkinson, a Republican, has not indicated whether he plans to run again in 2013, but County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, a former supervisor who ran on the Republican ticket but has since become an Independence Party member, has said he wants to try again for his old job.
With Reporting by Larry LaVigne II