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Town Justice, Too

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 19:57

Tuesday’s Democratic primary for East Hampton Town justice is a strange one, and a Republican incumbent might walk away the winner. 

Justice Lisa R. Rana interviewed with the East Hampton Democratic Committee seeking a cross-party endorsement, but had been passed over. She instead collected enough petition signatures to force a primary against Andrew Strong, a lawyer and the committee’s overwhelming choice.

Ms. Rana has support from many rank-and-file Democrats, as well as from the town’s dwindling number of registered Republicans, and she enjoys a good reputation gained over three previous terms on the local bench. Yet why she went the primary route is not obvious from her public statements. 

One possibility is that energized Democrats getting cranked up for the 2020 presidential election are likely to show up at the polls this year in big numbers. This might give the turnout edge in the general election to Mr. Strong, even though Ms. Rana has better name recognition; under that scenario, her fourth term might be elusive.

Even if Ms. Rana were confident that she would win in the end, Tuesday’s primary offers her a chance to get it over with in June rather than November. Though Mr. Strong’s name will appear on the Working Families line in the general election, it would be difficult to beat Ms. Rana, who would have backing from the Democratic and Republican, as well as Conservative and Independence Parties. Judicial candidates are barred from divisive campaigns, and it is clear that Ms. Rana does not enjoy the political business of getting re-elected. But the vigor with which her supporters from across party lines have rallied to her raises a question about how Mr. Strong is perceived. 

Mr. Strong is a qualified and empathetic candidate, having worked on human rights cases at The Hague. Much of what town justices do is a hybrid of routine judicial work and trying to push defendants toward better choices, whether through drug treatment or other means, and he would be good at this.

If Mr. Strong wins on Tuesday, East Hampton voters will have several months more to get to know both candidates better. If Ms. Rana wins, the game is over. This strikes us as a loss for East Hampton at a moment when important conversations are needed more than ever. It is regrettable that this debate could be over before it really gets started.