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Democrats Treated to Lively Primary

Wed, 06/26/2019 - 12:12

A day after an East Hampton Democratic primary, voters could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about. Candidates from what might be considered the old-line part of the party won with ease. In what appeared to be a very strong turnout for a down-ballot primary, the East Hampton Reform Democrats’ trustee challengers were defeated. The strength of an activated Democratic base could also be seen in Andrew Strong’s win over East Hampton Town Justice Lisa R. Rana, a Republican who had sought cross-endorsement.

In the trustee race, all nine of the East Hampton town Democratic Committee’s choices won big. These included three who were making their first foray into politics: Ben Dollinger, Mike Martinsen, and Tim Garneau. Mr. Garneau campaigned hard for a trustee race, going door to door and talking to voters. This apparently paid off, with his top-five finish, separated from Francis J. Bock, the longtime trustee clerk, by a slim baker’s dozen votes. 

Notably, trustee Susan McGraw-Keber won the most votes. Ms. Keber has been a hands-on advocate on environmental issues, helping create an atmosphere that contributed to a town ban on intentional releases of helium balloons.

Primary voters also seemed underwhelmed by an illegal recording made in the trustees’ Amagansett office. In the recording, Jim Grimes, Mr. Bock, and Bill Taylor, who were were on the ballot, were heard making blunt and, depending on the context, unflattering comments. Each won on Tuesday. 

The Reform Democrat-backed challengers did not even come close; this included an incumbent, Dell Cullum, and a former trustee, Stephen Lester. Mr. Cullum had been the only trustee eager to use the secret recording to raise questions about rivals. A criminal investigation into the source of the recording has so far been inconclusive.

Ms. Rana had in the past been cross-endorsed by the Democratic Committee and the Republicans. This year, though she interviewed with the committee, its membership chose overwhelmingly to go with Mr. Strong, who moved to town only a few years ago. As had the Democratic Committee, voters liked what they saw, giving him more than 70 percent of the votes cast.

Mr. Strong’s huge margin of victory may be an important harbinger of a shift among East Hampton Democrats. As the in-house lawyer for Organizacion Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, he is associated with the progressive side of the spectrum. For example, Mr. Strong and OLA recently celebrated a state bill that will allow New York residents regardless of their immigration status to apply for driving licenses. 

Ms. Rana, who grew up in Amagansett and who has a great number of close supporters, nonetheless will be on the general election ballot on, at a minimum, the Republican, Independence, and Conservative lines. The contest with Mr. Strong could present an intriguing clash of ideas.

The question of what, if anything, can be done to revitalize a limping local Republican Party, or to present voters with a viable third alternative, remains. Tuesday was a day that the Democratic leadership was surely savoring — and with good reason.

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