Twelve candidates, one of them a Republican, will square off for the nine positions on the Democratic ticket in the primary election on June 25 to choose the Democratic slate for East Hampton Town Trustee.
While Democrats hold a 7-to-2 majority on the trustee board, a split in the party last year pit its establishment candidates and committee members against those of a faction calling itself the Reform Democrats. The latter’s candidates for townwide office are endorsed by the East Hampton Independence Party. They hope to be grouped on a new ticket, the EH Fusion Party, on the Nov. 5 ballot. (A report on the EH Fusion Party’s efforts to get on the ballot appears elsewhere in this issue.) The Reform Democrats candidates’ effort to appear on the Republican Party line was unsuccessful.
The East Hampton Town Democratic Committee has endorsed the incumbent trustees Francis Bock, Bill Taylor, Susan McGraw Keber, John Aldred, and Rick Drew. Mr. Bock is the body’s clerk, and Mr. Taylor is one of two deputy clerks. Jim Grimes, a Republican incumbent who is the other deputy clerk, also got the party’s endorsement, as did Mike Martinsen, Tim Garneau, and Ben Dollinger.
Mr. Garneau, a clothing retailer who lives in Northwest Woods, is a longtime East Hampton Little League coach, and a former league manager and board member who coordinated its all-star team for 11 years. Mr. Martinsen, a fisherman and oyster farmer, is co-owner of the Montauk Shellfish Company. Mr. Dollinger is a risk adviser at the Amaden Gay Agencies in East Hampton. He lives in Montauk. Mr. Garneau and Mr. Dollinger are both members of the Democratic Committee.
The Reform Democrats are backing Dell Cullum, an incumbent trustee who was elected as a Democrat in 2017, Stephen Lester, a former Democratic trustee, and Rona Klopman, a longtime member of the Democratic Committee.
The rupture among the town’s Democrats came into view last year when committee members accused the party’s then-chairwoman of manipulating the vote to choose her successor. Ms. Klopman took legal action in an effort to prevent that election. It was dismissed in State Supreme Court, and the Democrats elected Cate Rogers to succeed Jeanne Frankl. Ms. Klopman and David Gruber, the Reform Democrats’ candidate for supervisor this year, were among those who make up the “caucus within the Democratic Party,” as Mr. Gruber refers to the group. He will also appear on the Independence Party line and, possibly, the EH Fusion Party line.
The two camps traded barbs on Monday. “They’re attaching a label to themselves,” Ms. Rogers said, “but the Reform Democrats are apparently a group of people that wanted to run on the Republican line.” None of the three Reform Democrats screened with the Democratic committee, she said. “If they were interested in running as part of the Democratic Party, there was no reason for that.”
Ms. Klopman said that the present trustees, “which should be an independent body, are right now too close to the town board.” She criticized what she said was inattention to the potential impacts of the proposed South Fork Wind Farm. “I’m not against wind, but I think it needs a lot more study,” she said. “And they’re not doing that.” Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. came out against the proposal, she noted, citing inattention to his office and constituents in a 2018 announcement. “So I think I’m in good company.”
She also called Mr. Bock and Mr. Taylor’s employment with the town a conflict of interest. Mr. Bock works for the town’s office of housing and community development. Mr. Taylor is the town’s waterways management supervisor.
Among Democrats’ accomplishments on the trustee board, Ms. Rogers cited their move, after assuming the majority in 2015, to hold trustee meetings at Town Hall rather than the cramped meeting room at their Amagansett offices.
That group, which includes Mr. Bock, Mr. Taylor, and Mr. Drew, “turned a very insular, nonresponsive, shrinking-party trustee board to an open, transparent, on-TV, working-with-other-government-groups board that gets things done.” Mr. Martinsen, Mr. Garneau, and Mr. Dollinger “bring a wealth of experience to the table, have tremendous life experience, and are excellent candidates,” she said.
The Reform Democrats’ “platform of anger and bitterness and attacking people’s character speaks for itself,” Ms. Rogers said.
Ms. Klopman countered that “Not having the Democratic Committee on my back allows me a lot more freedom. I don’t have to answer to anybody, I don’t owe anybody anything, I can be my own person to really do what’s good for the community.”
“I was a member of that committee for 10 years,” she said. “I know how it operates. To me, that can’t help the community.”