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A New Way to Win

Wed, 09/16/2020 - 18:07


In an election that will have long-lasting repercussions, voters rejected three East Hampton Village incumbents on Tuesday, instead embracing a message of change. Mayor-elect Jerry Larsen ran a skillful campaign, seeking support from among village residents and part-timers who did not ordinarily participate in local politics. The outcome completes a full turnover on the village board, with relative newcomers to their positions now to occupy all five seats.

Absentee ballots, some from first-time village voters, made the difference in a stunning upset. By the end of the night, Mr. Larsen had amassed 453 votes, more than his challengers, Deputy Mayor Barbara Borsack and Trustee Arthur Graham, combined.

Mr. Larsen’s NewTown Party running mates, Chris Minardi and Sandra Melendez, also won by huge margins. Mr. Minardi enjoyed the highest tally of the day, with 467 votes. Contrast that with 2016, when Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. ran unopposed and won with 71 votes.

For East Hampton Village, the campaign was a rarity. The last time the mayor’s seat was contested was in 1996. Mr. Larsen will become the third mayor with a law enforcement background in a line dating back to Mr. Rickenbach’s 1992 win. He also comes dogged by a lawsuit he once filed against the village claiming unfair competition from the then-Mayor Rickenbach and then-Trustee Richard Lawler for his home security business. But there is no denying the fact that Mr. Larsen’s core message got through. His campaign could be summed up in one phrase, turning the “village of ‘no’ into the village of ‘yes.’ “

Just how far the new board majority of Mr. Larsen, Mr. Minardi, and Ms. Melendez will try to push “yes” remains to be seen. With the remainder of the village board consisting of Mr. Graham and Trustee Rose Brown, who have also favored a lighter touch on land-use and business issues, large-scale shifts are a distinct possibility. In his time on the village zoning board of appeals, Mr. Minardi has seemed among its more flexible members; how he will vote when matters such as allowing more outdoor events at inns near residences arise will be interesting to see.

A great deal is at stake. Village government in East Hampton has for a very long time been able to resist the heavy pressures of overdevelopment of its business core and investment-driven real estate speculation aimed at getting the maximum out of a piece of property. If the board now changes laws to allow even larger houses on village lanes, a swift backlash could be a result. Board members need to keep in mind that there already is a longstanding sense of how village residents have wanted things to be and that financial concerns are not the only ones they must keep in mind. Key will be resisting demands to allow intensive business uses to spread into residential areas.

In our minds and in those of the many people who have chosen to buy here or remain in the village, the balance has been more or less right. Change is always welcome, but it must come tempered with a respect for the place so many call home.


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