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No, Maybe, and Yes

Wed, 09/02/2020 - 20:49


For East Hampton Village mayor, one thing is certain: Jerry Larsen is the wrong choice. However, in a three-way race an alternative outcome is not assured. What will be essential is that voters generally satisfied with the way the village is run coalesce around one of the remaining candidates. We believe Deputy Mayor Barbara Borsack should be the one, no matter how much you might like Arthur Graham, the third candidate.

The Jerry Larsen show would be a serious setback for the village. From the start, his candidacy was peculiar, funded by a deep-pocketed donor and drawing support from business owners and landlords unhappy with the village’s restrictions on expansion. His backers in the Police Department, which he once led as chief, are but a handful in the Police Benevolent Association, which also has endorsed the Trump apologist Lee Zeldin in his re-election effort.

Mr. Larsen and his wife, Lisa Mulhern-Larsen, sued the village after his retirement, saying it had improperly blocked their side gig, a private security firm, in an attempt to reduce competition for similar services offered by then-Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. and Richard Lawler, who was then a trustee and now is mayor. The suit was dismissed in 2018 by a federal judge because Mr. Larsen had waited too long to file it. Once the matter was ended, former Mayor Rickenbach minced few words, saying Mr. Larsen was a “disgruntled and litigious former employee,” and that he hoped Mr. Larsen would “finally discontinue his spiteful actions against the village.” The 2018 proceeding was not Mr. Larsen’s only personal involvement with the courts. Earlier, he had been named in a messy lawsuit involving a relationship he had with the then-wife of an East Hampton Town police officer. Wherever Mr. Larsen goes, drama follows and East Hampton Village voters should steer clear.

The Larsens have had an eye on public office for a long time. First, Ms. Mulhern-Larsen unsuccessfully ran for East Hampton Town Board in 2015 with Republican backing. Then, Mr. Larsen took a crack at it two years later, also as a Republican, but came in last when the votes were counted. He announced his intention to run for village mayor early in 2019, just about the time he rented an apartment on Newtown Lane to qualify; the Larsens’ family home being well outside the village, in Northwest Woods. His candidacy has been marred by anonymous mystery letters and allegations that he has improperly encouraged part-time residents to vote by absentee ballot. His campaign also accepted individual donations in excess of the legal limit in five very obvious examples.

Mr. Larsen has run an active campaign and drawn some support, although a lot of it is from people who are not village residents. Though he has made good policy suggestions, his core campaign promise has been easing rules for business and property owners frustrated by village regulations. This kind of overturning of long-fought local laws and policies should be rejected by voters, that is, those who actually live within village bounds. If he could find enough allies among the village trustees, he would wreak long-term havoc.

Mr. Graham’s bid for mayor came, ostensibly, because he feared a win by Mr. Larsen. From the start, this has seemed an implausible justification for what was really his own ambition — why not let Ms. Borsack take Mr. Larsen on alone and not muddy the waters? He may have calculated that he could squeak out a victory by falling somewhere between Mr. Larsen and Ms. Borsack; indeed that is exactly how his Fish Hooks Party has framed the campaign. During a debate among the candidates, Mr. Graham did not impress. On social media, he has appeared skeptical of climate science and to share at least some views with President Trump. He has been a perfectly fine board member, but that does not necessarily mean he is the best choice for the top post.

As a longtime village board member, Barbara Borsack has distinguished herself as a leader able to moderate conflicting factions. She is a 30-year member and former chief of the Village Ambulance Association, active in her church, and has roots in East Hampton that go back to its founding in the 1600s. She would be the village’s first female mayor, but more amazingly, she was the first woman ever elected as a village trustee. Quality of life and the environment are among her priorities. She projects calm and is respectful of others. These qualities would serve the village well with her in the mayor’s chair. She gets our vote.

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