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Primary Matters

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 18:59


Early voting in an East Hampton Town Democratic primary begins Saturday in what is, from our perspective, an interesting and important exercise for registered voters in the local party. The top of the ticket, a challenge by Councilman Jeff Bragman to Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc’s re-election, has generated a lot of heat and drawn the most attention. But no less important is a try by John Whelan, the longtime chairman of the town zoning board of appeals, for a spot on the Democrats’ line for town board; to win, he would have to top either the incumbent, Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, or Cate Rogers, who, like him, has run before. Both Mr. Bragman and Mr. Whelan will appear on the November ballot in any event, having secured the Independence Party’s slots for those positions.

Also in play beginning on Saturday are nine names for town trustee. Rick Drew, an incumbent rejected by the town Democratic committee, was able to force a primary challenge by gathering the signatures of more than enough registered Democratic voters. In past general elections, Mr. Drew has been among the top vote-winners, so it seems assured that he will bump one of the lesser-known trustees from the November ballot.

Mr. Drew is hard-working and earnest, but his tenure as a trustee has not been without some bumps. During the protracted controversy about an underground cable that would tie the South Fork Wind offshore turbines to the electric grid, he got carried away, expanding the debate way beyond the trustees’ jurisdiction. This wasted a lot of people’s time and energy in a setting with next to no authority over the project itself. This was not his fault entirely, as the other trustees seemed okay with it. But, going forward, they — and Mr. Drew — should always be cognizant of what is and what is not trustee business. There are far too many important challenges facing the trustees as stewards of much of the town’s shoreline, waterways, and trails for them to become distracted by matters on which they have little or no say — Trustee Susan McGraw Keber’s obsessive focus on balloons being another example of something perhaps with merit but taken out of proportion to the trustees’ statutory role. As the clerk, Francis Bock could put a firmer hand on the tiller to keep the trustees on course, though as leader he has otherwise done an exceptional job.

Dysfunction on the town board, however, has reached the point of ridiculousness. Mr. Van Scoyoc’s intemperance in managing his dislike of Mr. Bragman has now spilled over onto Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and Councilman David Lys, creating an air of toxicity without equal in recent memory. The supervisor might not be able to control himself, but the other two should know better and need to cut it out now.

If Democratic voters do not bounce the supervisor from the ballot, we can expect months more tension until the general election in November or even until 2022, should he be re-elected. Those people considering how to vote — or even if the primary is worth coming out for — might keep this in mind. Every second spent squabbling is one not spent on matters of importance. Settling the ticket now in favor of Mr. Bragman seems the only way to return decorum, transparency, and respect for process to Town Hall.

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