Sag Harbor now faces what many feared. Long had it been a kind of “unHampton,” spared the development pressures of elsewhere on the South Fork. But the corrosive properties of profit and ego now threaten the former whaling port as never before. This is at the heart of a late-developing contest for mayor to be settled by voters on Tuesday. Sadly, it is not as if a generation of earlier officials did not see the changes coming. Rather, many of them worked hard to pass laws meant to preserve the village they loved. Now, we are told, the rules must be rewritten again in a process that seems without end.
The mayor’s race pits the incumbent, Kathleen Mulcahy, against James Larocca, himself a village trustee. Ms. Mulcahy, a former corporate marketing executive, was something of an accidental politician, having stepped up to run her first time without ever thinking she would seek office. She believes that revisions to village zoning laws would stop future excesses, like a looming residential complex on West Water Street. In a recent debate she said the changes would be “bullet-proof,” but then, that is what previous mayors may have thought as well. Rather than the laws themselves, decisions about what scale of development is allowed really come down to the elected and appointed officials who apply them. One can have the toughest laws on the books, but unless they are enforced, they are meaningless. For example, Sag Harbor was the first village in the state to complete a local waterfront revitalization plan, but its current officials dropped the ball when it came time to strictly put it in play on West Water Street. That Ms. Mulcahy has noted that the waterfront plan is being rewritten actually underscores our point that it is less about what any law says than who brings it to bear.
Mr. Larocca also would like to have new laws and plans completed, falling into the quagmire, too, but, that said, he appears to be more proactive about what can be done now. In the debate he said that by no means is the Bay Street Theater’s plan for a new waterfront home a done deal and that alternatives should be explored. It is difficult to know how serious he is, too, about affordable work-force housing, but laws already are in place that could help increase its supply. Another case in point was years ago, when the old Bulova factory was going to be converted to luxury apartments, and the then-mayor helped lead an effort that allowed its developer to wriggle out of a law that would have required it to provide up to 20 affordable residences. Again, the rule was there; the village simply chose to sidestep it.
Mr. Larocca’s record as a village trustee and his previous career suggest to us that he is the right person to pick up the fight now. He is a United States Navy veteran, with two tours in Vietnam, who worked in Washington for New York congressional representatives. After serving in the administration of New York Gov. Hugh Carey, he was commissioner of the Department of Transportation and chairman of the Long Island Power Authority, among other posts. No disrespect toward Ms. Mulcahy, but his is the kind of firepower and decades-long history of public service that Sag Harbor needs — now more than ever.