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A Village Election That Really Matters

Wed, 06/08/2022 - 15:54


Two out of five trustee positions are in play in the East Hampton Village election that concludes on June 21, with an incumbent, Arthur Graham, seeking re-election and two hopefuls, Sarah Amaden and Carrie Doyle, having thrown their hats into the ring. Ms. Amaden and Ms. Doyle are backed by Mayor Jerry Larsen; Mr. Graham, who goes by the nickname Tiger, stands alone. The question for voters in the village is whether they think it is healthy or wise to support the mayor’s hand-picked candidates — given his proven tendency to govern by fiat and behind closed doors — or to register their disapproval by choosing Mr. Graham alone.

Ms. Amaden and Ms. Doyle possess many professional qualifications and excellent personal qualities as potential representatives. Under different circumstances, we would likely have supported their candidacy — but, unfortunately, they have aligned themselves with Mr. Larsen, who has demonstrated, again and again, a brazen disregard for the norms of good governing.

After winning in a three-way race in 2020, Mr. Larsen took office along with a new trustee majority from his NewTown Party. From early on, the new mayor quashed open debate. In the name of economic boosterism, he took aim at building laws that have for decades been a bulwark against overdevelopment (and that have in many ways been responsible for the village remaining as beautiful and unspoiled as it is). Before his arrival in Village Hall, decisions were hashed out in monthly “work session” meetings; now, policy decisions are made in private, without public input. Mostly, Mr. Larsen has conversations with the heads of the various village departments to set policy, rather than sharing that role with the board of trustees. This is not how anyone should want their government to work.

Some of the mayor’s initiatives in the village are nice. Who doesn’t love a new parade or 5K charity race (like the Pride and May Day events he threw his support behind)? We’ve all been happy with the farmers market at Herrick Park. And few residents have a problem with hanging baskets of flowers. Flowers are pretty. But this is window dressing. It’s the serious stuff — the wonky stuff — that will have a long-lasting and damaging effect on East Hampton.

Village Hall has replaced its longtime architectural historian with a historic preservation committee that has scarcely met. It has legalized the sale of alcohol on Main Beach. It has outsourced funding for village projects to a nonprofit foundation with secret donors contributing as much as $1 million. It has not followed state purchasing regulations in awarding contracts. It handed a crucial wetlands planning function to two businesses whose main income is from representing private property owners seeking official permits. It has continued the questionable practice, banned in other municipalities, of allowing police to hold private-sector jobs on the side, including at least one officer who works for the mayor’s private security firm. It has handed a no-rent deal to Tesla to take over a public parking lot. It has failed to provide a legally mandated operating plan for the use of a town-purchased historic property now operating as a gallery. It has selectively ignored Freedom of Information Law requests. It has authored a dubious survey that claimed residents would prefer that East Hampton Airport remain open with no new restrictions. It has smiled benignly at a weird proposal to build a glass playing court in Herrick Park for a sport that no one had heard of.

And, while complaining about the cost of things it does not like — such as historic preservation — it has embarked on a spending spree. It has spent $68,000 on the world’s ugliest trash containers, almost $11,000 in taxpayer money on a six-page print advertisement in these pages touting the mayor’s supposed accomplishments, and about a million in preservation-fund dollars on a poorly planned dredging of Town Pond that still hasn’t been fixed, with the result that the pond needs to be supplemented with pumped-in hydrant water.

Apparently Ms. Doyle and Ms. Amaden agree with all this, or they would not have signed on with Mr. Larsen.

We do not share the politics of Mr. Graham on many things. But everyone else outside the mayor’s coterie — everyone else who dared to disagree with him — is gone. Mr. Graham is the last person standing who has the strength of character to be a dissenting voice in our little fiefdom by the sea, so he has our support. And as for the other spot on the ballot? We’d write in a protest vote. Jimmy Stewart or Mickey Mouse for village board.


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