With the naming of the local Democratic and Republican Committees’ choices for the November East Hampton Town Board election, the 2023 political season has officially begun. While the individuals whom the committees have officially backed seem steady and competent in general, there is also a lackluster, if familiar, quality to them at a time of unprecedented change for the town as a whole.
The two top issues are overdevelopment and climate change-driven coastal erosion. Then there are the related challenges of affordable housing, airport noise, and traffic on South Fork roadways. Two of the three Democratic candidates for East Hampton Town Board are incumbents and therefore share responsibility for the current undesirable state of affairs. The other, a Montauk small-business owner, talks a good game on some of the problems, has talked a good game on environmental issues, but has an unproven record as a conservationist.
Among the Republicans, voters could be excused for their collective “Who?” when the three board hopefuls were announced. Strong multi-point-of-view representative leadership is essential in a democracy, no matter how small its jurisdiction. There will be time enough for residents to learn about the G.O.P. candidates’ beliefs. Unfortunately, to call oneself a Republican these days is to sign on with a party of far-right zealots that, at a minimum, has downplayed the violent Jan. 6 assault on the United States Capitol, if not made excuses for it. This remains a party whose leader directed an armed mob’s anger at the vice president, turning him into the imagined enemy. Try as they might, local Republicans will be unable to fully escape the association.
The fact is that the leading choices for town board represent more of the same, rather than aggressive movement toward preservation and quality of life improvements. Projects like the Wainscott Commercial Center, which few voters appear to want, are going along. And the town board itself is still committed to taking 14 acres of wooded parkland in Montauk for a development-inducing sewage treatment plant.
Entrenched political forces tend to fear third-party challenges because they can throw elections to the opposition by splitting one side or the other’s voters. That may be the case at a national level, but here, where a forceful voice for residents’ quality of life and the natural world is lacking in Town Hall, a “greener” option for voters would be welcome.