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Graham to Challenge Borsack, Larsen for mayor

Thu, 03/19/2020 - 09:28

Arthur Graham, an East Hampton Village trustee since 2017, declared his candidacy for mayor in June’s election on Monday. He joins Barbara Borsack, the deputy mayor, and Jerry Larsen, a former East Hampton Village police chief, in the village’s first contested mayoral election since 1992.

Mr. Graham, who is known as Tiger, was first elected to the village board to serve out the final year of the late Elbert Edwards's term. In 2018, he was re-elected to a four-year term after campaigning as “an activist who wants to take on new stuff,” and arguing for a sewage treatment plant in the village.

Last fall, the village board hired Nelson and Pope, an engineering firm, to develop a plan for a sewage treatment plant. “I brought that idea to the board,” Mr. Graham said in an interview. “If we can get sewage treatment, we can increase density, which means we can use second-floor apartments [for work-force housing]. And, to revitalize the village core, one of the things we need is more restaurants, because nobody comes to the village on Saturday to go to a real estate office.”

He has proposed that a sewer district run along Montauk Highway from Egypt Lane to the Hedges Inn, and on Newtown Lane from Main Street to the Middle School. A portion of East Hampton Town would be included, he said, to provide sewage treatment for high-density developments such as the Windmill Village housing complex. To help pay for the system, he said, residents of the district would be taxed for its use, and “everyone else in the village will pay a smaller tax, because they’ll be getting the benefit of the improved downtown.”

“The consultants may come back and have a different vision,” Mr. Graham said. “We’ll find out in a couple of weeks.”

In the 2018 trustee election, he and Rose Brown, the highest vote-getter that year, were running mates. They had pledged, among other things, to restore vitality to the commercial district, improve Herrick Park and parking, and update the village’s comprehensive plan.

“I think people realize that Rose and I are pretty much a team, and we are forward-looking,” Mr. Graham said Monday. “When Rose and I ran, we put out a series of new initiatives. We’ve taken them on, and we’ve gotten some traction on them.”

He is particularly proud of their work on Herrick Park. In December, the LaGuardia Design Group, a landscape architecture firm hired by the village, unveiled a new vision for the park featuring well-defined entrances, reconfigured ball fields, and new pathways and children’s play areas. “I think we have a gorgeous plan,” he said. “Now we have to get the money for it.”

Mr. Graham said his leadership would differ from that of former Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., who resigned in December after holding the office for more than 27 years. “Paul ruled the village with an iron fist, and I think we need to be more open,” he said. “The mayor is not the king, he’s just one vote of five on the board.”

One disagreement he had with Mr. Rickenbach, he said, was over a proposal to allow the village’s historic inns to offer spa services and other amenities, and to hold outdoor events. “Mayor Rickenbach had said, ‘Dead on arrival,’ and dismissed the whole thing,” said Mr. Graham. “I agreed with letting them have retail spaces, letting them have yoga classes on the lawn, and to offer spa services. We have to remember that we are a resort community, and we need to supply resort amenities to our visitors and residents, because if you don’t then they go someplace else.'

“It’s the same thing with music in restaurants,' he said. 'I’m not against it, but it has to be inaudible outside if the restaurant is in a residential district.”

Speaking of Colleen Moeller, the owner of the Petit Blue children's store, who was recently found guilty of violating the village's sign code by placing a chalkboard reading 'Welcome to Petit Blue' outside the store, Mr. Graham called the situation “ridiculous” and said he would favor changing some of the code's more outdated and restrictive proscriptions.

“Instead of the 'Village of No,' we’re going to be the village of 'We hear you,' ' he said. “I firmly believe that reasonable people can come to a reasonable conclusion on any problem.”

 That, he said, includes finding a resolution to the impasse involving the residents of McGuirk Street and Cooper Lane. The former are seeking to have PSEG Long Island, the utility company, bury transmission lines and lower the poles on their street, and the latter are fighting PSEG’s proposal to install a 'monster pole' on Cooper Lane that would allow the lines to be buried.

 Although he initially supported Ms. Borsack’s bid for mayor, Mr. Graham said he'd begun to have second thoughts. “I was waiting for her to campaign,” he said. “Around Thanksgiving, I was saying, Barbara, when are you going to put something out' And she said, don’t worry, we have a plan, wait until the first of the year. Then the first of the year comes and goes, and all we get are emails saying how much she loves the village. That’s not what causes people to vote for somebody for mayor.”

“She’s a wonderful person, but she’s not out there telling everybody what her plans are. If she were doing that, she could probably beat Jerry, but she’s not. He’s gotten traction, and she has not.”

Ms. Borsack, who has been a trustee since 2000, said on Tuesday that she was “very surprised and disappointed” by Mr. Graham’s decision to join the race. As for his critique of her campaign, she said, “The campaign is just kicking off, and it’s the last three months that matter most. People have elected me five times, and I have a fairly good reputation and track record in the village. I don’t think either of the men in the race can compare with my record.”

Through most of Monday's interview, Mr. Graham referred to Mr. Larsen as “he who shall not be named.” He did that, he said, “because I don’t want to give him any free publicity.” He said Mr. Larsen would be the wrong choice for the village, but did not elaborate. “I’m not going to say anything against Barbara, she’s a wonderful person, and I’m not going to say anything against Jerry, except that he doesn’t live in the village and doesn’t pay taxes here.”

The fact that Mr. Larsen rents an apartment on Newtown Lane is a “sham,” Mr. Graham said. “I’m sure he spends three or four nights a week there, but then he goes back to his house in the town.”

“Now that our kids are grown, my wife and I have been living in the village since October of 2018, almost a year before I announced my run for office,” Mr. Larsen said Tuesday. “We use our house in town as an office, and we love living within walking distance of all the places we love in the village.” 

Mr. Graham acknowledged that his entry into the race could be a boon to Mr. Larsen, if village residents split their vote between two sitting members of the current board. “It is a concern,” he said. “I’m just going to have to work harder and get more votes. I will certainly work harder than Barbara has to date.”


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