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Mayoral Chess Game

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 19:26

East Hampton Village Mayor Richard Lawler knew it would look bad, but he did not care. So he appointed Ray Harden to fill a vacant village trustee seat despite the fact that this is a highly contested election year.

Political critics of Mr. Harden’s appointment, concerned that it would grant him the power of incumbency, were alarmed, and said so. They included Trustees Rose Brown, Tiger Graham, and Jerry Larsen, a former village police chief who now wants to be mayor. At full capacity, the East Hampton Village Board of Trustees is made up of five members, including the mayor. Mr. Lawler’s decision came in the context of an election that was going to be held in about a month, but was put off by the governor until at least September.

Given the challenges the village will encounter between now and the election, it made sense to Mr. Lawler — and to us — to name someone to fill the open position. Whether it should have been Mr. Harden is another matter. After the deed was done on Friday, Ms. Brown and Mr. Graham, a candidate for mayor himself, made a point of congratulating him. He has been thought to be nearly a sure winner whenever the election is held, even among some of his opponents. Whether his joining the trustees early will have made a difference is considered doubtful.

Of course, Mr. Harden could not have been the only person willing to take the job, even temporarily, which makes Mr. Lawler’s reasoning important. And Mr. Harden might have declined the offer, though to what end would have been unclear. Mr. Lawler did not formally seek the views of other board members before making his announcement. It was his prerogative to make the decision alone, but it was disrespectful to actually do so. The matter brought to mind recently retired Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., who also ran things his way, with an iron-fist approach that made many village voters wary.

We are left with a paradox. Mr. Harden is qualified for the role of trustee and can be expected to perform well. However, Mr. Lawler should have made this move the correct way or not at all. Tempers are already short surrounding the now-delayed election — they have been made shorter still by a defiant mayor and a flawed process.


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