In a move the chairwoman of its local chapter, Elaine Jones, characterized as a “back room deal,” Zachary Cohen has been replaced by Bill Wilkinson as the Independence Party candidate for East Hampton Town supervisor. “I am so upset,” she said Monday. “I was lied to. We are checking in with the board of elections.”
According to Ms. Jones, on Monday Mr. Wilkinson, as a result of papers filed with the Suffolk County Board of Elections, received a so-called Wilson-Pakula authorization from the party’s leadership designating him as the Independence Party candidate for supervisor, despite the fact that the local Independence Party had named Mr. Cohen as its candidate of choice. Authorization is required because Mr. Wilkinson, a Republican, is not a party member. Mr. Cohen, who is running on the Democratic line, is also not a member of the party.
For non-party members to be eligible to run on a third party line, according to New York State Election laws, a candidate for town supervisor must receive signatures from 5 percent of the registered party members. In East Hampton, this means signatures of 47 of the 944 registered Independence Party members were needed.
“I had 80 signatures for Zach,” said Ms. Jones. She submitted them to Frank MacKay, chairman of the Suffolk County, New York State, and National Independence Parties, on July 11, she said. “Theresa Quigley carried petitions for Bill [Wilkinson]. As a notary, she can,” said Ms. Jones. According to Mr. Cohen, Wilkinson supporters “came in with a petition that had the required number of party member signatures” to file a “right to challenge,” his nomination.
“What I don’t understand,” said Ms. Jones, is “if the Republicans wanted to take the line of the Independents, why haven’t we been allowed to have a primary?” Had Independence Party leadership granted Wilson-Pakula authorization to both Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. Cohen, a primary would have been held to determine which candidate would receive the party’s endorsement. It is now too late to run a primary. “Our 944 [party members] should have been given the right to choose,” Ms. Jones said.
In a May release endorsing Mr. Cohen, Ms. Jones wrote, “Although the decision was a difficult one, many of the Independence Party members felt that because Zach Cohen is neither a registered Republican or Democrat, he will be an independent thinker and represent all the people of East Hampton Town.” In the previous, 2009, election, the party endorsed Mr. Wilkinson, a Republican who had also received Conservative Party backing.
Ms. Jones said that UpIsland party leadership chose not to endorse Mr. Wilkinson’s Republican running mates, Steven Gaines and Richard Haeg, candidates for the town board and instead provided de facto support for the local designees, Bill Mott, an Independence Party member, and Marilyn Behan, a Democrat who received Wilson Pakula authorization from party leaders to run on the Independence Party line. “I have a good slate,” said Ms. Jones, referring to Mr. Mott and Ms. Behan, “and I’m voting for Zach.”
Assemblymen Fred W. Thiele Jr., an Independence Party member, said he, like Ms. Jones, was surprised that the party leadership chose not to hold a primary, assuming both Mr. Wilkinson’s and Mr. Cohen’s petitions were valid. “To my knowledge there weren’t any previous disagreements between East Hampton and county party officials,” he said.
Reached at his office Tuesday, Mr. Wilkinson said that he “hadn’t received any word on my nomination, [by the Independence Party] but if what people are saying is true, I’m grateful to the 83 people who signed my petition and to Frank Mackay.”
Ms. Jones has been unable to reach Mr. MacKay since the decision to endorse Mr. Wilkinson was made. “I’m not resigning. They [party leadership] will have to remove me. This is as dirty as it gets,” she said.
Mr. MacKay did not respond to several requests for comment.