Marilyn Behan: An ‘Independent Thinker’

This is the first in a series of articles following East Hampton candidates on the campaign trail.
Marilyn Behan
Marilyn Behan is an Independence Party hopeful for East Hampton Town Board. Catherine Tandy

    As the wife of former East Hampton Town Republican Committee chairman and former State Assemblyman John Behan, Marilyn Behan of Montauk has been in the political sphere for more than 20 years, at her husband’s side at countless fund-raisers, state dinners, and other events. Now, she is entering the political fray on her own as one of the Indepenence Party’s candidates for East Hampton Town Board.
    “I’ve been in the public arena for so long and now the questions are being asked of me and I’m enjoying it,” Ms. Behan said Monday. “I can voice my feelings and my opinions, knowing that somebody is listening to me.”
    Ms. Behan said she decided to run for office when she learned that Julia Prince of Montauk, a Democratic town councilwoman, was not running for reelection. She admires Ms. Prince’s compassion and listening skills, she said. “I thought, ‘I can’t let Montauk fall to the wayside.’ I think John was a little shocked when I told him that I was going to get involved. He said, ‘After all you’ve seen that I’ve had to do?’ ”
    Ever involved in local politics, Mr. Behan has at various times been the local G.O.P.’s biggest supporter and most outspoken critic.
    Ms. Behan remained undaunted, both in the face of potential public service and by the fair amount of early rejection she encountered in the screening process. A registered Democrat for 40 years, she pursued nomination with the Republican, Democratic, and Independence Parties.
    “I thought, ‘If I’m interested in this I can’t let all those faces intimidate me,’ ” she said. “I answered all the screening questions as well as I could. And then they asked me if would I change my politics. I said, ‘For a job? How could you or anyone trust me again?’ I have a little more integrity than that.”
    Ms. Behan said her initial rejection from both the Republican and Democratic parties was neither frustrating nor discouraging, rather it was a chance to flex her independent thinking.
    “You appeal to some people and that’s what politics are all about, whether you appeal to somebody or you don’t,” she said. “I presented myself to those three committees in the same way. The Independence Party saw some good in me and now I have to convince the rest of the public.”
    A resident of East Hampton Town for nearly 44 years, Ms. Behan works for Uihlein’s Marina and Hotel in Montauk, running everything from day-to-day office operations to staff training and billing. Her involvement in Montauk is as varied as it is dedicated. She has served as the executive director of Montauk Chamber of Commerce as well as in slew of volunteer roles, including acting as a den mother for the Boy and Girl Scouts and serving on the PTA and the Montauk Village Association.
    “Serving as the director of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce really taught me what it means to be in business during these times and the trials and the issues that face you,” she said. “I’m an advocate for all of the businesses of Montauk.
   Ms. Behan, who also has a background in advertising and marketing, including a three-year stint working under Gov. George Pataki, said that this experience allowed her to achieve a broader understanding of the entire state, noting that every “little tourist destination,” has its problems.
    “I don’t believe the current administration has taken one issue and brought it to fruition,” she said. “I think they’ve kind of given us a lot of lip service. They haven’t taken something to the end and solved it. And that’s what I would like to bring. I believe we can learn from other towns’ problems. If they’ve solved a problem that we have, we can use them as a model and see how they implemented that solution. It’s all about research.”
    Ms. Behan isn’t afraid of what she calls “black-and-white issues” either — she says she is still “young on the street” in terms of campaigning, but is looking forward to more defining moments where candidates reveal exactly where they stand on salient issues, like the future of East Hampton Airport.
    “We are a service industry out here, we sell a product,” she said. “Tourism puts bread and butter on the tables of a huge amount of the population out here. I’m in favor of the airport going to the Federal Aviation Administration. Not only will they pay about 90 percent of those expenses, but they can also point us in the avenues of getting grants from state officials. It takes a big burden off the taxpayer’s shoulders.”
    Ms. Behan believes she truly understands the “ins and outs of politics,” citing her lifelong political opposition to her husband as an asset — at dinners with their three children, the couple always brought their own set of opinions  to the table.
    “In the end, it’s not about a particular party though,” she said. “It’s about being a conservative and an independent thinker. And that’s what I am.