Wilkinson Hangs On to Win by 15 Votes

East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson has narrowly won a second term in a race that came down to absentee ballots, claiming victory by a margin of 15 votes, the smallest in modern East Hampton Town history.

The final tally was 3,403 votes for Mr. Wilkinson and 3,388 for Zachary Cohen.

Mr. Cohen, a Democrat from Springs, was a first-time candidate. He phoned the supervisor to congratulate him on Wednesday when the results became clear. "We had a nice chat about various things. I wished him well for the next two years. I did get in a comment about the town's finances," he said.

The Suffolk County Board of Elections still must certify the results, but Mr. Cohen said he did not expect any further challenges. The review of absentee ballots had involved representatives of both the Democratic and Republican parties reviewing envelopes and asking to have those they considered invalid thrown out.    

Mr. Cohen said that one incident during the campaign may have swayed the eventual results: his loss of the Independence line to Mr. Wilkinson, despite Mr. Cohen's having secured support from the local Independence Party committee this summer. Mr. Wilkinson, going over the heads of that committee,  was able to get the state chairman to hand him the nomination, instead.    

Mr. Cohen said it was possible that he had picked up votes from some of local voters who felt deceived by that backroom decision. But, he said, there were 13 Independence Party absentee ballots with no choice for supervisor marked on them; those ballots could have gone his way. He speculated that Republicans and others who may have been unwilling to vote for him on the Democratic line might have voted for him on the Independence line.    

Trace Duryea, the East Hampton Republican Committee chairwoman, deferred a request for comment to Mr. Wilkinson, who did not respond.   

Later, in an e-mail, Ms. Duryea dismissed "theories" and "rumors" and said, " In this community it is evident that other than the basic 2100 or so Democrats who vote a straight party line, most of the people -- for whatever reason -- think for themselves. It is also apparent to me that the voter is needy; whomever they think will fulfill those needs the best will get the job for the upcoming term. Fortunately there were 15 people with a long term memory of how dire things were before Bill Wilkinson and they and others voted him back in to finish the outstanding job he is doing."

As to his future in town politics, Mr. Cohen said he would consider running again for supervisor in two years. "Some people assume already that I am doing it," he said. "Some of it has to do with who runs, what the state of the town might be."  

 "If I could really try to bring some people together . . . it would be really interesting," he said. "It would be harder to do if I am seen as the opposition; it would have been easier if I had been the leadership role."    

Mr. Cohen said he liked seeing a new generation of people getting involved in town politics, mentioning Debbie Klughers and John Chimples, who ran for town trustee, among younger candidates who impressed him.    

In 2009, Mr. Wilkinson had a far larger margin over the Democratic candidate, winning by 2,308 votes, or 66 percent, against Ben Zwirn. In that election, the breakdown was Mr. Wilkinson, 4,713; Mr. Zwirn, 2,405.    

The Suffolk County Board of Elections put Mr. Wilkinson's 2011 winning margin at 50.11 percent. He had 2,600 votes on the Republican line, 321 on the Conservative, and 482 on the Independence.

An earlier version of this story did not include an e-mail comment from Trace Duryea, which came shortly after the story was first posted.