At G.O.P. Headquarters, The night grew darker as the hours dragged on

Originally published November 06, 2003

The outlook was bright early Tuesday evening at Republican Party headquarters at 29 Bar and Grill in East Hampton, but it dimmed as races grew tight and the hopes of the party's top three candidates, Len Bernard, Diana Weir, and Bill Gardiner were eclipsed.
Only Lisa Rana, the G.O.P. candidate for town justice, who took an early lead and kept it, became more rather than less assured as the night wore on.

Arriving just after 9 p.m., Mr. Bernard, the would-be supervisor, chatted with Ms. Rana about the day's turnout. Tom Knobel, the party chairman, speculated that just over half the town's registered voters, 51 percent, had gone to the polls, an average participation level. In fact, 45.67 per cent of voters went to the polls on Tuesday.

Onlookers remained hopeful as messengers arrived with paper ballot sheets in hand, showing results from the various districts. At a corner table, William Sagal and others entered them into a computer spreadsheet program.

Reports from the first three or four districts showed Councilwoman Weir one vote ahead of Councilman Pete Hammerle, a Democrat, in the race for town board, with Mr. Gardiner polling well. East Hampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who wound up taking George O. Guldi's spot on the county legislature, was also looking good.

Within an hour after the polls closed, the crowd swelled to almost 100, and soon it was standing-room only.

At 10:30, the town board figures had Mr. Hammerle in the top spot, trailed by the Democrat Debra Foster and then by Ms. Weir, but with a very tight spread. Ms. Weir and Mr. Bernard both moved ahead of their competitors soon after, each by about 40 votes, but results from two districts in Springs, two in East Hampton, and Sag Harbor, were still to come in.

"It's so close," someone said uneasily. The crowd around the computer table grew tighter as candidates and onlookers, who seemed not to have expected such a run for their money, realized the numbers could go either way.

Mr. Bernard, who had vowed earlier in the evening not to huddle over the tallies, stood next to Mr. Knobel, reviewing results with singleminded focus.

Ms. Weir, who arrived looking serene and said she had gotten a little pampering - a facial and other treatments - during the day, as she does on most Election Days, staked out a spot just outside the door, needing some air.

The tension mounted when Mr. Bernard's lead narrowed to just 49 votes. Meanwhile, News 12 was announcing on televisions at both ends of the bar that the Republican Ed Romaine had conceded the Suffolk County Executive race to Steve Levy.

Kathy Bernard, Mr. Bernard's wife, stood off to one side, alone for a moment, looking nervous. Mr. Bernard's mother, a diminutive octogenarian with a serious expression, made her way through the crowd with a Pilsener glass in hand and passed it to someone at the bar. "My son wants a glass of beer," she said.

Eric Brown, Mr. Schneiderman's executive assistant throughout his two terms as supervisor, maintained a post right next to the computers. He kept Mr. Schneiderman, who had been there earlier but left for G.O.P. strongholds in Southampton and Smithtown, posted by cellphone.

Circling Ms. Rana were her parents and a contingent of sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Though she seemed secure in her lead, she was concerned for her running mates.

People drifted in and out from the patio, where the ashtrays overflowed.

At 11 p.m., the tally showed both Ms. Weir and Mr. Bernard down by approximately 90 votes. Only two districts had not reported, and both were in Springs, where neither was expected to win a majority. The party faithful struggled to maintain hope.

"I guess we weren't mean enough," said Joe Bloecker. "I'm very discouraged," said Lisa Durham of Amagansett, who campaigned for both Ms. Rana and Mr. Bernard. A number of people, contemplating the new face of town government, expressed concern. "A police officer, a retired teacher," said one, referring to Bill McGintee and Ms. Foster. "I guess if Schwarzenegger can be a governor, Bill McGintee can be the supervisor. It's going to be David Gruber [the Democratic party chairman] pulling the strings. This could be the worst thing that's happened to this town."

"That anti-Spanish thing killed us," Bob Savage said.

Councilwoman Pat Mansir, who will now be the lone Republican on the town board, stood next to an increasingly somber-looking Mr. Bernard, clutching an untidy sheaf of poll results to her chest.

Mr. Knobel, flanked by Sam Story, the party's vice-chairman, and Ms. Weir, found a quiet corner outside to call the Board of Elections for more definitive results. A few minutes later, he stepped inside to sum them up for the crowd. Though results were still unofficial, "We can't go home optimistic," he said. "We have a superb supervisor candidate, and we will continue to hope." But, said Mr. Knobel, the outcome was looking like "a great shame."

However, he said, with Ms. Rana well ahead, the race for town justice was a "bright spot." In addition, Mr. Schneiderman had triumphed. The town trustee results remained unclear, he said, but Jill Massa, an incumbent assessor, had retained her seat. Gabrielle Brady, the G.O.P.'s other assessor candidate, did not win.

"Our group comported ourselves very well and had an issue-oriented campaign," Mr. Knobel said. "We were all very proud of them."

Faced with a Democratic town board, save for Ms. Mansir, "we will be a loyal opposition," Mr. Knobel promised. "We are loyal to East Hampton and we will work to make East Hampton government as smooth as possible."

An emotional Ms. Weir stepped forward to thank everyone for their support. Mr. Bernard also kept his comments brief. "I think we ran a great campaign," he said. "And at least I can say I was endorsed by every newspaper."

Ten minutes before midnight, Mr. Knobel, Mr. Bernard, Ms. Weir, and Mr. Gardiner walked down Newtown Lane to Rowdy Hall, where the Democrats were making merry. Entering the party, they conceded defeat and shook the hands of their opponents.