One thing East Hampton needs as many of its residents struggle to get along in a sluggish economy is a unifying force at the top. Instead, in the less than two years Bill Wilkinson has been supervisor, he has helped create distance between people and their government and divide them from one another.
Zachary Cohen, who is running as a first-time candidate, would return civil discourse and consensus to Town Hall. This is something East Hampton requires now more than ever because the challenges ahead are many and difficult.
Had Mr. Wilkinson spent his time in office focused solely on what voters put him in the job to do — correct the ill financial legacy of the previous administration — his record would be wholly admirable. However, he veered far from that mandate, putting himself at odds with many full-time residents, part-timers, and weekend visitors.
He alienated Montauk over noise and crowds, Amagansett over a rock festival, Springs over illegal housing, and Wainscott over the airport. Townwide, residents were put off by his failing, until pushed, to take beach-access lawsuits seriously, ending leaf pickup, attempting to undermine sensible land-use restrictions, threatening to sell the town’s commercial fishing docks in Montauk, and allowing community preservation fund purchases to drop to their lowest-ever rate, despite making sure the money taken improperly from it by the former administration would be returned. He also has fostered a deep fear of reprisal among town employees. The list goes on.
Autocratic to a fault and quick to anger, Mr. Wilkinson has taken actions in direct contradiction of public sentiment, as with the hasty decision to sell the town’s interest in the Poxabogue Golf Center at a loss. He stood by as one of his appointees to the zoning board savaged the professionalism of the Planning Department. He put a friend, who shared a record Lake Montauk environmental penalty, on a committee to study pollution of the lake and recommend improvements.
Many would have preferred Mr. Cohen to have come up through the path of a seat on the planning board or town board, where voters would have gotten to know him better. However, it should be noted that the current supervisor came to his first run for town office with far fewer government and finance credentials than Mr. Cohen.
A policy nerd nearly to a fault, Mr. Cohen may prove overly deliberate in narrowing in on decisions. Yet his preference for compromise and an informed constituency is a better fit for a leadership role here than the simplistic “run East Hampton like a business” mantra from Mr. Wilkinson. Mr. Cohen sees residents as the C.E.O.; Mr. Wilkinson says he is the boss.
Mr. Cohen would allow the town’s ordinance enforcers to seek out problems and issue violations as they see fit, protecting neighborhoods and the environment, and upholding local laws. With no obvious political ideology, he is someone who will lay out options and genuinely consider differing views. At the same time, he will continue the careful work of making sure town finances are in good shape — with corrections he helped initiate in the first place.
Rationality and respect for others is the overriding issue in this year’s race for supervisor. In this regard, Mr. Cohen is the better choice.