As the East Hampton Town Democrats move rapidly toward a Wednesday nominating convention for town offices, we find ourselves wondering again where the Republicans have gone, and why.
Though the G.O.P. choices for East Hampton Town Board are apparently settled, just who, if anyone, will run for town supervisor is unknown. The incumbent, Bill Wilkinson, seems fed up with it all and unlikely to seek a third term. Jay Schneiderman flirted with the idea, then opted to seek re-election to the Suffolk Legislature. And, after at least one political newcomer with bright prospects begged off the ticket, no one has stepped forward to carry the party’s banner.
This worrisome gap at the top can be said to leave residents in a “Where’s Waldo?” moment, as in the popular children’s book in which readers are asked to find a hidden figure. East Hampton’s own Waldo is Len Bernard, the town’s budget officer and the architect of the erstwhile Wilkinson “miracle,” as one media outlet called the change from town budget deficits to surpluses. But he, too, has gone quiet. As a former councilman with long Town Hall experience, Mr. Bernard would appear to be a logical candidate to succeed the unpopular and increasingly acerbic Mr. Wilkinson. And Mr. Bernard even gained the endorsement of this newspaper in an earlier town supervisor run. So why isn’t he in the mix this time around?
As we have said before in our series of editorials about the 2013 town contest, the challenges facing East Hampton are among the greatest ever. These include what appear to be a looming financial problem, created by the under-funding of necessary expenses and sharp cuts in town staff, which will probably have to be restored. Whoever sits on the town board next will have a lot of explaining to do when taxes have to rise to compensate for the chronic, deliberate penury of the preceding four years.
On the other hand, Republicans may well enjoy a positive effect when the next, presumably Democratic, administration begins asking staff to enforce town ordinances on such things as nighttime exterior illumination, signs, lot clearing, and illegal expansion of pre-existing, nonconforming businesses — which have all but been ignored in recent years. Whether by design or by accident, the political party in power during the return of effective code enforcement will have plenty of damage control to do.
Having already secured the Independence Party line, Larry Cantwell, who appears likely to be the Democrats’ nominee for supervisor, is certainly a formidable candidate. His strengths, however, do not entirely explain why the loyal opposition has failed so far to come up with someone at the top of the ticket willing to champion its political ideas. Could it be that they, like Mr. Bernard, already know too much?