With the Republican and Democratic candidates for election in November in East Hampton Town announced, one thing stands out: Despite a considerable and growing presence here, there is not one Latino among them.
Manny Vilar, the Republican Committee’s pick for town supervisor, is of Portuguese descent. Peter Van Scoyoc, the Democrat’s nominee, has family connections to an early Dutch colonist. And so on down the line.
It is the same thing for the school boards, which are for the most part made up of people of European heritage. What passes for variety on the town trustees is if a candidate is left-handed.
Greater diversity among the backgrounds of elected officials takes time. The usual path for a town councilman or woman’s seat can include years on planning or zoning boards. Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, seeking re-election this fall, was on the Springs School Board; Jeffrey Bragman, taking a shot at the town board, had been a town and village attorney.
Mr. Vilar is a state parks police sergeant. Running as a Republican for the town board, Jerry Larsen recently retired as East Hampton Village Police chief, and Paul Giardina worked at the Environmental Protection Agency. Each has had considerable public service.
According to the United States Census, East Hampton Town was 26 percent Hispanic or Latino in 2010. That figure has probably increased quite a bit since the last count. With so many Latinos living, working, and raising families here, it is clear that greater representation in local government would be ideal.
It is only a matter of time before Latino candidates emerge. Already, a number of people of Mexican, Central, or South American background are becoming involved in political matters. Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island recently hired a civic engagement coordinator whose job will include energizing voters. This is important, but it cannot be the end of the story.
East Hampton Town has for some time had a Latino advisory committee, which meets only on an occasional basis. That is hardly enough. Direct Latino involvement in government must be a priority for Town Hall, and for the area’s school and village boards. Every effort should be made to engage the entire community.