Longtime Public Servant Says Goodbye

Pete Hammerle will step down from his post at the end of 2011. Morgan McGivern

    Pete Hammerle, who began service to the public in 1986 and has served on the East Hampton Town Board for the last 16 years, had a lot to say this week as the year and his official responsibilities were winding down and after being presented with a proclamation for service by Supervisor Bill Wilkinson at a town board meeting last Thursday night.
    “My first campaign, I won by 10 votes, and it took two weeks to find out,” Mr. Hammerle told the supervisor, who had come out ahead by 15 votes in his recent bid for re-election and also had a long wait before the outcome became clear.
    Mr. Hammerle is one of two Democratic town board members who did not run for re-election this year. Julia Prince is the other. In January, they will be replaced by two other Democrats, Peter Van Scoyoc and Sylvia Overby.
    “Open, honest, and fair” was his mantra during his time as a public servant, Mr. Hammerle said at last week’s meeting. “I really feel I lived up to that.”
    Mr. Hammerle served on the East Hampton Town Planning Board, for several years as chairman, before being appointed a town councilman for one year to serve out the term of Tony Bullock, who had been elected to the County Legislature. In the next decade, Mr. Hammerle won four bids for re-election.
    “When I started, I really thought my presence on the board could make a difference in what East Hampton could be, as opposed to what it might have been,” Mr. Hammerle said.
    In the mid-’80s, he explained during a chat at the Star office on Tuesday, the town was in the midst of creating a long-term comprehensive plan, which included rezoning areas to prevent rampant development.
    Mr. Hammerle lived in Montauk and had a landscaping business, Pete Hammerle Gardens. At a contentious public hearing in that hamlet, he said, “I just decided to get up and say how important it was to see wildlife in its natural habitat. I think my quote was, ‘It’s better to see a fox in a field than in a zoo.’ ”
    The next morning, he got a call asking if he would consider running for office as a Democrat. “At first I laughed it off,” he said, but reconsidered. He lost that bid in the 1985 election, but accepted the one-year appointment for Mr. Bullock’s post the following January.
    In the election the next fall he tried but failed to keep that seat, losing to Leroy DeBoard, a Republican.
    “Through the planning board I had to kind of prove myself,” Mr. Hammerle said. After four years on that board, three of them as its head, he became a town board member.
    “I think a lot of it had to do with being an everyday person in the community — raising my kid here, getting to know people. You kind of grow into it, just by being out there, having a sense of community, knowing what your community is, and what it needs,” he said this week.
    Among Mr. Hammerle’s efforts as a councilman was the successful completion of a number of capital projects, such as Lions Field and the Montauk Playhouse Community Center in Montauk, the Springs youth building, the Amagansett indoor roller hockey rink, and the recreational facility at Stephen Hand’s Path in East Hampton. He has also shepherded affordable housing projects, such as the Springs-Fireplace Road apartments and the Green Hollow subdivision in East Hampton.
    “I was really lucky that the board entrusted me with those things. A lot of it was community-driven,” he said, with his role being to weigh “the benefit to the community as a whole . . . being able to get a sense of how it was going to go — and convincing them to support it.”
    Environmental issues, Mr. Hammerle said, have also been a top concern over the years. He described himself as “a mover” who helped to get the town’s first open space plan adopted in the late ’90s, leading to the vote to establish the community preservation land acquisition fund. Other environmental protection initiatives, such as establishing groundwater protection zones, also drew his support.
    However, he said, “What you see after a while is the issues you thought you resolved for the town 10 years ago just constantly come back around for consideration. It grates on me because nothing in this town is ever settled.”
    With his long tenure on the board, he said he had seen issues that were thoroughly vetted through community and legislative procedures — with decisions, in some instances, standing up to challenges, including in court — coming back again into play. Other board members, he said, “didn’t last long enough to have a cumulative historical perspective on these things.”
    The councilman — at least for a few more days — said he is “too young to completely retire,” but has no immediate plans except “not to panic.” He said he has offered to be available to the new and sitting board members, to provide background or other information.
    For some years, he maintained his gardening business, but he gave it up several years ago after being hauled out of Town Hall by emergency medical technicians and undergoing heart surgery for a new aortic valve.
    Over the years, he said, he had “become known for keeping things,” with the help of his longtime secretary, Barbara Claflin. Besides “keeping excellent files,” Ms. Claflin has been by his side as communications have evolved from memos to e-mails, with Mr. Hammerle remaining something of a holdout.
    “There are a few buggy issues that I just hope the new board will be able to resolve,” he said, “such as the problems Montauk residents have encountered as clubs there draw bigger crowds, as well as helicopter noise and “seriously objectionable lighting.”
    When Supervisor Wilkinson presented Mr. Hammerle’s proclamation last Thursday, he said Ms. Prince, who has served one term, also deserved recognition, but that Mr. Hammerle “has spent a considerable amount of time in service to our community.”
    Hy Brodsky, a Montauk resident,  praised both Mr. Hammerle and Ms. Prince during recent town board meetings. “I have been involved in civic affairs for 25 years, and a major portion of those years, Pete has been there, with his shoulder and his hands and his head to help me with some of my wars,” Mr. Brodsky said at a work session in Montauk earlier this month. “He’s been a person who has made a lot of good things happen.”
    Ms. Prince spent a part of the board’s work session on Tuesday summarizing the status of several projects she has been working on. Some final steps, such as landscaping around public toilets in Montauk and completion of a Montauk skate park, are set to go, but must wait until spring. She said she would continue to work on ideas to improve parking in downtown Montauk, and has some new recommendations.
    “Julia, it’s been a delight working with you, and having your voice raised for many, many important issues in Montauk and East Hampton,” Mr. Brodsky told her that day. “I just wanted to go on public record and thank you.”