East Hampton Democrats held their nominating convention for the 2011 elections on Monday evening, formalizing their screening committee’s picks for town supervisor, town board, justice, trustee, and tax assessor and announcing for the first time their renomination of the incumbent highway superintendent, Scott King.
Mr. King, who was received warmly by the assembled Democrats, had been coy in recent weeks about his re-election plans, and top town Democratic Party officials declined to indicate one way or another prior to the convention whether he could expect to earn their nod.
Mr. King and his opponent, the Independence and Republican Party nominee, Stephen Lynch of East Hampton, have gone head-to-head on the ballot before, in 2007. Mr. King narrowly defeated Mr. Lynch that time, 52 to 48 percent; the margin was less than 350 votes out of just under 6,300 cast.
This fresh challenge to Mr. King may be defined by criticism not of his performance as superintendent, per se, but rather of his relationship with his subordinates and the morale of Highway Department employees.
The incumbent addressed this in a statement put out Tuesday morning.
“During my current term there was an incident wherein individuals challenged my management techniques based on insensitive comments I allegedly made and my aggressive style. After an investigation by the town attorney’s office, I met with the supervisor [Bill Wilkinson] who recommended that I take certain management and sensitivity courses to improve my management skills, which I have done. I also apologize to any workers who may have been offended by my actions as leader of the department. I want our department to succeed for the people of East Hampton so badly that I sometimes lose sight of the lines that must be drawn between management and workers.”
The top of the Democratic ticket, featuring Zach Cohen of Springs as the town supervisor candidate and Peter Van Scoyoc of East Hampton and Sylvia Overby of Amagansett as town board nominees, made the case for returning their party to power less than two years after Republicans swept into office on a wave of discontent with the financial improprieties of the McGintee administration.
Those speaking at the convention emphasized environmental protection and preserving natural resources; they argued that the incumbent Wilkinson administration, composed of a 3-2 Republican majority, had made the town board over friendly to business interests.
“What I think we have witnessed is that the town board is acting more like a corporate boardroom instead of an elected town board. When that happens, when a board room meets, they care about profits and they care about self-interest. When an elected board meets, they should care about the community and a level playing field,” Ms. Overby said, calling the developments over the roughly year-and-a-half tenure of Mr. Wilkinson “disturbing.”
“When you have community input, you can’t make laws for favored developers over the neighborhood. You can’t put our fishing heritage up for sale. You can’t stop a leaf pickup program that people depend on. You can’t change things so one person can have a bigger house,” she continued, to raucous applause.
Mr. King said his challenger would have to contend with the fact that, criticisms of his personality notwithstanding, his terms have been rife with accomplishment.
“My management style is high productivity. It’s something new in the municipal world. I hold the guys accountable for the work they’re supposed to do. It’s not popular,” he said when interviewed yesterday about his tenure as superintendent of highways.
The Democrats also nominated the incumbent Jeanne Nielsen for the position of tax assessor, and Stephen Grossman for town justice. Mr. Grossman, an attorney, has run unsuccessfully for that position in the past. The slate of trustees included the chairwoman of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee, Rona Klopman, Sima Freierman, Deborah Klughers, Samuel Kramer, Raymond Hartjen, Nanci LaGarenne, Loretta Sears, and Steve Lester, a former town employee who has been a trustee in the past.
Betty Mazur, the vice chairwoman of the town Democrats, called this group “the most unusual and talented” her party has put up in some time. She said she hoped they would “galvanize our town trustees into a visible and proactive governing body.”