Spar Over Independence Party Nod

Zach Cohen gets endorsement; Bill Wilkinson questions his credibility
Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, with Tina Piette
Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, with Tina Piette, a Republican committeewoman, got ready to give his 2011 campaign bumper sticker a test drive during a G.O.P. meet-the-candidates event at East Hampton Point on Sunday.

    The East Hampton Town Independence Party endorsed Zachary Cohen of Springs, the Democratic candidate for East Hampton Town supervisor, this week, bypassing the Republican incumbent, Bill Wilkinson, whom they supported during his successful campaign in 2009.
     “Although the decision was a difficult one, many of the Independence Party members felt that because . . . Cohen is neither a registered Republican nor Democrat he will be an independent thinker and represent all the people of East Hampton Town. Many of his ideas include raising the morale of the employees, transparent and receptive government, enforcing the town code, and affordable housing,” Elaine Jones, chairwoman of the Independence Party, said.
    The news had been expected in light of the warm reception Mr. Cohen received from party members when he was screened last month. In contrast, Ms. Jones has repeatedly criticized Mr. Wilkinson. As previously reported, Mr. Cohen declined a request that he register as a Democrat when he received that party’s endorsement.
    In a statement acknowledging the endorsement, Mr. Cohen said, “I am happy and proud that I received the Independence Party endorsement. . . . My endorsement by both the Democratic Party and the Independence Party shows that the current Republican majority on the board represents the views and interests of an ever-narrowing slice of the public.”
    Supervisor Wilkinson was quick to respond. In an e-mail, he said, “Zach Cohen worked as an unauthorized financial consultant to the McGintee administration for 12 months. From his day-to-day learning and access, he predicted an $18 million deficit. My forecast, working at the same time outside of the government, was for a $28 million deficit; $27.3 million was the final audited deficit. With Zach’s track record, why would anyone believe any of his statistical projections, whether about politics, public views, or municipal finance?”
    Ms. Jones said the party’s support in 2009 and during Mr. Wilkinson’s earlier, unsuccessful run for supervisor, had been in earnest. But she pointed to layoffs of town employees and the failure to make changes in employees’ health insurance coverage as issues of concern to her party. She also said the Town Hall majority had failed to study important issues significantly.
    “Bill Wilkinson is not the same person or does not appear to be the same person that we endorsed in 2007 and 2009,” Ms. Jones said. “I worked four years for that man, and I don’t know who he is anymore.”
    In addition to his effort to reduce the deficit, Mr. Wilkinson is sure to campaign on having lowered property taxes, on what he says has been open and efficient government, and on the new wind energy programs at public buildings.
    Trace Duryea, the town Republican Party chairwoman, praised Mr. Wilkinson’s hands-on management style when interviewed yesterday, saying it was bearing fruit.
    “He did not go to charm school and he’s not warm and fuzzy. He is a go-to-it, get-it-done kind of person, and he’s accustomed to having people work as hard as he does. It’s been hard for him to try to instill that ethic in many people.”
    Ms. Duryea was unconvinced that the failure to obtain the Independence endorsement would make it tough for Mr. Wilkinson to be re-elected.
    “I think we’re going to get some Demo­cratic votes, and I think we’re going to get more of the Republicans to turn out. We’re going to have a big race for county executive so I think that’s going to bring out a lot of people,” Ms. Duryea said. She pointed to the likely endorsement of Mr. Wilkinson by the county Conservative Party sometime in the next week as a plus.
    Campaigning so far has consisted largely of fund-raising events. The candidates’ platforms have yet to be released.