Democrats Make Their Picks

Members of the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee carefully tallied votes for town board candidates during a nominating convention on May 15 at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Sag Harbor. Morgan McGivern

The nomination of Zachary Cohen for East Hampton Town councilman from the floor at the Democrats’ nominating convention on May 15 made for some tense moments for Job Potter and Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the candidates favored by the party’s screening committee. In the end, Mr. Potter and Ms. Burke-Gonzalez prevailed.
    They will share the top of the ticket with Larry Cantwell, the outgoing East Hampton Village administrator, who is also running on the Independence Party line.
    Until earlier this month, Mr. Cohen, who lost his 2011 bid for town supervisor by just 15 votes, was hotly pursing the Democrats’ nomination for supervisor again, but in the wake of the screening committee’s announcement earlier this month that it would back Mr. Cantwell, he withdrew his name from consideration. On the morning of May 15, he said he had “urged everyone to support Larry.”
    At the convention, held this year at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Amagansett, members of the Democratic Committee who disagreed with the screening committee’s recommendations could offer alternate nominations. Chuck Hitchcock of Springs nominated Mr. Cohen for councilman and Mary Miller of Montauk seconded.
    “The past two years have been very painful for all of us in East Hampton,” Mr. Hitchcock said, reflecting on Mr. Cohen’s narrow loss in 2011. He said Mr. Cohen “has done his homework and is ready to begin work on Jan. 1” and called him “an electable, intelligent, and caring individual who will make an excellent town board member.”
    When the votes were cast, it was clear many agreed. Mr. Cohen received support from committee members representing 10 of the town’s 19 election districts.
    Two committee people represent each district, with their votes weighted according to the number of Democrats who voted in the last gubernatorial election in the district. Some seats are vacant. If one of the two was absent at the convention on May 15, the remaining committee person held all the votes for the district and could not split them between more than two town board candidates. Michael O’Neill, for example, was the only one representing Election District 11 in East Hampton, the third largest in town, giving him 368 votes to bestow on each of his choices. With the other largest districts each represented by two committee people, that made Mr. O’Neill the most powerful man in the room.
    He at first said he wanted to split his votes between Mr. Potter, Mr. Cohen, and Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, but when he was reminded of the rules, he asked for more time to consider his choice. When the vote came back around to him, he named Mr. Cohen and Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, saying it was clear that Mr. Potter already had the votes to win nomination.
    Kathy Cunningham, president of the Quiet Skies Coalition and executive director of the Village Preservation Society of East Hampton, was also nominated from the floor for town board. “She is a leader” who “strongly supports the same Democratic ideals that we do,” said Naomi Salz, who nominated her.
    Jim McMillan, who seconded the nomination, called Ms. Cunningham’s accomplishments “vast and impressive” and praised her tenacity in fighting for what she believes in. “She won’t stop, which is great. That is exactly what we need.”
    Despite support for both floor nominations, Mr. Potter and Ms. Burke-Gonzalez won fairly decisively. Mr. Potter was a town councilman for eight years and served on the town planning board before that. Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, the outgoing president of the Springs School Board, has served on that board for nine years and is a former member of the Democratic Committee.
    In nominating Mr. Potter, Rameshwar Das described him as “a communicator who brings people together” and said he will bring “competence, stability, and calm” to the town board.
    “He’s the only candidate who has won a seat on the town board before,” said Kammy Wolf, who seconded the nomination. “We know we are getting a record of success.”
    In his acceptance speech later, Mr. Potter thanked the committee for supporting him and said he was “humbled and grateful because you know me, and you have an idea of what I’m going to do in office.” It is time, he said, for the town board to again work cooperatively and to build public support for its initiatives. “The good things that are done are done with public support,” he said.
    Arlene Coulter said she had been asking Ms. Burke-Gonzalez to run for seven or eight years and was thrilled she had finally decided it was time. “She is so good, so effective, so hard-working,” she said in nominating her.
    “For years and years I have wanted her to run for town board,” said Phyllis Mallah, who seconded the nomination. “I wanted her to run for anything in the town.”
    “We have what it takes to lead,” Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said in accepting the nomination. East Hampton is “a special place for special people, but there’s no place for special interests.” She promised to “work hard and always take the high ground.”
    The committee unanimously supported Mr. Cantwell’s nomination. “You have brought to this convention a sense that we have not had in the 30 years I’ve been on the Democratic Committee,” said Larry Smith, who nominated him, calling him “one of the most well-qualified . . . candidates in East Hampton Town’s history.” Mr. Cantwell has been the East Hampton Village administrator for 31 years and served on the town board and as an elected bay constable before that.
    For town justice, the screening committee supported Steven Tekulsky, an East Hampton attorney who ran in the past for justice, but Joe Giannini, an attorney from Springs and a committee member, was nominated from the floor. Committee people from five election districts, including some with the most votes, supported him, but it was not enough for a win over Mr. Tekulsky, whom Bill Taylor called “not only the most qualified candidate, but the most electable candidate.”
    Speaking to the crowd at the end of the convention, Mr. Cantwell congratulated “every person who wanted to be a candidate but was not nominated,” and praised Mr. Cohen, Ms. Cunningham, and Mr. Giannini, as well as his running mates, for their dedication to the town. “Zach, I respect your work for the community, for the Democratic Party, and your efforts running for supervisor,” he said to loud applause. “I invite you to become part of our team to help us lead East Hampton into the future.” He issued the same invitation to Ms. Cunningham and Mr. Giannini.
    “I do hope that will happen and I think I have a lot to offer,” Mr. Cohen said yesterday. “I took Larry at his word. I’ve already lent my support as needed to the campaign committee and some of them have graciously accepted.”
    The committee nominated Eugene DePasquale to run again for town assessor and it cross-endorsed Carole Brennan for town clerk and Steve Lynch for highway superintendent. Both are also running on the Independence and Republican tickets. For town trustee, the committee nominated two incumbents, Deborah Klughers and Stephen Lester, as well as Cate Rogers, Bill Taylor, Edwin Geus, Afton DiSunno, Ira Barocas, and Brian Byrnes.