Republicans to Pen Supervisor Primary

Fred Overton, running for East Hampton Town Board on the Republican, Independence, and Conservative lines, spoke to supporters at a fund-raiser last Thursday at the Fairway restaurant in Sagaponack. Morgan McGiven

    The East Hampton Town Republican Committee, which did not nominate a town supervisor candidate through the usual channels this year, has instead turned the selection process over to rank-and-file Republicans by successfully petitioning for a write-in primary on Sept. 10.

    “If there’s somebody out there that’s looking to challenge for supervisor and we didn’t find them, we’re giving them the opportunity,” said Joe Bloecker of Montauk, a Republican town trustee who is running this year for town assessor. “Some people that are capable and very smart still don’t know the politics of how you get nominated. This gives them until September.”

    When G.O.P. voters go to the polls on Primary Day in East Hampton, they will choose a candidate for Suffolk district attorney and will be able to write in anyone’s name for the supervisor’s spot. District Attorney Thomas Spota, the three-term incumbent who is backed by county Republicans and Democrats, is facing a challenge from Raymond Perini, who at one time headed his office’s narcotics squad.

    With no Republicans publically declaring their interest in the seat, however, Larry Cantwell, the Democratic and Independence Party candidate, could end up with the G.O.P. ballot line as well, if his name gets the most write-ins and he chooses to accept the nomination.

    Mr. Cantwell has said from the start that he wants to face an opponent rather than consider a three-way endorsement, despite considerable support from across the political spectrum.

    “I have been preparing to campaign, and I’ve been campaigning because I intend to earn the support of the voters regardless of who the Republican candidate is,” Mr. Cantwell said on Monday.

    “I am not aware that anybody is saying they want to do it,” Thomas Knobel, the vice chairman of the East Hampton Town Republican Committee, said on Monday. As for the possibility of Mr. Cantwell’s nomination on primary day, Mr. Knobel said, “If your fellow citizens vote, it’s no longer a party handing out the nomination, it’s the people.”

    “If the Republicans want Larry to run and he’s going to win anyway, then he’s got the chance to be everybody’s supervisor,” Mr. Bloecker said. “I like Larry. I’m going to vote for him.”

    Although hopeful candidates have attempted in the past to force a primary through what is known as an “opportunity to ballot” petition, Mr. Knobel, who works for the Suffolk Board of Elections, said he did not recall a time in East Hampton’s recent history when someone had used the opportunity to ballot process to force a write-in primary.

    “It’s a grassroots thing,” Mr. Knobel said, crediting Beverly Bond of East Hampton with pushing the matter and “doing a lot of the carrying.” In letters to the editor of this paper, Ms. Bond has praised Mr. Cantwell and supported his candidacy, but also expressed hopes that his name could also appear on the Republican ticket so G.O.P. voters wouldn’t have to stray to the Democratic or Independence lines to cast their ballots for him in November.

    “There’s a feeling by a lot of folks that they wanted the opportunity to have something holding Larry’s feet to the fire,” Mr. Knobel said.

    The petition, which had just over 200 signatures, was filed a few weeks ago. The time to challenge it has elapsed so the primary will go forward, Mr. Knobel said.

    “They might as well write a letter to Santa Claus,” John Behan, a prominent Montauk Republican, said Tuesday of the write-in primary. Mr. Behan said Mr. Cantwell discussed his candidacy with him and that he offered his support. “I thought he was the best man in town to do the job.”

    “I don’t understand it,” said Carole Campolo of Springs, a member of the Republican committee. “I find it very unfortunate that we don’t have a good candidate. I think elections are all about choices, and when voters do not have a choice it does not speak well of the electoral system.”

    Ms. Campolo and her husband, Don Cirillo, the vice chairman of the town zoning board of appeals, have been strong supporters of Republican Supervisor Bill Wilkinson. “What Bill has accomplished has been just absolutely amazing,” she said. “I would have liked to see him run for a third term. Larry’s got big shoes to fill.”

    The fact that Mr. Cantwell is running unopposed for now “puts the expectation level of him extremely high,” Ms. Campolo said.

    The last candidate to run unopposed for town supervisor was Edward Ecker Sr. of Montauk.

    Regardless of the pressure, Mr. Cantwell seems prepared. This is not his first time on the town ballot. Before his 31-year tenure with East Hampton Village, where he retired from his post as village administrator earlier this summer, he was an elected bay constable and a town councilman. He also ran unsuccessfully for town supervisor on the Democratic ticket.

    “I am going to campaign vigorously,” he said. “I don’t know any way to do things other than to do them with 100-percent commitment.”