‘We’re Going to Come Back Strong’

Feeling sting of defeat, East Hampton Republicans vow to rebuild party
At Cittanuova in East Hampton on Tuesday night, Manny Vilar, right, the Republican candidate for supervisor, peered at a computer screen as election results began to indicate that his prospects of success were dwindling. Jackie Pape

The “cautiously optimistic” stance voiced by Manny Vilar early Tuesday night yielded to disappointment as the Republican candidate for East Hampton Town Supervisor and his running mates, Paul Giardina and Gerard Larsen, watched their vote totals fall far behind those of their opponents, Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, who was elected supervisor, and Councilwoman Kathee-Burke Gonzalez and Jeff Bragman, who will join him on the town board. 

High hopes for the Republicans’ slate of candidates for town trustee were also dashed as Democratic incumbents and first-time candidates alike posted surprisingly strong vote totals. The trus­tees­’ Democratic clerk, Francis Bock, and his deputies, Bill Taylor and Rick Drew, will apparently enjoy a 7-2 majority in January, when the new board is sworn in. 

The magnitude of the Republicans’ loss was underscored by the apparent defeat of Diane McNally, the trustees’ former longtime clerk who has served on the board for more than two decades. According to unofficial results from the Suffolk County Board of Elections, Ms. McNally finished in 10th place, 206 votes behind Susan McGraw Keber, a first-time Democratic candidate, although absentee ballots had yet to be counted.

As disappointed Republicans filed out of Cittanuova in East Hampton shortly before 11 p.m., Reg Cornelia, chairman of the East Hampton Town Republican Committee, confirmed that he will step down in the new year. 

“I think it’s time for somebody younger,” said Mr. Cornelia, who will be 75 next year, “and certainly more skilled with a computer than I am.”

In East Hampton, Democratic Party enrollment provides an advantage that is “always hard to overcome,” he said. “This constitutional convention issue brought out union voters, who are overwhelmingly Democratic. That had to have some impact.” New York State voters decisively rejected a question on the ballot as to whether a constitutional convention should be held, a proposal that stirred intense opposition among various interest groups. 

A concerted effort by Democrats to encourage second-home owners to move their voter registration to East Hampton further hurt Republicans, “as if they didn’t already have enough of an advantage,” Mr. Cornelia said. “New York City doesn’t need more Democrats to vote there, so they vote here, and that really hurts us.” 

“I thought that our candidates were superior, both for the trustees and the town board, in terms of managerial experience,” the chairman said, a view that was repeated by the candidates themselves, and their supporters, throughout the night. “We had such a great field of candidates, in terms of experience.” 

Carole Campolo, the East Hampton Republicans’ former vice chairwoman, echoed Mr. Cornelia’s lament about the party’s disadvantage with respect to voter registration. “It’s always an uphill battle for us,” she said on Tuesday night. “East Hampton is a microcosm of what happens on the national level, a lot of times. We have a media that leans very much left, so it’s very hard for us to get our message out. I think we had spectacular candidates.” 

Mr. Vilar said that he and his running mates can take heart in shedding light on important issues, among them “how underpaid and underserved the town employees are, and what a tremendous asset they are to the community. This new town board really needs to do the right thing by the town employees. They are the backbone of our town government, not the elected officials, who come and go. These are the career people providing services, from driving seniors to code enforcement to plowing our roads in the wintertime. They are under tremendous pressure with the cost of living, and need some critical attention. Of all the issues we brought forth, that’s one that was rarely discussed by anybody. Now everybody knows.” 

One of the Republicans’ few reasons to celebrate was Susan Vorpahl’s apparent election to the trustees. Ms. Vorpahl is a daughter of Stuart Vorpahl Jr., a bayman and longtime trustee who died last year. She will join Jim Grimes, who has proven popular among Republicans and Democrats alike in his first term, as the body’s sole Republicans. 

“I’m disappointed that more of my running mates didn’t get on,” Ms. Vorpahl said on Tuesday night. Her running mates, she said, “really have our town at heart, like I do. They really want the best, and want to be able to work for the people to keep that core value of what the trustees are. I am going to work as hard as I can.” Her father “lived and breathed the East Hampton Town Trustees,” his daughter said. “I want to carry on his legacy and my family’s legacy. It means a lot to me.” 

Despite the outcome, Mr. Giardina and Mr. Larsen said that they had conveyed their message to voters. “We did our survey,” Mr. Giardina, a former official with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, said of a study he had commissioned and used as a guide to his campaign. “I started with water . . . water, opioids, and housing.” 

He had spent Election Day in Montauk, he said. “I’ve never done this before, and people were saying, ‘I voted for you’ and ‘Water, yes.’ A lot of people did this. So yeah, I think I got it across.” 

Mr. Larsen, the former chief of the East Hampton Village Police Department, promised another campaign in two years. “We’ve certainly pointed out that the current town board cannot get anything done,” he said on Tuesday night. “We have a tremendous amount of town employees here tonight supporting us. That they can’t even secure their own employees to support them, there’s something majorly wrong with Town Hall.”

“They’ve got a lot of work to do in a lot of areas,” Mr. Giardina said of the incoming town board. “You have to wish them luck.” 

“Two years,” Mr. Larsen repeated, in reference to his future plans. “We’re going to build the party, we’re going to come back, and we’re going to come back strong.” 

Ms. Campolo also looked for a silver lining in the disappointing results. “I think there’s a lot of positives in this,” she said. “We have a united party, and I think if we make some tweaks in our personnel, we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”