The November election in East Hampton Town, when seats for East Hampton Town supervisor and at least two town board members will be open for takers, is on the minds of a number of would-be candidates, including some new to town politics.
The town’s Republican and Democratic Committees have both been screening potential candidates, and the Republican ticket already appears to be taking shape. Although nominations are not expected to be made official for another two weeks, Manny Vilar, a Springs resident who is a senior sergeant with the State Parks Police, seems to have secured G.O.P. support to run for town supervisor. He is already referring to Jerry Larsen, who recently retired as East Hampton Village’s police chief, as his running mate for town board.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, a Democrat, has announced he will not seek re-election; nor will Councilman Fred Overton, an Independence Party member who was elected on the Republican ticket. Democratic Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, whose term will be up at the end of this year, confirmed yesterday that she hopes to keep her seat and has been screened by the Democratic Committee. Should Councilwoman Sylvia Overby or Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, both Democrats eying the supervisor’s seat, become their party’s candidate, another town board seat could be open as well.
Yesterday, Jeff Bragman, an East Hampton attorney, confirmed that he had also been screened by the Democrats as a possible town board candidate.
“What I want for the upcoming election is to have a good ticket that the Democrats agree on,” Councilwoman Overby said yesterday. The councilwoman, who has two years left in her term, said that she had spoken to the members of her party’s nominating committee, but stopped short of saying that she was seeking to be nominated as a supervisor candidate. “I think they need to see everybody who could be in the mix,” she said, including those interested in serving on appointed boards or committees. “These are valuable conversations that the Democrats need to have,” she said.
In an interview this week, Mr. Vilar, who is assigned to the East End, said he is ready to trade in his badge and stop his frequent trips to Albany as a police union leader in order to focus on East Hampton.
“I’ve spent my career in public service, the latter half of my career in advocacy of my members, and that’s what I want to bring to East Hampton, that same advocacy and determination,” he said Tuesday. “I look at being supervisor of East Hampton, in part, yes, it’s administrative, but another part, you are advocating for your constituents who elect you.”
A registered Republican, Mr. Vilar is a longtime Republican committeeman and was a treasurer in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The party’s chairman, Reg Cornelia, said the committee was impressed with him at a screening three weeks ago, and looked no further for a candidate. “I would say he’s got it,” he said.
The 56-year-old remains heavily involved, and had a hand in the creation of the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, the fifth largest police union in the state, excluding the New York Police Department. The union represents state parks police, state university police, environmental conservation police, and forest rangers, with a membership of more than 1,200.
The association was formed in 2010 after Mr. Vilar helped resurrect an old decertification process, which led to the union breaking off from a state law enforcement officers union. As the union’s president and the chief executive officer, he supervised a full-time staff and oversaw contract negotiations, labor relations, and other employment issues. The most recently negotiated P.B.A. contract was valued at $74 million, he said.
He served as the president for six years, until he reached the term limit, and then became the vice president last year.
Mr. Vilar travels to Albany when the State Legislature is in session to lobby on behalf of the union. His experience, which includes writing legislation and testifying before the Legislature, has given him “the skill set to work with people — any people,” he said. “You actually have to sit down with the people who are opposed to something you’re in favor of or who are in favor of something you’re opposed to.” He has learned to look for unintended consequences. The key to resolution, he said, is finding common ground, being fair, and considering all sides.
Mr. Vilar was born in New Jersey, but his parents built a summer and weekend house in Springs when he was 5. While he attended East Hampton High School briefly, he finished at Mineola High School. He has an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Suffolk Community College. His parents, Manuel Vilar, 93, who immigrated from Portgual, and, Amelia, 83, live in Springs. The younger Mr. Vilar speaks fluent Portuguese and conversational Spanish.
Before becoming a police officer, he held various jobs from working in construction to work on a commercial dragger. The East Hampton Town police sent him to the academy to become a seasonal officer, and he landed a full-time position with the state parks police in 1986. Just before that, though, he became the last duly elected bay constable in the State of New York in 1985. He has worked across Long Island and in the South Bronx and Washington Heights for eight years. If elected, he said he will retire from law enforcement.
Mr. Vilar has worked closely with Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., as well as Representative Lee Zeldin, when he was a state senator.
Mr. Vilar said he hopes to be screened by the Independence Party, as well, and “If the Democrats would have me, I would screen with them,” he said.
As for the rest of the slate, Mr. Cornelia said the committee was also pleased with Mr. Larsen, whose wife, Lisa Larsen, ran unsuccessfully for town board in 2015. There are still a couple of people to screen, Mr. Cornelia said.
Margaret Turner, who ran for town board on the Republican ticket with Ms. Larsen in the last election, has been mentioned as a possible return candidate, but she said yesterday that she is “not considering any run for office at this time.”
Jeanne Frankl, the co-chairwoman of the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee, said this week that the party’s screening committee is “hard at work,” but declined to comment on potential nominees. She encouraged people who might be interested in running for office on her party’s ticket to “come forward promptly. I think we’ve had a very strong response,” she said.
“It’s a very important election,” said Ms. Frankl. Democrats are looking ahead to the 2018 congressional election for the district, she said, and, “in the current national climate, local governments that stand for Democratic values are more important than ever before.” And, she said, with national policies changing regarding things like environmental protection, immigration, and affordable housing efforts, local municipalities will be “filling in a lot of gaps.”
With Reporting by Joanne Pilgrim