Before a crowd of friends, family, and old colleagues from across the local political spectrum, Larry Cantwell, the East Hampton Village administrator, announced his candidacy for East Hampton Town supervisor on Friday night at the Highway Diner in East Hampton, saying he hopes to win support from the Democratic and Independence Parties.
The Democrats will not vote on nominations until mid-May. Although a number of Democratic committee people came out to support Mr. Cantwell on Friday, he still faces a challenge for the nomination from Zachary Cohen, the Democrats’ 2011 candidate.
“This is likely to go to a floor vote,” Mr. Cohen said Monday.
Mr. Cantwell, Mr. Cohen, and Nancy Keeshan, vice-chairwoman of the town planning board, will screen for supervisor with the Independence Party on Tuesday.
The Republicans had chosen most of their slate last month, but were sent back to the drawing board when County Legislator Jay Schneiderman decided to run again for his county post rather than attempt a return to East Hampton Town Hall as supervisor. Ms. Keeshan said yesterday that the Republican Committee invited her to screen for supervisor, and that she would do so in the coming week. “I was honored to be asked.”
Ms. Keeshan and her father, John Keeshan, are partners in the Montauk firm Keeshan Real Estate. She has served on the planning board for three years and has been president for six years of the Montauk Village Association, a civic group dedicated to the beautification of Montauk’s downtown. “I grew up here. I enjoy giving back to the community,” she said. “I love this town. . . . There are a lot of important decisions to be made and I think you need to keep a watchful eye on how things change to protect our beautiful town for future generations.”
Before being asked to sit down with the G.O.P., she screened for councilwoman with the Democrats. She is not affiliated with a party.
Fred Overton, the town clerk, who was chosen to run on the G.O.P. ticket for town board along with Councilman Dominick Stanzione, had contemplated a supervisor run instead. He decided against it.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cantwell has assembled a strong group of supporters, inluding State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who introduced him at Friday’s announcement gathering, offering a biting critique of where East Hampton Town finds itself today, and strong praise for the man who hopes to change that. Mr. Thiele, now a member of the Independence Party, once endorsed Republican Supervisor Bill Wilkinson. The assemblyman has known Mr. Cantwell since high school.
“East Hampton Town used to have a leadership position on eastern Long Island,” he said Friday. “East Hampton was the first, and other towns would look to see what East Hampton was doing. That’s not the case anymore.” The town, he said, needs to return to the kind of leadership it had under “Judith Hope, Cathy Lester, and Tony Bullock” — all Democrats. “We need to go back to the future for the Town of East Hampton and to do that, we don’t need a DeLorean or a flex capacitor, we just need a leader.”
To resolve the serious issues East Hampton is facing, Mr. Cantwell said, “we need a leader now more than ever who is a consensus-builder.”
He offered a rough sketch of his platform. “We need to adopt a mitigation and recovery plan to protect against the threat of coastal erosion and sea-level rise,” he said. “We need a strong consensus to maintain a small, safe airport and a clear strategy to reduce noise impacts on residential neighborhoods. We need to invest in technology to make town government more efficient in serving the public. We need a long-term capital plan to address the town’s rapidly deteriorating infrastructure. We need a town supervisor who believes in and supports planning and zoning. We must protect our residential neighborhoods for the peaceful enjoyment of all residents, preserving open space and protecting our drinking water and harbors from pollution. We must support local businesses. Believing in planning and zoning and supporting local business should not be mutually exclusive.”
He spoke of a “negative cloud” hanging over town workers, of neighborhoods “under siege with noise and overflow parking from nightclubs and overcrowded houses,” and said, “I will not play party politics to reward special interests while disregarding the rights of all our residents and the best interests of the community as a whole.”
Mr. Cantwell, who will retire as village administrator this summer after 31 years, has been the village’s chief financial officer. “During this time the village maintained a budget surplus every year for three decades,” he said.
He served on the town board and as a town bay constable before being hired by the village. He also ran unsuccessfully for town supervisor.
“I worked on his first councilman campaign in 1976,” said Christopher Kelley, a Democratic committeeman who was at Friday’s gathering. Mr. Kelley said Mr. Cohen “is certainly a very qualified and able person and he did a great job last time,” but he is supporting Mr. Cantwell this time around “because of my history with him and because I think he would make a great supervisor.”
Mr. Kelley’s support at the convention in May will mean more than just one vote among 38. Two committee people represent each election district, but their votes are weighted according to the number of Democrats in their district who voted in the last gubernatorial election. Mr. Kelley’s district in Springs is large relative to others in the town and heavily Democratic, so he wields considerable power when it comes to nominations.
Among the other committee people there to support Mr. Cantwell Friday were Bill Taylor, Phyllis Italiano, and Joe Giannini. Also on hand were Barbara Borsack, an East Hampton Village Board member, Bruce Collins, a former Republican town supervisor, and Roger Walker, a former East Hampton Town justice who ran for supervisor on the Republican ticket. “It’s very refreshing to have him in the race,” Mr. Walker said. “I will support him 100 percent.”
“There will be a lot of campaigning on both sides,” Mr. Cohen said Monday, adding that he is “respecting the protocols requested by the Democratic screening committee to maintain silence during the nominating period.”
He said he has not been invited and does not plan to screen with the G.O.P. “without consultation with the Democrats,” and even then, “I’d be doing it for cross-endorsement.” In 2011, the local Independence Party wanted to endorse Mr. Cohen for supervisor and even announced that it had, but the county party, headed by Frank MacKay, came out instead with an endorsement of Mr. Wilkinson.
“A lot of East Hampton Independence voters were very upset at the action and frustrated that their choice . . . was taken away from them,” said Mr. Cohen.
Elaine Jones, chairwoman of the Independence Party, said yesterday that she has called Mr. MacKay to say that if he planned to “interfere in this election, he should come down and screen with us. He told me he would endorse our choice for the 2013 election.” On the list so far to be interviewed on Tuesday for the town board are Mr. Stanzione, Mr. Overton, and Kathee Burke Gonzalez, who also screened with the Democrats.
Many have questioned whether Mr. Cohen would mount a primary if he does not win the nomination. “Let the floor vote go,” he said, “and if I don’t get it, I’m going to go home and sleep on it.”
The Independence Party has invited candidates wishing to screen for any town office to contact Ms. Jones in Amagansett or the vice-chairwoman, Pat Mansire, in East Hampton before Tuesday evening. Interviews will be conducted at Ashawagh Hall in Springs starting at 6 p.m. The public is invited to attend to watch the process.