G.O.P. Ups and Downs

As Wilkinson waited, Lynch was man of the hour
Richard Haeg, center, a Republican candidate for East Hampton Town Board, was at the Neighborhood House in East Hampton to vote on Tuesday.
Richard Haeg, center, a Republican candidate for East Hampton Town Board, was at the Neighborhood House in East Hampton to vote on Tuesday. Morgan McGivern

    Half an hour before the polls closed, finding a seat at Indian Wells Tavern in Amagansett, where Republicans gathered Tuesday night to watch the election results, was already a chancy proposition. By 9 p.m., when most of the wristbands entitling the wearer to free wine, beer, and food (chicken wings, cold shrimp, roast beef or ham-and-cheese sliders, pigs-in-blankets) had been distributed, the problem was just getting in the door.
    It was a high-spirited crowd, everyone anticipating a big victory, except for some grousing over the ballot machines. “I put mine in and the thing spit it back out,” was a common complaint. Lack of privacy was another. “Everybody can see everybody else’s vote,” someone yelled. “Long as they were all for Republicans,” came a voice from the crowd.
    Incumbent Supervisor Bill Wilkinson was easy to spot, the only man in the place wearing a jacket, shirt, and tie. He looked tired and did not join in the general glad-handing. Councilwoman Teresa Quigley, whose seat is safe for two more years, also stood out; she is 6-foot-2. Early on, they exchanged brief words.
    “You feel out of it?” Mr. Wilkinson asked.
    “No!” Ms. Quigley exclaimed, looking surprised. “You?”
    “A little,” said the supervisor.
    Steven Gaines and Richard Haeg, the G.O.P. candidates for town board, kept pretty much to the tables-and-chairs section of the restaurant, letting well-wishers come to them rather than chance the maelstrom swirling around Steve Lynch at the bar. Mr. Lynch, whose wide grin never left his face once the numbers started coming in, was the hero of the evening, not just because he was challenging a two-term highway superintendent in a hot potato of a contest that involved charges of racism against the incumbent, Scott King, but because it was clear almost from the get-go that he would prevail, and by a comfortable margin.
    There were four big screens over the bar, two of them showing football and hockey games and the third, News 12 Long Island, with early results from Nassau County. The fourth, which didn’t come to life until 9:25 p.m., was the one all eyes were on.
    Town trustee numbers trickled in first. “Stephanie’s got 112,” someone shouted. “She’s going to kill everybody!” He was right; Stephanie Forsberg Talmage, a Republican, wound up high atop the list of 18 trustee hopefuls with 3,686 votes.
    Deborah Klughers also posted solid numbers early on, which were less well received. “Klughers is doing good,” grumbled a large man in an East Hampton American Legion jacket. Though absentee ballots may tell a different story, it appears she was elected as well, one of only two Democrats to secure a seat on the nine-member board.
    Len Bernard, East Hampton’s budget officer, stood close to the screen, keeping a wary eye on the districts reporting. “Sag Harbor’s always a lost cause,” he said to himself. “There’s almost straight Democrats. Montauk — 18 and 10 are real good, 19 is 50-50. Wainscott. We lost by one. That’s not bad.”
    Mr. Wilkinson was trailing his Democratic opponent, Zachary Cohen, in the very early returns. Most of the crowd, including everyone in the dining area, could neither see nor hear the television, but the news spread fast and the roar dwindled to a dull rumble. “What?” said a bass voice. “Wilkinson’s behind? You got to be kidding me. They’re all brain-dead out here.”
    The supervisor himself was not watching the screen. A few minutes later, at 9:40 p.m., he cut a path through the pack. “What’s going on?” he asked Mr. Bernard. “You’re up by 50.” Mr. Wilkinson nodded, turned, and went out the front door.
    Meanwhile, the crowd around Mr. Lynch, among them a number of Highway Department employees, swelled every time his numbers were posted. At 9:55 p.m. he was leading Mr. King by 700 votes, clearly on his way to victory. With not much else to cheer about as yet, the cheers for him only got louder. The man of the hour sat at the bar shaking hands, grinning, rubbing a hand over his buzzcut, pumping a fist. He was the happiest man in the place.
    By 10, Mr. Bernard was looking grim. “This is going down to the wire,” he remarked to no one. “The Democrats probably have two board seats. It’s not going well. Bill’s only ahead by 80.”
    Ten minutes later, Mr. Wilkinson was leading by 300 votes with three districts still to report. At 10:20, with Mr. Lynch already sipping a glass of Champagne, he was ahead by 270 and an arrow on the screen pointed to him as the winner.
    The room was subdued as the supervisor called for quiet. “We haven’t seen all the totals yet,” he cautioned. Then, saying he was “proud of the entire team,” he presented his wife, Pat Wilkinson, with a big bouquet of white roses. “Ah, Billy,” she said, kissing him.
    “It’s the women in this town” who do the work, Mr. Wilkinson then informed the crowd. “Any guy can’t do it without a right arm. I’ve got some [red] roses up here, and I want every woman to come up here and take a rose.”
    “Johnson Nordlinger is the real person who runs this town,” he added. Ms. Nordlinger is Mr. Wilkinson’s executive assistant.
    Mr. Wilkinson took a parting shot at Mr. King before closing his brief remarks. “Next year, it’s going to be a real pleasure to have an actual conversation with the highway supervisor,” he said. Then he paused, and, speaking slowly, almost as an afterthought, added, “It seems like the same people push the cart uphill. I want to thank you as we go downhill a little bit.”