Race For Board Gets Crowded

Potter, Cunningham, Burke Gonzalez in mix

    While there’s much talk in some circles about who East Hampton Democrats will tap to run for town office this year, the town Democratic chairwoman is keeping silent on the subject.
    “Our ground rule is that we don’t tell,” Jeanne Frankl, the committee’s leader, said Monday. “We’ve promised secrecy to everybody who’s screened.”
    That said, a number of hopefuls have themselves acknowledged that they have thrown their hats in the ring, including Job Potter, a former Democratic town councilman, Kathy Cunningham, executive director of the East Hampton Village Preservation Society and chairwoman of the Quiet Skies Coalition, and Kathee Burke Gonzalez, president of the Springs School Board, all of whom are interested in running for town board.
    In the mix for town supervisor are Larry Cantwell, the East Hampton Village administrator, and Zachary Cohen, who lost to Supervisor Bill Wilkinson by just 15 votes in 2011 and is determined to seek that job again.
    But you did not hear any of that from Ms. Frankl, who said that the Democratic Committee would not reveal the names of people it has screened or a list of its choices until May, when it holds a nominating convention. “We’re still screening and we’ll probably bring people back for second interviews.” The screening committee plans to interview candidates for all positions before making its recommendations to the full committee in May.
    “I think it’s a responsibility for people that have a strong public service streak to screen, even if they aren’t nominated, because it’s important to make sure that they are aware of the things we see,” Ms. Frankl said.
    Regardless of the outcome, Ms. Cunningham said, going through the interview process gives people “a chance to influence the agenda.” For her, sea level rise and related coastal erosion should be at the top of that agenda. Hurricane Sandy and its devastating impact west of here (her brother and mother were both flooded out of their houses in Lindenhurst), “made me realize how we’re kind of one extended power outage away here from total crisis. It hit me very hard that East Hampton was not prepared in any way for that.” It’s time, she said, for the town to move past “see no evil” policies, develop an overall plan, and enact some of the recommendations in its Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan.
    There seems to be a sense, Ms. Cunningham said, that “pro-environment forces have really strangled business,” but it’s important “to realize that out here the environment is the economy.”
    “There have been aspects of the last four years, really the last six years, that have been frustrating for me to see at the town level,” said Mr. Potter, who was a councilman for eight years and served on the planning board for four years before that. A lot of the problems he sees, “stemmed from the fact that the Planning Department has really been taken apart. Affordable housing is at a standstill.”     “We’ve got to get back to having a town board that has respect for each other and works effectively on behalf of the town,” Mr. Potter said.
    That’s a theme that comes up often among both Democrats and Republicans considering office this year. “East Hampton has a dignified history,” Ms. Burke Gonzalez said yesterday. “I would like to see civility and respect return to Town Hall. . . . I squirm in my seat sometimes when I watch the work sessions. I believe our town deserves better.”
    “Everybody is just watching the current situation and thinking surely we can do better than that,” Ms. Cunningham said.
    “A lot of projects have been held up by rancorous argument,” Ms. Frankl said. “I suspect our community is not as divided as our town board has been.”
    When he heard Fred Overton had decided to step down as town clerk, Mr. Potter at first thought about running for that post, but town board made more sense, he said, and people he talked to seemed to be interested in seeing him return to his old job. (The G.O.P. selected Mr. Overton to run for councilman, but he may be tapped for the supervisor slot following County Legislator Jay Schneiderman’s decision not to run for East Hampton’s top job.)
    Ms. Burke Gonzalez, whose professional background is in advertising, served on the Democratic Committee from 2001 to 2007. She now works part time for Blumenfeld and Fleming Advertising and Design in Montauk and is stepping down from the Springs School Board in June after nine years, the past two as president and the two before that as vice president. By being involved as she is, “I’m setting a tremendous example for my kids about giving back,” she said.
    Ms. Cunningham, who has been a strong voice for mitigating airport noise and pollution and regaining local control of East Hampton Airport, has screened before for a councilwoman slot. Just after screening this year, she said, she learned that her name had been on a list of potential candidates included in a poll Mr. Schneiderman commissioned to determine the viability of his town candidacy. “He said Fred came out first and I came in second, but it was a statistical dead heat.”
    “I feel very strongly that this is one of those pivotal periods in our community,” Ms. Cunningham said. “The people elected this year are going to shape the character of this community for the next 20 years.”