Democrats in Showdown Over Leadership

Vote for successor is dogged by infighting
Rona Klopman of Amagansett has made a bid for chairwoman of the East Hampton Democratic Committee. Durell Godfrey

Ill will and accusations of manipulation among members of the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee have led the committee to ask the Suffolk County Democratic Committee’s legal department to review the town committee’s conduct, according to Jeanne Frankl, the chairwoman of the East Hampton committee.

The infighting comes as local Democrats face a campaign to replace Lee Zeldin as the First Congressional District’s representative and are trying to settle on a new leader.

In a Feb. 2 email, Ms. Frankl had formally announced her retirement effective Feb. 21 and an election to choose her successor was to take place that night. The committee had by then elected Ilissa Loewenstein Meyer to be co-chairwoman, and Ms. Meyer said she would seek the chairwoman’s position after her term expired at the end of last year. 

Ms. Frankl had asked that members interested in succeeding her inform her by Feb. 8. Five minutes after Ms. Frankl’s email was sent, Cate Rogers, who had recently resigned from the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals, sent an email announcing her candidacy for chairwoman.

Nominations and seconds were to be taken from the floor on Feb. 21, followed by voting. Subsequent to Ms. Rogers’s announcement, however, Ms. Meyer wrote to the committee on Feb. 20 by email, stating that she would no longer seek to lead the committee. The Feb. 21 meeting was canceled without explanation, Ms. Meyer said, and Ms. Frankl rescinded her resignation. Ms. Meyer also took the opportunity to criticize the leadership. 

“I worked tirelessly to try to bring transparency to our committee but was met with resistance at every turn,” she wrote. As co-chairwoman, “I looked forward to being mentored and guided by our leaders, both the public and private ones. Instead I was repeatedly rejected, excluded, and bullied.” She charged that leaders had “continuously” accused her of being divisive.

For the sake of unity, she said, she would not seek election. “We as a committee still do not even know how this election will be conducted,” she wrote. 

These developments, some committee members charge, indicated collusion between Ms. Frankl and Ms. Rogers. Ms. Frankl emphatically denied the charge at a committee meeting on March 21. The meeting was acrimonious, with multiple members complaining that they or others had been transferred from the election district to which they had been assigned. The implication was that Ms. Frankl was attempting to manipulate the vote by giving greater weight to some committee members and less to others.

 “A transparent process is essential so that the old and new committee members understand why they were suddenly gerrymandered,” Ms. Meyer wrote in her email. “Although the leadership of the committee knew I was interested in running for the chair position, I was never contacted, never notified, never emailed or phoned about what was taking place” before receiving Ms. Frankl’s Feb. 2 email. Ms. Rogers’s subsequent email, five minutes later, “sounds like collusion,” she wrote. 

After Ms. Frankl had announced that she would step down, Rona Klopman, a committee member and former candidate for town trustee, announced her intention to succeed her, and Ms. Meyer urged colleagues to support Ms. Klopman. 

At the committee’s March 21 meeting, Ms. Frankl denied that she was attempting to manipulate district assignments or was otherwise seeking to influence the election, referring to a “nasty email” that included that accusation. She criticized those “casting aspersions on a committee that had built a strong reputation in the community.” Democrats were particularly successful in last November’s elections, with many of their candidates besting their Republican challengers by wide margins. 

“The most absurd charge,” Ms. Frankl said, was that Ms. Rogers’s prompt response to her Feb. 2 email demonstrated collusion. Ms. Rogers had been unable to declare her candidacy sooner, Ms. Frankl said, because she was under consideration to fill the vacant seat on the town board following Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc’s election as supervisor, or to be appointed chairwoman of the zoning board. (Mr. Van Scoyoc and his colleagues ultimately chose David Lys to fill the seat, a move that Jim MacMillan, a member of the committee, repeatedly denounced at the March 21 meeting, prompting several heated exchanges.) 

“I can’t see why it wasn’t okay to wait a couple of weeks” to see if Ms. Rogers was available to seek the position, Ms. Frankl said. Having failed to be appointed to the town board, Ms. Rogers was eager to run to lead the committee, Ms. Frankl said. 

The matter had been referred to the Suffolk County Democratic Committee’s legal department “to address the legality of the town committee’s conduct,” she said. “The election must pass muster.” 

On April 2, Ms. Frankl said that, “We have an election between two people, that’s the way it should be. . . . It’s, in a sense, been resolved by the fact that there are two candidates and we’ll have an election.” 

She would not comment on a question as to whether she had problems with Ms. Meyer’s tenure, but did profess a preference for Ms. Rogers rather than Ms. Klopman to lead the committee. “Having worked with Cate for a long time, I have seen that she’s a person who handles disagreements with a lot of sympathy for both sides of an issue,” she said. “She brings people together. Leading a committee of over 30 people, all of whom have very passionate views on political issues, and getting them all to work together for the main agenda of getting a good government in town takes a lot of diplomacy and a lot of time.”

At the March 21 meeting, Ms. Frankl said that she expected to reinstate her resignation this month, with a vote for the party’s leadership to take place next month. The committee is scheduled to meet on Wednesday. 

Not all committee members are satisfied. “They pre-selected somebody themselves and assumed nobody would object to them doing so,” Mr. MacMillan said on Tuesday of the committee’s leadership. Ms. Frankl, he said, “has always done a great job. Lately, everything fell apart. I don’t know what happened.”

Cate Rogers is also seeking the Democratic Party leadership position.Christopher Walsh