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Opinion from The East Hampton Press (Jan 9, 2020)

Lose The Intrique

This Friday, January 17, the East Hampton Village Board will appoint a mayor to serve until a regularly scheduled election can be held in June — the previous mayor, Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., having decided to step down at the end of last year, before the completion of his term.

The four remaining members of the Village Board last week agreed to make an appointment instead of leaving the seat empty and having the deputy mayor, Richard Lawler, assume the mayor’s duties without the mayor’s title. State law appears to cut short the length of time a deputy mayor can act in a mayor’s capacity, which helped convince the board that appointing a mayor now would be a better choice than having a deputy mayor with only limited powers running the village. The question of whether to appoint someone to fill the vacant fifth seat on the board before voters can elect a candidate has yet to be decided.

In an interview last fall, Mr. Rickenbach suggested that he was leaving before the expiration of his term at least in part because he wanted voters to be able to see his incumbent colleagues at work before the village elections — in which Mr. Lawler and another current board member, Barbara Borsack, will be running. That statement led to strident criticism from Jerry Larsen, who is running against Ms. Borsack for the mayor’s spot, and who’s had an acrimonious relationship with the village, including the former mayor, in recent years.

Appointing Ms. Borsack to temporarily fill the mayor’s slot would give her an unfair advantage in the mayoral race in June, Mr. Larsen has argued. He argues, as well, against the board appointing Ray Harden, who’s running for a seat on the Village Board on the Elms Party ticket, along with Ms. Borsack and Mr. Lawler, to immediately fill the vacant fifth board seat. Mr. Larsen’s own ticket, the NewTown Party, has in Sandra Melendez its own candidate for a Village Board seat.

The board has not said whom it’ll appoint on Friday, but Mr. Larsen’s argument has merit. If the village follows the course he predicts, that could create an unfair advantage for the incumbents when the elections roll around. It may also be true, as Mr. Larsen has argued, that appointing Mr. Lawler, rather than Ms. Borsack, would be the better option, since Mr. Lawler is not running for the mayor’s position, just for reelection to his current seat.

But it’s also more than noteworthy that village voters have already chosen Ms. Borsack as well as Mr. Lawler — in her case, by voting for her repeatedly since 2000. She is the longest-serving member of the current board and perhaps deserves to be appointed the interim mayor on that basis alone.

One thing is clear: It would be a heck of a lot nicer to see, on Mr. Larsen’s side, a campaign that doesn’t throw around words like “scheme” and “charade,” and, on Ms. Borsack’s side, one that doesn’t feel at least a little tainted by the mayor’s early retirement. It would be good to see a race that sticks to the issues — one without all the intrigue.

The Elms Party
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