Democrats dump dissent in East Hampton: Bragman, Drew both dropped by party after wind farm objections
The East Hampton Town Democratic Party Committee semi-ceremoniously dropped two of the incumbent elected officials and rare voices of dissent from the party ticket at its nominating convention on Wednesday night, declining to endorse Councilman Jeff Bragman and Trustee Rick Drew to the party ticket for this year’s election.
Mr. Bragman, who has frequently butted heads with other board members, had acknowledged earlier in the day that he did not expect to be endorsed for a second turn on the party ticket. He was not even proposed for consideration for endorsement by a member of a the committee during the virtual convention via Zoom on Wednesday night.
Mr. Drew, who is in his third term as a Trustee, was nominated for consideration to the ticket, along with his eight fellow Trustees and one other person, David Cataletto. When it came to the clearly pre-planned roll call vote from election districts he received votes of support only from fellow Trustee Francis Bock, who is a Democratic committee member representing one of the town’s 19 election districts, and one other ED representative. Incumbent Trustees Tim Garneau and Ben Dollinger, who are also members of the committee, abstained from casting votes for their assigned election districts – presumably to avoid voting against either a current or potential future colleague.
Instead of Mr. Drew, the committee nominated political newcomer Mr. Cataletto, an East Hampton School District teacher, to join the other eight incumbent Trustees – seven of whom are Democrats, and the eighth, Trustee James Grimes, is a registered Republican who was cross-endorsed by the Democrats in 2019 as well.
The committee overwhelmingly nominated its chairwoman, Cate Rogers, to replace Mr. Bragman on the party ticket, joining incumbent Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez and Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, who were both endorsed for new terms – as were Town Clerk Carole Brennan, Highway Superintendent Steve Lynch, Town Justice Steven Tekulsky and Tax Assessor Eugene DiPasquale.
“What I know from my tenure on the Town Board and the Springs School Board is that the true value of public service is the ability to bring people together,” Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said in accepting the committee’s nomination. “Where members of the community participate, collaborate and assist in problem solving – that leads to more informed decision-making.”
Mr. Drew and Mr. Bragman have had little in common politically – other than that over the last three years they have been the lone voices of skepticism from within the Democratic hegemony about the town’s enthusiastic embrace of the South Fork Wind Farm proposal.
Both had said they supported the idea of wind energy in principal but had pushed for the town to be more resistant to the wind farm developers’ requests.
Mr. Bragman has maintained that the town should not have agreed to sign on to easement agreements for the landing of the power cable in Wainscott until the state Public Service Commission has issued its findings about the most appropriate landing site. He was the lone vote against doing so last month, which is now the subject of a lawsuit by Wainscott residents.
Mr. Drew voted earlier this winter in favor of signing the lease with wind farm developer Ørsted, saying the agreement the Trustees had hammered out with the developer had addressed many of the Trustees’ main concerns. But he had been a fierce critic of the wind farm proposal early on – saying the developers were making very few accommodations to try to gauge or mitigate the impacts the wind farm might have on fish migrations and commercial fishermen. Largely on the back of his objections, the Trustees posted a long list of demands for protections and guarantees from the wind farm developers that ultimately became the foundation of the lease and easement agreements that the town and Trustees signed with the developers this month. The attorney hired by the Trustees to represent them in the negotiations with Ørsted singled out Mr. Drew for his stridently outspoken advocacy – saying he knew the Trustees were having an impact when an attorney for the federal agency had called one of his partners to complain about Mr. Drew.
The town Democratic Party, particularly Mr. Van Scoyoc and Ms. Rogers, have been ardent supporters of the wind farm and several members of the party committee are also members of Win With Wind, an advocacy group that has worked closely with the wind farm’s developers to promote the project and counter criticisms from residents of Wainscott.
Mr. Drew said on Wednesday night he assessed his rejection by the party committee as the settling of a “vendetta for speaking out about the wind farm.” He said he was not yet sure whether he would primary for the Democratic nomination or perhaps seek a nomination on a different political line.
East Hampton Town Councilman Jeffrey Bragman said on Wednesday that he will not be endorsed by the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee to be a candidate for re-election to a second term on the Town Board.
The town Democrats were scheduled hold their nominating convention on Wednesday night, February 17, to select its slate of candidates, and Mr. Bragman said that it has been made clear to him that the committee will not support him in seeking a second four-year term on the board.
“I do not have the support of the Democratic Committee,” Mr. Bragman said in a message on Wednesday. “This is sometimes the price we have to pay for speaking out.”
The committee is expected to endorse Councilwoman Kathee-Burke Gonzalez for a third term on the Town Board and another candidate – most likely the party’s chairwoman, Cate Rogers, or longtime Zoning Board of Appeals member John Whelan, both of whom have screened with the committee to be candidates in the past. Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc is a shoe-in to head up the party’s ticket for a third two-year term in the town’s executive suite.
Mr. Bragman has had a rocky tenure on the Town Board. He has had an at times openly hostile relationship with Mr. Van Scoyoc, and as been at odds with other board members almost from the first days he sat on the board. In one of the first major votes after he joined the board, Mr. Bragman was a lone vote of opposition to the appointment of David Lys to fill the council seat vacated by Mr. Van Scoyoc when he was elected supervisor, saying that he been left uncomfortable with some of Mr. Lys’s answers to questions during interviews prior to his appointment.
Since then, he has repeatedly been a resounding voice of dissent on a number of matters that the other four members of the board have more or less marched in lock-step on – most notably the South Fork Wind Farm cable landing proposal, now-shelved plans for a new shellfish hatchery on Three Mile Harbor and the leasing of town lands to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital for a new emergency facility – often taking the stance that the board was proceeding too quickly on initiatives that he felt needed a more deliberative consideration. Mr. Bragman, a land-use attorney who has specialized in opposing development applications, often raised the requirements of the State Environmental Quality Review Act as the basis for his objections to what he saw as hasty treatment by the board.
If Mr. Bragman is in fact dumped by the committee on Wednesday night as suspected, he could still choose to force a primary to allow Democratic voters to choose who the two candidates for the town council seats will be, in hope of wresting a spot on the party ticket away from whoever the committee nominates.
In 2017, after Mr. Bragman and Ms. Burke-Gonzalez were endorsed by the party committee, Zachary Cohen forced a primary but lost out to the party’s choices.
Ms. Burke-Gonzalez has been the top vote-getter in every election she has been on a ballot. Mr. Van Scoyoc, who is seeking a third term as supervisor, received more than 71 percent of the vote in the 2019 election, in which he was opposed only by another Democrat, David Gruber, running on the Independence Party line.
East Hampton Town Republican Party Chairman Manny Vilar said that he expects his party will announce its endorsement for the town races as soon as this weekend. Mr. Vilar said that the party has screened several candidates for the three Town Board seats on the ballot this year – the supervisor’s post and two town council seats – and said he expects the party to field a full slate of candidates.
In 2019, the Republican Party had just eight names on its ballot line, with 16 seats up for grabs, and had no Town Board or supervisor candidates at all after the GOP’s Suffolk County leadership declined to endorse the “fusion” slate of registered Democrats, Independents and Republicans that the local committee had proposed. Currently, just three registered Republicans hold elected seats in the town – Town Justice Lisa Rana, Trustee James Grimes and Tax Receiver Jill Massa – and the party has not won a Town Board seat since 2013.
There are 13 town offices on this fall’s ballot in addition to the three Town Board seats: nine town trustees, the town clerk, highway superintendent, tax assessor and town justice. The Democrats hold all but one of the seats on the ballot and are expected to endorse most of the incumbents for new terms – though there may be some new names in the mix for the Trustee seats.
The Democratic convention will be held on Zoom at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night, February 17.
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