Republicans had a tough election night on the South Fork. They were shut out again in East Hampton and clung to their single seat on the town board in Southampton. Charles Lane spent the days leading up to the election in Southampton asking what happened to all the Republicans.
It’s the day before Election Day. Instead of canvassing, calling voters or doing photo ops, Greg Robins is dropping his garbage off at the town dump. He’s says that’s what locals do here.
“And if I’m fortunate enough to win tomorrow, it’s because I’m a local guy versus a professional politician.”
Robins was the Republican candidate for Southampton town supervisor. He got less than 30% of the vote. His incumbent opponent, Jay Schneiderman, has spent the last twenty years being elected to local offices. For the town council, Republicans had a better showing and kept their one seat. But had it not been for an unexpected candidate on the Independance Party line, they might have been shut out completely.
“It says that we’ve changed dramatically. A lot of people from the city vote here because their vote doesn’t matter in Manhattan.”
Robins says Southampton used to be entirely Republican. But now there’s roughly 1,500 more registered Democrats compared to Republicans. He says most of them come from New York City.
“When I was a young man, you never really saw the wealthy people. They kept to themselves behind their high hedges at the estates. The newer wealth is more of a stock market, bond market type wealth, and they are much more active in their community.”
This hostility between locals and New York City rich was palpable in the campaign. The Liberterian candidate for supervisor and self-proclaimed contrarian, Alex Gregor, ran brutal ads that mocked Schneiderman as sucking up to the rich newcomers.
Schneiderman dismissed the ads as anti-rich smears that conflict with the election results and completely at odds with his efforts to build affordable housing and increase public transportation for workers. But Republican resentment against Democrats is clear. They view the rich as buying their way into local government.
Schneiderman headed into the election with almost $100,000 in the bank. Robins had $4,000. Many of Schneiderman’s donations were bundled from notable families living primarily outside the district.
But Democrats say, so what? Why can’t newcomers vote and donate here? Andy Klousner moved to Water Mill from Westchester five years ago.
“When I hear comments like that – we don’t like the newcomers – that just sounds like to me we don’t like the other. We don’t like people who are different.”
The focus on the changing demographics also ignores some fundamentals of machine politics. Democrats have sophisticated voter registration campaigns for both wealthy second homeowners, and also the growing Latino population. Democrats have also had a single chairman for the last thirteen years. The GOP has had five.
Stan Glinka says this contributed to his lost reelection bid in 2017. He says another big challenge for all local officials is the influence of national politics. Since President Donald Trump’s win in 2016 there has been a lot more energy from Democrats.
“You could see a changing of the tide. Even when I was in office. You saw more Democrats coming to hearings, making statements.”
Before 2016, Glinka says he got plenty of votes from both Republicans and Democrats. But that changed. Now people only vote across the ballot on a single line. Republicans say this cuts both ways. If the energy shifts away from Democrats, they could find themselves struggling.