Dering Harbor, the smallest municipality in New York State, experienced an unexpected turn of events in Tuesday’s election.
What looked like an uneventful re-election of long-term Mayor Tim Hogue and two incumbent trustees turned into a horse race at the 11th hour when three write-in candidates stepped in to try to turn out the incumbents.
Only new Trustee Brandon Rose, appointed in December to fill the unexpired term of Linda Adams, who resigned, survived unscathed, garnering the highest number of votes of any candidate at 28. He was the only trustee to respond to a series of emails questioning how voting was handled in the village and calling for an investigation.
Would-be insurgent Elizabeth “Betsy” Morgan is out of the running with the lowest number of votes at 21.
If the numbers hold up on a recount in Yaphank, Mr. Hogue, mayor for 21 years, and Patrick Parcells face a runoff, with Robert Ferris and long-term Trustee Mary Walker also slated for a runoff. Each of the four candidates pulled in 25 votes apiece.
What motivated 51 people to cast ballots Tuesday — when only 26 did so last year — appears to be a flurry of emails circulating among village residents in the last five days, not only announcing the write-in candidacies, but raising issues about how the village is being run.
The charges of voting impropriety in past elections sparked the lively debate. Reading the email blitz was like sitting in on a virtual public meeting.
Two cases of voting irregularities became public: Deybis Rodriguez, a banker with a Columbia University MBA, whose vote wasn’t counted in 2013, and Ms. Morgan and Jonathan Cary, whose votes weren’t counted four years ago.
“No one in the government, including the Village Clerk and Village Attorney, ever notified us or offered any explanation as to why our votes were deemed invalid,” the couple said in an email to their neighbors. Inquiries to the mayor about why the ballots were refused was met with silence, Mr. Cary said.
Ironically, Ms. Morgan said, Mr. Cary, an Australian who had hesitated to change his citizenship, had cast his first legal ballot as an American that year in Dering Harbor, only to have it discounted.
No matter how those individuals had voted, it wouldn’t have affected election results. But by denying their votes, Village officials raised the wrath of a number of residents who brought forth complaints about not only how elections were being conducted, but what they said is a lack of transparency in how their local government is run.
The emails circulating among villagers revealed concerns from some that decisions were being made on the basis of personality, not consistent policies.
Others were just as outspoken, supporting the work of the Village Board. Even critics of Mr. Hogue have given him high points for his fiscal management.
Kenneth Walker, husband of Trustee Mary Walker, accused Mr. Parcells of “hypocrisy and self interest” in mounting a candidacy for mayor.
Mr. Parcells told his neighbors his candidacy resulted after he questioned Village Board decisions and was told by Mr. Hogue that if he didn’t like how Dering Harbor was being managed, he should run for office.
Mr. Ferris said he got into the race not to defeat anyone specifically, but to open the door to change.
“Change requires action,” he said. “No one should fear their government. Something is wrong here and we have finally started to talk openly.”
Mr. Walker said he doubts most in the village understand “the complexity of how state and county government really works” or “how well the budget of the village has been managed.”
He credited Mr. Hogue with putting in “thousands of hours over the past 20 years to keep the village as one of the most beautiful places to live on Shelter Island.” And he said if people prefer looser regulations than those Dering Harbor imposes, they could live elsewhere.
The various emails appeared to have started with resident Kate Moxham who offered her neighbors information that should dictate how elections are conducted, saying it appeared it was mishandled by village officials.
“Mayor Hogue and the trustees appear to have assumed a defensive and divisive posture which is sowing mistrust and reinforcing a sense among some residents that our laws are being applied unevenly, arbitrarily and with intent to alienate,” she said.
“If you’re unhappy that this issue has come up, blame their sloppy election tampering, not us for being outraged,” Ms. Moxham said.