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Mayor’s party loses angst-filled election

JULIA BRENNAN PHOTO Elections officials Angela Corbett and Wade Badger review absentee ballots Tuesday night at Village Hall where three write-ins beat three incumbents in the trustee election.
JULIA BRENNAN PHOTO Elections officials Angela Corbett and Wade Badger review absentee ballots Tuesday night at Village Hall where three write-ins beat three incumbents in the trustee election.

In a stunning sweep, three write-in candidates — who had been sued by the mayor as part of an effort to keep their names off the ballot — unseated three incumbent trustees in the Village of Dering Harbor on Tuesday. Ballots were cast by all but four of the 81 registered voters in the state’s smallest municipality.

Ari J. Benacerraf and Elizabeth “Betsy” Morgan won two-year terms, with 45 and 39 votes. They defeated incumbents Rick Smith, who had 38, and Heather E.G. Brownlie, the deputy mayor who has served on the board since 1999 and got 27 votes.

Write-in Karen Kelsey won a one-year term with 40 votes, beating incumbent Harold “Kirk” Ressler who got 34. Ms. Kelsey will complete the year remaining in the term of former trustee Brandon Rose, who resigned shortly after being re-elected last June. Mr. Ressler had been appointed to the board by the mayor to complete the first year of Mr. Rose’s term.

The winners were members of the Shore Party, who were represented at the vote count by two organizers, Rob Ferris, who is Ms. Kelsey’s husband, and Patrick Parcells, who nearly unseated the mayor three years ago.

“I’m very happy with this vote,” Mr. Ferris said. “It was very hard fought, but we won it fair and square.”

Thirty-one villagers voted in person and 46 cast absentee ballots. After the walk-in vote was counted, Ms. Brownlie, Mr. Smith and Mr. Ressler were leading. The gaps between the incumbents and challengers narrowed quickly as absentee ballots were read out loud by election officials Wade Badger and Angela Corbett and tallied by Esther Hunt.

The Village is run by a board of four trustees and a mayor. Trustee John Colby is in the middle of his second term. Mayor Tim Hogue is midway through his 13th two-year term. Along with the incumbents, they are members of the Dering Harbor Party. Mayor Hogue did not respond to the Reporter’s request for comment.

The election capped a season of legal objections filed by the opposing parties. The three write-in candidates had sought to have their names on the ballot, but their nominating petition was challenged by Mayor Hogue. Acting as head of the Dering Harbor Party, he requested that the Suffolk County Board of Elections nullify the petition because all three nominees were listed as running for two-year terms, a problem known as oversubscription.

Then, acting as a “citizen objector,” the mayor sued the BOE, the three candidates and the village clerk, asking that the court intervene if the BOE failed to take timely action. The clerk, Laura Hildreth, was named in the mayor’s suit to prevent her from creating a ballot for the election that included the names from the flawed petition. The three would-be candidates acknowledged that their petition was flawed obviating a need for court appearances.

Meantime, the Shore Party organizers had filed numerous voter challenges claiming certain individuals on the voter rolls were not qualified because they lived elsewhere, including Ms. Brownlie who works as a transportation official in Florida.  Bridg Hunt and Mr. Ressler’s children were among those singled out by the Shore Party. Both men publicly expressed dismay that neighbors in the tiny village would treat one another this way. Most challenges were not sustained by the BOE, which removed the names of two voters whose address is just outside the village and the name of a resident who moved away.

At the polling place on Tuesday, homeowners Ken and Mary Walker initially had their right to vote challenged by the mayor’s party. But the objection ultimately was dropped and their ballots were counted, likely tipping the balance in favor of Ms. Morgan who beat Mr. Smith by one vote.