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GOP taps candidates, passes on Councilman Shepherd

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The Shelter Island Republican Committee has announced their slate of candidates for the November election, with a top vote-getting incumbent absent from the list.

The GOP has endorsed Supervisor Gary Gerth to run for a second term and Marcus Kaasik and Julia Romanchuk Weisenberg to compete for Town Board seats.

Mr. Kaasik, who ran as a Republican in 2015 and lost by 10 votes to Councilman Albert Dickson, and Ms. Weisenberg, a newcomer to politics, will be up against incumbent Democrat Councilman Jim Colligan, newcomer Democrat Michael Bebon, and incumbent Councilman Paul Shepherd.

Mr. Shepherd won reelection to a second term in 2015 on the Republican line, garnering the most votes of any candidate for Town Board. But this time around, the GOP passed on endorsing him. A registered Conservative, Mr. Shepherd told the Reporter Friday morning he’ll run on that line for a third term.

The Democrats have endorsed former Supervisor Gerry Siller to take on Mr. Gerth. The Republicans have joined the Democrats in endorsing Brian Sherman for highway superintendent, Craig Wood and Judith Lechmanski for assessors and Annmarie Seddio for tax receiver.

Island GOP Chairman Gary Blados, in announcing his party’s candidates and passing on Mr. Shepherd, said he liked the councilman. “And while I may agree or disagree with him on certain issues, I have no doubt he has the Island’s best interests at heart,” he added.

Mr. Shepherd told the Reporter that at first he was a bit “baffled” by the GOP Committee’s decision. “But when you get endorsed by another party, that’s a gift,” he said. “You never presume you’re going to get the gift every time.”

He added that Republican Party officials have an obligation to consider “party members first if they want to run. That’s what team uniforms are all about.”

The decision not to endorse him, he speculated, was because the Republicans have “a group of young people and they want a voice.” This was despite, he said, that “I work hard for things that we pretty much share.”

Going younger seems to be part of the GOP’s strategy. As Mr. Blados noted, Mr. Kaasik and Ms. Weisenberg “have young children growing up on Shelter Island and both have made their careers here. They represent a significant demographic that too often feels their voice is not being represented.”

Diverse perspectives are needed, he added, “from people who are willing to listen instead of talk.”

Mr. Blados said one of the Republican candidates’ main objectives will be “to bring the Island together.”

Mr. Kaasik is a carpenter and bayman. Ms. Weisenberg has a PhD in linguistics from Stony Brook University and is a yoga and Pilates instructor. She is one of five women who filed suit in federal court two years ago against the town and the Town Board over short-term rental (STR) regulations.

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