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Gimme Shelter: Political postmortem

With some distance from the 2019 election, after absentee ballots have been counted and recorded, the post-mortems have begun.

Democrats had a clean sweep, taking the supervisor’s chair with Gerry Siller back for another term after an interval of 20 years. Councilman Jim Colligan, targeted by anti-short-term-rental (STR) regulation voters, seemed especially vulnerable going into the election. He had, for the most part, written the laws and promoted them relentlessly during wild public meetings, which descended into a backlash of ad hominem attacks at Town Hall, and in other public places around town.

But in a surprise, he won easily, holding his Town Board seat. Fellow Democrat Mike Bebon, a newcomer to politics, won election to complete the blue wave that swept into Town Hall.

Now, Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams is the sole Republican on the board.

A person who has been a close observer of local politics for decades, but wished to remain anonymous because of friends on both sides, said one reason for the Dem’s big win is that two of their candidates were running for two seats, but the two Republican candidates, plus Conservative Paul Shepherd, were contending for the same seats.

“That watered down the choice for the GOP,” the source said.

As for the race for supervisor, Mr. Gerth was seen by some as not being a dynamic candidate and delegated too much authority, for example, appointing Ms. Brach-Williams to run meetings.

“That’s good in a lot of ways,” the source said, “but it doesn’t come through to the electorate as a positive.”

Heather Reylek, chairwoman of the Democratic Committee, said her party had the advantage in registered voters over the Republicans — 999 to 671 — and a 60% overall turnout, one of the highest in the state. (There are 623 so called “blanks,” or those expressing no party affiliation, and a handful of other parties.)

The Democrats worked hard to get their members to the polls and to ensure their party’s absentee voters cast ballots, Ms. Reylek said.

She also thinks the GOP, by putting up three candidates who were in the anti-STR regulation camp, got close to being a one-issue party. “But what else is important?” Ms. Reylek asked rhetorically. “Oh, let’s see, we can’t drink the water in the center of town, there’s a need for affordable housing, and the continuing tick problem. Running on one issue like STRs — this wasn’t a referendum.”

Asked if the national Republican brand has been tarnished somehow by the vulgar rhetoric of President Trump filtering down to the local level, Ms. Reylek dismissed it. She said it was a matter of voter registration favoring her party, the issues, and Mr. Gerth not leading his party forcefully enough that brought home the stunning victory.

Republican Chairman Gary Blados didn’t dismiss the tarnished brand theory out of hand.
“It’s difficult to quantify this, but it would be naïve to think this didn’t happen. And I have an example,” he said. “I was approached at the [pre-Election Day] Ham Dinner by somebody who said, ‘I agree with everything on your platform. I just can’t vote for a Republican right now.’ Is that the prevailing thought? Probably not. But … I have no doubt some people could not pull the lever for a Republican.”

Mr. Blados said that being out-registered and out-spent were the significant factors in his party’s loss.

The biggest surprise for the Republicans was Mr. Gerth’s showing, the GOP chairman said.

“We believed Supervisor Gerth did a tremendous job for Shelter Island, and while we knew the race would be close, we felt there was nothing on his record that would damage him,” Mr. Blados said. “However, it wasn’t a close race.”

Elected in 2017, Mr. Gerth had the advantage of “a little Island fatigue from former Supervisor Dougherty, which is natural in politics, but we all felt Gary worked extremely hard and deserved another term,” Mr. Blados said. “Having only two years to implement all your policies is next to impossible, but his strength is negotiating, and we felt the Island moved forward on some very tough issues.”

Circling back to the Republican brand losing esteem, Margaret Gray, Ph.D., an assistant professor of political science at Adelphi University, told Gimme Shelter there might be something of an anti-national GOP feeling seeping down to local elections.

“I don’t think there’s any research yet,” Ms. Gray said. But she mentioned that in the race for governor of redder-than red Kentucky, the Democratic challenger beat the Republican incumbent, with President Trump campaigning hard for his reelection.

Also, Louisiana returned its Democratic governor, and Virginia went all blue.

Ms. Gray summed it up by noting that, “There’s an old saying: All politics is local. But this election, and probably next year’s, will be closer to, all politics is national.”