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Deadlock: No special election to fill vacant Shelter Island Town Board seat

A 2-2 vote by the Town Board Monday night killed a resolution to ask Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) to approve a special election to elect a candidate to fill the seat vacated by newly elected Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams.

The vote was split along party lines, with the two Democrats on the Board voting “no,” and the Republicans voting in favor.

The vote came after Democratic Councilman Benjamin Dyett said he and Town Attorney Stephen Kiely had spoken with a representative of  the governor’s legal department who said there was little chance Ms. Hochul would grant a special election so close to a general election.

In not appointing one of the 11 people who had stepped forward to be vetted for the seat, Mr. Dyett said they are all qualified and “my honest respect goes out to each of you.”

As for the deadlock, he said there were “No conspiracies, no drama.” It was simply that the two or three persons Ms. Brach-Williams and Republican Deputy Supervisor Meg Larsen wanted were different from the two or three he and Democratic Councilman Benjamin Dyett preferred, he said.

“Since we are a four-person Town Board, our time would be better spent collaborating on our priorities agenda,” Mr. Dyett said.

Republicans have argued there is too much work to be handled by a four-member Town Board. Republican Party Chairman Gary Blados said he thinks the Democrats are stalling in trying to fill the seat because they believe they would have a better chance of taking over the majority on the Board in a general election when more people could be expected to cast ballots.

“The decision to leave the seat empty is a political calculation made by the splinter Democratic Party group who feel protecting the agenda of their big money donors is paramount to the needs of all Islanders,” Mr. Blados said in a letter to the editor emailed after Monday night’s meeting.

If the vote result was expected, what proceeded it may have surprised many. Two speakers — former supervisor Gerry Siller and Bill Mastro — sought to bypass a special election with their ideas of how to fill the seat. Mr. Mastro spoke first, suggesting the Town Board should open another opportunity for interviewing candidates and, perhaps, some of the 11 previously vetted could indicate their interest in filling the vacancy.

Noting that the first call for candidates came during and right after the holidays, Mr. Mastro speculated that some who might have come forward may not have been focused on the opening at that time. He further said that without filling the seat, there could be “potential for divisiveness that I hope doesn’t happen.”

Maybe one of the people in the course of interviews with the Board would say they would pledge not to run for the seat in November and agree not to vote on any resolution where there was a 2-2 split between the current members to take politics out of the situation, Mr. Mastro said.

“You guys are all good guys and you’re all people who care a lot,” he appealed.

But his idea isn’t legal, Mr. Kiely said.

Mr. Siller had another solution. Saying he, too, does not favor a special election, and appealed to the four sitting Board members to appoint Republican Tom Cronin to the seat. He said had it not been for what he termed “a stunt” by Paul Shepherd to launch a write-in campaign, Mr. Cronin would have been elected.

At the same time, Mr. Siller had some choice words about “a very small group” that purports to represent all residents. “They say they want transparency, but what they really want is to stop any progress without their involvement,” he said.

Meanwhile, one candidate has already tossed his hat in the ring for Town Board. Gordon Gooding, who ran for supervisor in a close race with Ms. Brach-Willliams is seeking a seat. Although he ran as a Democrat in the general election last November, he and Mr. Dickson and Mr. Dyett had their own group of supporters under “A Better Island for All” banner.

In the Better Island for All newsletter, distributed prior to Monday night’s meeting, Mr. Gooding’s candidacy was announced. The newsletter asked residents not to sign petitions for other candidates until they know who is running.

“We understand that the SIDC [Shelter Island Democratic Committee] leadership is about to start a petition drive for a candidate for the vacant seat on the Town Board who does not reflect our priorities,” according to the newsletter statement.

“We urge you not to sign any petitions circulated by the current SIDC party leadership until you see what your choices are,” the newsletter stated. “By signing another petition, you may lose the opportunity to support our candidate for Town Board, or any of those candidates running to change the direction of the SIDC.”

The Better Island for All group would “support a diverse slate of candidates for the SIDC, including some distinguished present and former members of that Committee” in the November election, according to the newsletter.

“We may not agree with all those candidates on every issue, but we are confident that they will change the direction of the party, making it more democratic in its orientation and practices.”

The Better Island for All group had also, along with Mr. Dyett at a previous public meeting, maintained as late as Monday that one important reason not to have a special election to seat a fifth member to the Board was because the election would cost the Island taxpayers $30,000.

This was not true. If the Island were to hold a special election to fill the fifth seat on the Board, the cost of the election would be borne by Suffolk County, not town property taxes.

Suffolk County Board of Elections Deputy Commissioner Gail M. Lolis confirmed to the Reporter that the County would pay for costs to run a special election to fill the vacant seat.