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In Sag Harbor

Voters in Sag Harbor Village have a difficult choice to make Tuesday, more so because they must choose one of four exceptionally qualified candidates for mayor.

The incumbent, Brian Gilbride, has been on the job in one capacity or another for two decades; the village has purred along nicely under his leadership.

The recent, sometimes ugly, stalemate between the village and its police force has overshadowed more important issues.

In a nutshell, the union was out of bounds requesting a 4.5 percent salary increase even if it was a negotiating ploy. The new economy dictates that, like in the real world, unions must realize wages are no longer rising every year. In fact, they have flat lined in the private sector, and that needs to happen in the public sector as well. Even with no salary increases, the public has to pay increased retirement and medical benefits every year. Should the stalemate have lingered this long? Probably not. Should the village have laid off an officer right before the summer season? Probably not – but place the blame squarely on both sides: if the union is going to insist on pay raises, then cuts in personnel are inevitable. That's the new math.

The bigger issue is the long-term health on the village's vast system of coves and estuaries, and meaningful action on this front has too often been stymied by petty arguments and insider dealing.

Bruce Tait, a longtime member of the Village Harbor Committee, is on the right track – he knows that the health of our waterways is crucial to the long-term survival of the village. It's what brings people here during the season, and it's why people choose to live here. Tait's call for a ban on fertilizers near the coves and bays was ignored by the village – yet it is the runoff from chemicals and other contaminants that has forced the closure of the cove to shellfishing. Unfortunately, Tait has no experience in municipal finances and labor negotiations and those are not matters to learn on the fly. In any event, the sense here is he entered the race as a spoiler.

Former Mayor Pierce Hance is running again, and he also did an admirable job in office. He promises a more open government, but he ran things much the same way Gilbride does – the two served together on the board at one point.

No one wants to acknowledge the real truth – Sag Harbor has been run by the Old Boys' Network for a long, long time, the powerful fire department membership jockeying behind the scenes along with the police and other players. As a result, village jobs too often are given to insiders who don't deserve them. Everyone knows where the bodies are buried but no one talks about it on the record – that's the Sag Harbor way.

We can count the number of women who have been mayor in the past 60 years on two fingers. Sandra Schroeder, the retired village clerk, knows the ins and outs of the job; she's developed budgets, helped negotiate contracts, overseen grant applications. More important, Schroeder distances herself from the field with her knowledge of how to keep the fragile waterways clean. While the other candidates were posturing for votes, she was on the phone with the DEC, getting a detailed explanation of why the cove is closed and how to turn it around. She alone spoke of the necessity of working with the myriad other authorities that have a piece of the Sag Harbor pie – both Southampton and East Hampton Town, their boards of trustees, North Haven Village, and the state and county. No meaningful long-term project can happen unless everyone concerned is on board, regardless of what the village fathers do or say. Schroder was the only candidate to mention the aging sewage treatment plant and the need to overhaul it.

It's time for the Old Boys to stop trying to manipulate how the village is run and to make way for people who aren't concerned with giving their friends jobs, getting themselves a cheap place to store their boat, or getting their trucks serviced on the cheap. It's time for real reform in Sag Harbor – in fact, it's way overdue.

The Fire Department is a huge voting block, and Gilbride hasn't endeared himself to the membership – Hance is the likely beneficiary of that faction. We call on citizens to look beyond these petty slights and silly, insider bickering and focus on the big picture. The Independent endorses Sandra Schroeder for Sag Harbor Village Mayor.

There are four candidates for two board seats; the incumbent Ed Gregory is running with Gilbride, and Bruce Stafford, who lost his seat two years ago, is running to reclaim it. Ken O'Donnell, the owner of La Superica, is throwing his hat in the political ring for the first time, and Ed Deyermond, yet another former mayor, is seeking to return to the village board. We do not have enough knowledge of the candidates to make an informed endorsement, but we can say Deyermond as mayor and as Southampton Town Assessor, has always been extremely helpful and always accessible. For better of for worse, politicians who avoid answering questions from the press, or who are less than forthright, are really snubbing the people who elect them; we are charged with asking the difficult questions on behalf of the voters.

This could be a watershed moment in the storied history of this great village: get out there and vote.

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