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January 16, 2013

Familiar Faces Facing Off?



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Glossy campaign brochures could feature familiar faces next fall if two veteran pols do, indeed, face off in the race for East Hampton Town Supervisor. The names Cantwell and Schneiderman are already being bandied about in political circles. Both have a history of public service and served on the town board dais in the past.

This week Larry Cantwell, a Democrat, and Jay Schneiderman, an Independence Party member, affirmed they are seriously considering runs for the town's top spot.

Last fall Cantwell announced plans to retire from his position as East Hampton Village Administrator. He held the post for some 30 years, with stints on both the town board and the town planning board, not to mention a failed bid for supervisor in 1981, along the way.

When he made his announcement in October, Cantwell told local media that he wasn't retiring for the purpose of running for office. At the time he expressed doubts about a desire to enter the local political fray.

But this week local Democratic Party leader Jeanne Frankl admitted party members have been "absolutely" pushing to recruit Cantwell. The one-time lawmaker said Monday that community members had consistently approached him with an eye toward persuading him to run.

Will he?

"On any given day, I can answer that question in different ways," he said. "I'm seriously considering it. I've talked to a lot of different people about it, and a lot of people have been coming up to me asking me to run, but at this point I'm certainly not making a final decision."

Asked why he'd contemplate a run, Cantwell replied, "This is going to sound real corny, but I love this place. It's been my life and I feel I have a lot more to give."

The "giving" for Cantwell began decades ago when he was the first Democrat in over 40 years elected bay constable. At the tender age of 25, he was, in 1975, the town's youngest-ever elected official. Cantwell went on to win a seat on the town board, serving from 1977 to 1982. In '81 he ran unsuccessfully for supervisor against Republican Mary Fallon. The following year, Cantwell resigned from the town board to take the post with the village.

During the late 90s Cantwell was appointed to the planning board by then-supervisor Cathy Lester. Interestingly, his reappointment was blocked, amidst criticism, by the Republican majority on the town board helmed by then-supervisor Jay Schneiderman.

For more than a year Schneiderman, now a county legislator serving in his fifth, two-year term has been an unofficial town supervisor designee. On Sunday, he confirmed plans to screen for the position in the coming weeks . . . with all three local parties, the Democrats, the Republicans and the Independence Party.

Pick a major party and Schneiderman's been alternately endorsed or opposed by it. He ran for supervisor in 1999 and re-election in 2001 on the Republican ticket. In 2003, he unseated Democrat George Guldi for a spot on the county legislature, again running on the Republican line.

From there, political lines began to blur. He registered as a member of the Independence Party, following the lead of State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, and garnering no small measure of ire from the GOP, especially locally.

But all was soon forgiven and Schneiderman ended up receiving a three-way cross endorsement for a subsequent re-election bid. Most recently, he ran for another term on the Democratic ticket, with the Independence Party line secured once again. (The Indies have endorsed Schneiderman every time he's run for office.)

The Democrats plan to hold their screenings in February, Frankl reported. To the idea of Schneiderman seeking her party's nomination, she said, "Everybody's welcome to screen, it's a democratic process."

While Schneiderman maintains positive working relationships with county Dems -- he caucuses with them in Hauppauge -- locally it seems Democratic loyalists have never forgiven him for unseating Cathy Lester and wresting away the town board majority in 1999.

"I see myself as somewhere in the center, and that suits me well," he said, speaking of political allegiances. "I agree sometimes with the Democrats, sometimes with the Republicans and sometimes with neither of them. I'm more about the issues than a party agenda."

County legislators serve under term limit mandates, Schneiderman could run one last time this fall, but said this week, "I feel like I've accomplished a lot of what I set out to accomplish as a legislator. I feel like I may be more needed here in East Hampton. This is where my heart is."

Like Cantwell, Schneiderman reported overwhelming support from a diverse array of community members. "It's been very flattering, so many people, from all sides of the political spectrum, have asked me to come back," he said.

If successful, Schneiderman wouldn't be the first town supervisor to leave, then come back. Judith Hope, who was elected in 1973, left in 1976 to work with Governor Hugh Carey. She returned in'83 and won a re-election bid in 1985. At certain points Cantwell served alongside her on the town board dais.

Town GOP Committee chair Kurt Kappel did not immediately return a call for comment. Although he has declined to comment definitively, insiders say Supervisor Bill Wilkinson won't seek re-election. He did not respond to an email request for a statement.

kmerrill@indyeastend.com

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