"I worked there for 21 years. I think the village needs to be run differently." So said Sandra Schroeder, a retired Sag Harbor Village Clerk who has thrown her hat in the ring for village mayor. It's her first foray into politics, but Schroeder said the time is right. "No one is working together . . . everyone is focused on the PBA. We have flooding issues. We need a comprehensive plan."
During her stint in village hall Schroeder said she became adept at many of the chores usually handled by the mayor. "I've done contracts and grants. As clerk-administrator I prepared budgets for nine years."
Schroeder reached out to the incumbent, Brian Gilbride, before entering the race. "I called him out of respect. I worked with him for a long time. He encouraged me." As for the contentious impasse with the village's police union, Schroeder said she was confident it could be settled quickly. "There are ways to get a contract. It's not always about the money. You can tell people no but tell them nicely."
Schroeder is keenly aware there have been very few women on the village hall dais over the years. "It's still an old boys club. I've heard people say 'She should know better' about me. My answer is, 'What can you do better than me?'"
The major issue is water quality, Schroeder said. "It's the pollution in the cove. I talked to the DEC. This has been going on since the 70s." Schroeder pointed out there has been extensive flooding, some of it in the village historic district. "That's why we need a comprehensive study, to show us what is really needed. Some hard calls have to be made, and we need a consensus."
One issue that should be looked at is the aging sewage treatment plant. "We can wait another 20 years to deal with it and it will cost eight times as much."
Brian Gilbride is used to the media glare. In real life, though, he said he's a quiet, private person. "I do this because I love the village."
Gilbride must be doing something right — he's been in office for 19 years, first as a board member and now as mayor. He was ready to step down, but the village is at an impasse with the police union – two years without a contract – and he wants to see it through. One tough decision the village board under his guidance made was to excise one position and leave another unfilled, leaving the village with 10 police officers in addition to the chief.
"I work for the residents. The police budget has increased 21 percent over the past few years. This year we budgeted $509,000 for retirement contributions alone and it probably won't be enough." Gilbride said the PBA union refuses to acknowledge that times have changed since the last contract was signed. "That was right before the bubble burst. "The lowest paid officer costs us $122,000 a year, then it goes all the way up to the chief, which is $252,000." Gilbride said the village faces stagnant revenues, so expenses need to be checked. "It's nobody's fault. That's the way it is."
Gilbride can rattle off a litany of accomplishments, from the success of the pump out boat -- "We removed 90,000 gallons of sludge last year" to the Havens Beach project. "It was a team effort but I take great pride in my record." [Baykeeper] Kevin McAllister praised Gilbride for the project, and there have been many others, he pointed out, most recently rebuilding West Water Street.
As for the criticism leveled by Hance, Gilbride said "Everything we do we do in the open. When he was mayor Mobil Oil gave us a piece of property and he leased part of it out to the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard without any public input. Later we found out his boat was stored there."
He has drawn the ire of some fire department members for blocking the appointment of two new members. "The FD is mad at me. They wanted to appoint a chief who lives out of the district. I told them they have to live by their own rules."
Gilbride agreed there has probably never been a field this large running for the mayor's seat, "I'm right in the middle of this thing. They are going to know I'm in it, I promise that."
Pierce Hance has already served the village as mayor and on the village board, but he said recent events made him decide to throw his hat in the ring again. "What prompted me, after going to board meetings for two years, is the management of the whole thing. The way finances are being handled – the budget is a joke."
Hance said he also cut positions from the police force when he was mayor, but his decision "was based on professional models. We studied it, we asked the public." Hance said the impasse with the PBA over the police contract rests squarely on the shoulders of Brian Gilbride, the incumbent mayor. "He didn't go to any of the negotiations. He sent two other guys. He's the senior guy, but he was out of the loop."
He blamed Gilbride for his inability to "sit down and talk about it.
Brian saw a rock coming so he threw one back."
Hance said when he was mayor business was conducted openly in front of the public. "Right now we don't know what is going on. Where is the transparency? You pay an attorney to draft a new law before finding out what the public wants? What else is going on behind closed doors?"
Hance said it is well known that Gilbride has rewarded insiders with jobs, including one for his daughter's boyfriend. Gilbride countered that he recused himself from the matter.
Gilbride has become preoccupied with the police department and has neglected his other responsibilities, Hance charged. "He treats the Harbor Committee like it doesn't exist. He would get rid of it if he could but he can't –it's written into the Waterfront Revitalization Plan."
Bruce Tait, the chairman of the Village Harbor Committee for seven years, has never expressed any interest in running for public office – until now. That's because, he said, the current crop of politicians has lost sight of what's really important in Sag Harbor – it's the water, stupid.
"As chairman of the Harbor Committee I've had a unique opportunity to look at what we've been doing. It's time to take a fresh look at where we are going."
Tait said Sag Harbor "is one of the great estuary systems in the country. It's time to start addressing all our creeks and bays. We're not applying any thought to addressing the matter."
He pointed out it took 30 years for the village to address the situation at Havens Beach. "This administration is reactive and we need to be proactive. I mean there was human fecal matter in the water. How foolish does that make us? It was Einstein who said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.'"
Tait placed the blame for the current tension between the village and the police force on the incumbent. "Do we want our own police force? The answer is yes. We have to get the costs down; we blew the opportunity and dealt with it with a budget ax."
"We all have the best intentions," he said of the crowded field. "But it's the same old people – the village clerk, the mayor, the ex-mayor. We need new blood."
Tait, a yacht broker with an office near Long Wharf, said he was aware that Suffolk County wanted to turn the wharf over to the village for quite some time. He said the future of it should be decided by a "community wide discussion."
Tait said Mayor Gilbride has basically ignored the Harbor Committee to the detriment of the bays and coves. "I send over a memo about banning the use of fertilizers within 200 yards of the water and no one ever got back to me."
In general, Tait said he was running because "We have to be proactive to preserve the Sag Harbor we all want."