By Rick Murphy
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Southampton Conservative Party leaders this week endorsed Phil Keith for the position of Town Supervisor, setting the stage for a showdown on Tuesday with former supervisor Linda Kabot.
Keith is a retired U.S. Naval commander, author and Harvard graduate, and is a member of the Southampton Town Planning Board.
Tuesday's primary will be a culmination of two months of inner-party wrangling. Town Conservative Party Chairman Jim Malone, a lame-duck town board member, originally tried to nominate Howard H. Heckman III as the party's candidate and filed a Designating Position to do so. Kabot challenged and on August 8 the Board of Elections invalidated Heckman's petition.
Suffolk County Conservative Party boss Ed Walsh had previously blocked Kabot's attempt to get on the Conservative Party line by refusing to file what is known as a "Wilson Pakula" authorization – because Kabot is not a registered party member, she needed the authorization to appear on ballot.
But Kabot had another card to play – she filed an "Opportunity to Ballot" petition which if granted would allow her to enter a primary as a write-in candidate. Malone challenged, but lost – the BOE validated Kabot's petition, setting up Tuesday's showdown with Keith.
"I am one step closer to earning the Conservative nomination . . . once again the electoral process has been put back into the hands of the voters where it belongs," Kabot said.
Kabot, a former town board member and supervisor, is a proven vote getter. Her contention is that Malone and Conservative Party Vice Chair Jeremy Brandt have an agenda and do not represent the rank and file of the party.
"I wish I was that powerful," Brandt said Monday. "We have a true Conservative in Phil Keith. The Republican candidate raised taxes, overspent, and over borrowed" he said of Kabot's stint as supervisor. "She's trying to deflect attention from her record."
Kabot, however, produced a letter from Walsh written in 2009 that praised Kabot's record. It stated she "held the line on taxes," and "cut $4.5 million from the annual budget."
"Look at this guy's resume," Brandt said of Keith. "He's got the chops. He's a real solid choice." In fact, the Conservative Party leadership thinks he can win the general election by siphoning votes from both parties.
But Kabot said Keith isn't even a registered Conservative – "He is a Republican, like I am." Kabot said Keith, a Vietnam veteran, has been misled.
"Phil didn't get the party endorsement. He was endorsed by two people, Jeremy Brandt and Jim Malone. He is being used by them – he doesn't have the full story." She intends to meet with Keith later this week.
The bad blood between Kabot and Malone goes back to 2009, when Malone was originally going to run for town supervisor. Kabot threatened to run a primary, and rather than take her on, Malone backed off and ran for the town board instead – with Conservative Party support. Kabot was left off the ticket, and she was beaten by Anna Throne-Holst after getting a DWI two months before the election. She was acquitted of the charge and rumors persist her arrest by Westhampton Village Police was politically motivated.
Kabot who garnered almost 4000 votes as a write-in candidate against the Throne-Holst two years ago, said, realistically, Keith has no chance to win.
"Phil Keith is a great guy, with admirable record of service to our country and our community," Kabot said Saturday, "However a vote for anyone other than Linda Kabot on the Conservative Primary ballot is a vote for Anna Throne-Holst. It is important for Southampton Town Conservatives to vote for the candidate who has the best chance at defeating the incumbent supervisor," Kabot added.
The chasm between Kabot and the Conservative Party actually dates back to 2007, when she challenged then-supervisor Pat "Skip" Heaney for the Republican Party nomination and won. She then won a four-candidate race for supervisor with Heaney running on the Conservative line.
There will be no names on Tuesday's ballot, including Kabot and Keith, the only declared candidates. Voters, limited to registered Conservative Party members, must write in the name of the candidate of their choice.