October 11, 2006

Race For Town Clerk Heats Up

As Election Day draws near, the gloves come off.

Such is the case in the race for Southampton Town Clerk as a sea of advertisements and rapidly sprouting election signs on the side of the roads reflect an increasingly heated battle for the seat.

Republican candidate Sundy Schermeyer, who is running her first race for an elected position, is a fifth generation resident who lives in Westhampton Beach with her husband Michael, a local painting contractor, and her two teenage children, Shelby and Michael, as well as her grandfather, former Westhampton Beach Mayor Arma Andon.

Her Democratic opponent, Marla Schwenk, was born and raised in the Village of Southampton. She received her Bachelor's degree from the University of Maine and returned to Southampton to raise her three children, Robert and Paul, who live locally, and her daughter, Alyssa Schwenk, who is currently serving with her husband in Iraq.

Schermeyer holds a bachelor of science degree in business management, public administration and accountancy from the former LIU Southampton campus and has worked in private business combined with town government for over 20 years as a financial manager and business owner.

For the past five years, Schermeyer has worked in town government as an administrator; currently, she serves as Deputy Superintendent of the Parks and Recreation Department.

"If I'm elected. I'll be able to hit the ground running. I won't have to start from scratch, learning town policies and procedures."

Schermeyer was approached by several individuals asking if she was willing "to step up and fill the vacancy" of former Town Clerk Marietta Seaman, who left her post recently to pursue another position with the Suffolk County OTB. Seaman was one of those who suggested Schermeyer's campaign.

At a recent press conference at Southampton Town Hall, Seaman reminded the town clerk does not set the tax rate or set public policy but maintains government records and is an "information center for the public."

As a public servant, Schermeyer said she hopes to teach her children that when asked, it's important to accept the challenge. "Many people shy away from public service and service in government because of a lot of the aggravation that comes along with running a campaign, as I'm learning right now," she said.

Schermeyer said she's frustrated with recent campaign developments, including a flurry of advertisements in area publications for Schwenk, one of which states that the position of town clerk "is not a walk in the park" — alluding to her current job.

Some feel that the ads are directed at Schermeyer and, as a result, the race has become more heated. The ads, she said, are something the opposition is "resorting to because they understand my strengths. They're going to poke fun at what they don't have to offer."

Schermeyer said the duties of the town clerk are not determined by individual candidates, "as my opponent may have you think — they're dictated by state law."

She said her platform focuses on realistic goals and the position should be held by the most qualified candidate, one who is able to perform the legal requirements. Her credentials tie into business public administration and accountancy while "my opponent's academic credentials don't tie into the job description for town clerk."

Schwenk disagreed. The candidate said she's served the community in business as an office manager for Southampton Hospital and for the past nine years, as a paid professional special events director for the American Cancer Society and for public radio.

Schwenk was also elected to the Tuckahoe School Board for a three-year term and served as president for two. She is very interested in communication between residents and town government, as well as preserving local history.

Schwenk believes she has the professional, administrative and managerial skills for the position. She has received support for her campaign from Congressman Tim Bishop.

As for her ads in recent weeks, Schwenk said, "We're just putting ads in about me, and about what I plan to accomplish. I wouldn't call them heated. I refuse to run any kind of a negative campaign. And saying the town clerk's job is not a walk in the park — I don't call that negative."

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