Hardy Plumbing
November 14, 2007

McGintee Looks Like The One



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It's been almost 40 years since veteran political strategist Lona Rubenstein saw a race for East Hampton Town Supervisor as close. Back in 1969 Walter Hackett ran against incumbent Gene Lester and lost by a slender margin of 34 votes. Next go-round, Lester trounced Hackett and two years later he felt the agony of defeat at the hands of Judith Hope.

Fast-forward 38 years. By the end of the night Election Day, incumbent Supervisor Bill McGintee held the tiniest of leads over GOP challenger Bill Wilkinson – a mere eight votes. With absentee ballots still to be logged, it appeared as if it'd be a nail biter all the way to the middle of this week.

But, closer inspection of the results by district revealed an anomaly. Wilkinson won one district with 83 votes on the Working Families Line. On Monday, a preliminary canvassing revealed the correct number to be three, giving McGintee a relatively healthy 89 vote lead.

On Monday, the voting machines were opened and re-tallied at the Board of Elections headquarters in Yaphank for a verified accounting. Yesterday, as The Independent went to press, the task of counting paper absentee ballots was set to commence.

Asked to analyze the meaning of the vote, Rubenstein said, "It could mean a lot of different things." Fewer Democrats may have ventured out in the dismal weather to the polls, she speculated.

McGintee refused to acknowledge an erosion of his popularity base, blaming the tight race on a low turnout among Democratic voters. But the numbers belie his assertion. Julia Prince, running for town board on the Democratic ticket, pulled in more than 440 votes as the incumbent supervisor, though she was a complete unknown when the campaign began.

McGintee's numbers have gone down over the last three elections, from 4000 in 2003 to 3700 two years ago and 3193 this year (pending the recount).

Prince received about the same number of votes as Pat Mansir did in 2005, when Mansir was the top vote getter among the town board candidates. That may indicate voter turnout among the Democrats was about the same. "Each time he ran, he did worse," Rubenstein observed about McGintee.

Figures confirming how many Democrats or Republicans voted are traditionally not available from the Board of Elections until months after Election Day. Though the inclement weather no doubt kept some voters away, the preliminary numbers seem to indicate some Democrats crossed party lines to vote for Wilkinson. McGintee said he felt it was a Montauk phenomenon and not town wide.

McGintee said his showing was not an indictment of his policies. Nevertheless the defining image of this election night might well be McGintee nervously watching the vote being tallied, fidgety and bewildered, while his running mates early on giddily celebrated their easy victories.

Independence Party chairwoman Elaine Jones agreed that McGintee's popularity has eroded. "The people sent him a message," she said. Jones also noted Prince, the highest vote getter, did much better at the polls than the supervisor, who had a 70 percent approval rating as recently as April, according to some pollsters.

Incumbent Councilman Pete Hammerle, who garnered the second highest share of the votes, also tallied hundreds less than he had in previous elections.

Wilkinson was still hopeful absentee ballots might turn the tide for him when quizzed late last week. If they don't, he said, "I won't run again. I don't want to turn into a politician." Wilkinson allowed he ran for supervisor because the time was right. He said he saw a need and has no regrets. "I'm really, really grateful for every opportunity to knock on a door and get a warm reception," he said, adding, "I wouldn't have changed a thing that I did, it was that good of an experience."

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