According to prevailing wisdom in East Hampton Town, running for a third term is a challenge. Few candidates for town board can attain three back-to-back victories.
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Pete Hammerle's had four . . . and that's enough for him. This week the councilman announced he'll retire from public service at the end of this year.
"Last week I sent (Democratic Committee chair) Jeanne Frankl a letter saying I decided, after consideration with my family, that I would not seek their nomination," Hammerle said Monday morning. "I intend to finish out my term and move on."
In all, Hammerle's been a presence in town hall for 20 years. He was appointed to the planning board in 1992 and served three years as chair before running for town board in 1995.
The councilman, who lives in East Hampton, said his most satisfying moments have arisen when "I've had members of the community come to me with ideas for projects and been able to push to get them done." The town's participation in the creation of the Montauk Playhouse Community Center is the first such accomplishment that comes to mind. Back in the late 90s the town acquired a huge, crumbling building that's slowly been transformed into a showpiece in the hamlet where Hammerle served as long time liaison. Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who served as town supervisor from 2000-2003, recalled "When I was there, Pete was liaison to Montauk and played a big part in the Montauk Playhouse . . . He worked really hard on a variety of capital projects."
Revamped and new athletic facilities at Lion's Field and Stephen Hands Path serve as examples of Hammerle's ability to carry through the wishes of the community. Said Elaine Jones, chair of the local Independence Party, "We've always supported Pete and probably would have supported him if he had chosen to run for re-election. He's always been good for the community and always been good for the town workforce."
Hammerle's also proud of affordable housing initiatives that provided the Springs Fireplace Apartments and the Greenhollow Woods subdivision. "I'm not saying I did these things alone," the councilman emphasized, "I've always been grateful to the boards that allowed me to deliver these projects on time and under budget."
Moving to environmental initiatives, Hammerle sponsored the adoption of the town's first open space plan, worked on the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan and the update to the town's Comprehensive Plan. "I've voted for resolutions on the acquisition of thousands of acres of open space in East Hampton. That's something to be proud of," he said this week.
"I had the opportunity to work with Pete for a decade on a variety of important issues. It's always been a pleasure and I wish him the best," said Assemblyman Fred Thiele. Schneiderman said, "We certainly had our differences through the years, but I enjoyed working with him."
Over the years, the councilman said he's been "happy to get the job done, free of political disruption." Known as a "laid back" peacemaker and consensus builder, Hammerle's resisted yielding to political pressure. "Everything is politics now," noted the town board Democratic minority member.
Rumors that party leaders asked him to drop out to the contrary, Hammerle said, "No one ever asked me not to run." Still, he acknowledged that during the recent screening, "I realized I had some detractors" within the party's higher ranks.
And those detractors could foresee a difficult campaign, should Hammerle have stayed on. He's the last member of the town board still linked to disgraced former supervisor Bill McGintee's years of fiscal predation and the resultant $27 million deficit the town currently suffers. Hammerle maintains he "did everything he could" once he found out about the financial mess, but critics disagree.
Once McGintee resigned in 2009, Hammerle took the helm as interim supervisor. He reminded this week that he produced a budget that helped the town get back on track and made the current town board's life "a lot easier."
Asked if serving in the minority was a driving force in his decision, Hammerle said, "not really. Last week I went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth in my head about this decision. I thought, if I feel I'm elect-able, I should stay involved. But then I thought I might be enjoying the job a little less and it's time to go. I'm ready."
Pete's owed a debt of gratitude from the people of the town of East Hampton," offered Chris Kelley who served as party chair when Hammerle first ran for office. "He's done a lot for this town and is always good natured and friendly to people. People like and respect him.