Tillman takes over Southold Democrats

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10/06/2010 4:48 PM |

The Tuthill era has ended for Southold’s Democrats and the Tillman epoch has begun.
Art Tillman of Mattituck was elected Tuesday night as the party’s new chairman after Larry Tuthill, who held that position for 10 years, withdrew his name from consideration.
Mr. Tillman described the party as “in shambles” and in need of rebuilding.
Considered perennial underdogs in local politics, the Democrats currently have only two elected officials serving in town government. More than half of the party’s committee seats are vacant. The committee did not meet between October 2009 and September 2010, has not held a fundraiser in the past year and has only about $600 in its treasury.
“We are hurting big-time,” Mr. Tillman said shortly after assuming his new position. He was the only one nominated for the leader’s job. “I like to think that a vote for me is a vote for change.”
He described the 2007 elections, the last time the supervisor’s seat was on the ballot, as “disastrous for us.” In that race, Republican Supervisor Scott Russell won re-election with an unheard of 83 percent of the vote and incumbent Democratic councilmen Dan Ross and Bill Edwards both were turned out of office. Those results left the party with a “general malaise and a sense of discouragement,” the new chairman said.
“We have to turn the party around and I think we can do it,” said Mr. Tillman, a retired teacher who has lived in Mattituck since 1976. “But I can’t do it alone.”
He suggested that the party must at times reach out to the town’s Conservative and Independence party organizations.
“We don’t win elections, generally speaking, unless we can bring people under this big tent,” he said. Toward that end, the party has appointed its first Hispanic committee member, Carlos Gonzalez of Southold.
“His job is to reach out to the Hispanic community and make them feel they are a part of us,” said Mr. Tillman. “The Hispanics are the future base of this party.”
Mr. Tillman said he began calling committee members over the weekend seeking their support in his bid for chairman. Mr. Tuthill, whose two-year term was up, informed the committee of his decision to step aside a few hours before the convention at First Universalist Church of Southold.
Mr. Tuthill has been a committeeman for 20 years, and has seen the party’s fortunes rise to new heights and sink to new lows during that time. During the last half of the Josh Horton administration, the Democrats controlled the Town Board for the first time in memory. He agreed that the 2007 town elections left the Democrats reeling.
“I don’t regret any of the candidates we’ve run,” said Mr. Tuthill. “I am proud of the fact that we’ve run excellent candidates who won and served the town well.”
As to his decision to step aside in deference to Mr. Tillman, his second in command, Mr. Tuthill said, “The party is ready for a change, I’m ready for a change and it will be good for Southold Democrats.”
Denis Noncarrow, the town’s GOP leader, had nothing but praise for Mr. Tuthill.
“Working with Larry was an absolute pleasure,” he said. “He taught me the greatest truth about doing this stuff, which is never take anything too seriously. I’ll never forget that.”
Mr. Noncarrow said he doesn’t know Mr. Tillman, “but I’m sure we’ll work well together.”
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