Remember the old political axiom that Southold’s politicking season doesn’t begin until after Labor Day?
Well, forget it.
For this year, at least, the dead of summer is anything but politically dead. In just the past few days, the town’s Democrats lost a tax receiver candidate and quickly found another in former councilman Bill Edwards, and Town Justice Rudolph Bruer now finds himself in a two-line primary battle with Democratic opponent Brian Hughes.
While most of the GOP slate has received the Independence Party’s endorsement, that organization chose to go with Democratic supervisor challenger Bob Meguin over incumbent Republican Scott Russell.
“I’m earning my pay, that’s for sure,” town GOP chairman Denis Noncarrow quipped about his non-paying post.
Perhaps the most unexpected political development this week was Democratic tax receiver candidate Kerrie Amerson’s Monday announcement of her withdrawal from the race. The move came as a surprise to party members, some of whom had posed with her for campaign photographs last weekend.
Ms. Amerson, a Southold resident who works as a police dispatcher on the South Fork, sent an email to The Suffolk Times Monday saying she “decided to step out of the running.” She did not respond to a request for comment.
“We’re extremely disappointed that she changed her mind,” said Town Democratic leader Art Tillman. “We believed her to be a viable candidate and were hopeful of her success.”
Her father, former North Fork insurance agent Ray Gramazio, accepted the Democratic nomination for tax receiver four years ago and also withdrew prior to Election Day.
On Tuesday Democrats chose Bill Edwards of Mattituck, who served as councilman during the Josh Horton era, to run in Ms. Amerson’s stead against Republican George Sullivan. Mr. Edwards was on vacation in his native Vermont this week and unavailable for comment.
Mr. Edwards will campaign on abolishing the tax receiver’s post and shifting its responsibilities to the town clerk, Mr. Tillman said.
“We’re delighted to have Bill back,” he said, calling the former councilman “a talented and experienced businessman.” Mr. Edwards currently works as an associate with Beninati Associates real estate in Southold. Before winning a Town Board seat, Mr. Edwards ran unsuccessfully for tax receiver and supervisor on the Democratic line.
“I was able to defeat Bill in a special election nine years ago and have run unopposed in the last two elections and would like to think that is a reflection of a job well done,” Mr. Sullivan said.
For the first time in recent memory, Democrats are fielding a nearly full slate in the fall town elections. During its spring convention, the party left just one seat open, allowing veteran Republican assessor Darlene Duffy to run unopposed. Mr. Tillman said Democrats believe the town should switch from three elected assessors to a single appointed professional.
Incumbent Rudolph Bruer will appear on the GOP line for the one town justice seat on the ballot, but he’ll have to best Democratic challenger Brian Hughes in a September primary to keep the Conservative and Independence Party lines. Although both parties endorsed the incumbent, Mr. Hughes, a registered Republican, filed petitions with the Suffolk Board of Elections to force a double primary.
In most cases, a candidate seeking to run a primary in another party needs that party’s permission. But that restriction does not apply to judicial races.
“I’m sure a lot of people didn’t expect this,” said Mr. Hughes, a Southold trial lawyer. “But it’s simple: the more lines the better my chances.”
Judicial candidates are prohibited from making campaign promises and must limit their campaign statements to their experience and background.
“All someone need do is look at my qualifications, experience and dedication,” said Mr. Hughes, a trial attorney for 25 years.
“Picking a judge without trial experience is like picking a fire chief who’s never been to a fire.”
The incumbent said voters “know what they’re getting. I’ve been at it for 15 and a half years. I think I finally know what I’m doing.”
Judge Bruer said he has streamlined the court and within the past few years added special Monday sessions to deal with traffic and town code cases. Aside from unscheduled arraignments, most court sessions are held on Fridays.
“I think the court’s a lot more user-friendly,” the judge said.
The primaries are scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 13.
While it will take another two months to decide which town justice candidate will appear on the Independence Party line, the rest of the ticket is set.
The party chose Democratic supervisor hopeful Bob Meguin over incumbent Republican Supervisor Scott Russell, who has held that line in the past. But in a strange twist, the party endorsed every other Republican on the town ballot.
“It creates a strange set of circumstances,” said Mr. Meguin, who never imagined he’d share a line with the GOP slate.
He agrees with Mr. Hughes’ outlook in saying, “I’ll certainly take as many lines as possible.”
Both sides note that the Democrat has enjoyed a long working relationship with Independence Party chairman Frank MacKay. Mr. Meguin, who helped create the upstart party a decade or so ago, appeared on the Independence line during his previous unsuccessful judicial races.
While the Independence Party went with practically the entire Southold GOP ticket, it also endorsed Democratic county executive candidate Steve Bellone, who is running against Republican County Clerk Angie Carpenter.
The Independence line split “isn’t going to affect us much at all,” said GOP chairman Noncarrow. “Did we want the full line? Sure, but if Scott had just one line he’d be fine.”
Said the supervisor, “I’ve been here long enough so people know where to find me. I’ll run the best race I can on the Republican and Conservative lines.”