Gustavson Column: Why my house is now a Woodhouse

Psssst. Can you keep a secret?

There’s another political race, other than the ones for president and congressman, up for grabs on Nov. 6. It’s a special election, in fact, for the remaining year in the term of former Southold Town Trustee Jill Doherty, who stepped down from that post when she was elected to the Town Board last year.

Not surprisingly, given the political makeup of the current Town Board, Republican Mike Domino was appointed to replace her, and now he’s being challenged for an additional one-year term by Democrat Jeri Woodhouse. (And whoever wins Nov. 6 will likely be back on the ballot for a full four-year term next November.)

Confusing enough for you?

Truth be told, I wasn’t tuned in to the special election until Woodhouse signs began popping up around our neighborhood in Orient, which isn’t totally surprising given that Jeri and her husband, John, live about two blocks away from us. And now the ultimate truth: One of those signs popped up in our front yard earlier this week, and the aim of this column is to explain why.

But first, a disclaimer. When the former Joan Giger Walker and I were co-publishers of The Suffolk Times, we did not attend political fundraisers, make contributions to individual candidates or their parties, place political signs in our yard or affix political bumper stickers to our car. But that changed a few years ago when we retired as publishers and when I stopped actively participating in candidate interviews and endorsement decision-making at the paper.

To repeat: Op/ed page columnist Troy Gustavson will not participate in candidate interviews or endorsement decisions at this newspaper, or any other, this year.

So, back to the Domino-Woodhouse race.

I think I’ve known Mike and Jeri for about the same amount of time. And I like them both, and appreciate their various good deeds on behalf of the people of Southold Town.

In addition to his one year with the Trustees, Mike has served on the town’s Anti-Bias Task Force, as a board member with the county’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation and as president of the North Fork Environmental Council. He is a former U.S. Marine and worked 31 years as an earth science teacher in the Rocky Point School District. He and his wife, Joy, operate a delicatessen on the Main Road in Greenport.

Jeri taught high school English; served as co-executive director of folk singer Harry Chapin’s World Hunger Year; was an aide to Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger; served as executive director of The Retreat, the East Hampton women’s shelter; and founded two local businesses, A Taste of the North Fork and the North Fork Specialty Kitchen. She’s also served on the boards of the NFEC, the East End Arts Council and the Oysterponds Historical Society, and her principal public service came during her five-year stint as chair of the Southold Town Planning Board. She’s also run twice unsuccessfully for the Town Board.

So, why a Woodhouse sign and not a Domino sign in the Gustavsons’ front yard? First, although Mike is considered to be nonpartisan, Jeri would bring badly needed balance to the Trustees as the only woman and only Democrat. Second, and most important, it comes down to a question of style and energy.

In my experience, Mike is low-key and unassuming. He’s shown a willingness to dig in his heels when necessary, but the overall impression he left as head of the NFEC lacked definition or distinction, in my opinion. In fact, on his watch the organization pretty much faded from the local consciousness, no longer the forceful voice for environmental protection that it was in the ’80s, ’90s and earlier in the last decade. And that’s not the sort of leadership we need at this point in time on a board charged with the vital task of protecting Southold’s vulnerable bays, creeks and wetlands.

Jeri, on the other hand, is an effective and energetic leader. In fact, she probably has more energy than almost anyone I know, starting with her 6 a.m. daily power walk right through her routinely late nights at her place of business in Cutchogue. Jeri Woodhouse has the energy, vision and will to be an effective advocate for the environment, and I just don’t think Mike Domino has the makeup to match that.

If Mike Domino should happen to prevail on Nov. 6, Southold will not be badly served. But if Jeri Woodhouse wins — and I hope she will — the town will be better served.