Parpan Column: Spring training for local politics

TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | Republican Town Justice William Price addressing Southold’s Democrats, including party Chairman Art Tillman (left) and Deputy Chairman Bob Meguin.

On my seventh birthday, my family took a vacation to Florida.

For most kids the time we spent at Disney World would have been the highlight of that vacation. For me, it was the day we saw the Mets play a spring training game in St. Petersburg.

I remember how up close we could get to the players and all the optimism on the field that spring. Of course, it was 1986.

One other detail I can recall was being overwhelmed by all the unfamiliar faces playing for the Mets that day. Many players I’d never heard of before subbed into the game, wearing uniform numbers like 84 and 92.

Over the years, I’ve grown to root for this type of young prospect, holding out hope that one day I’ll see one of them wearing a single-digit number in a regular-season game and I’ll know they’ve made it.

My affinity for the underdog carried into my earlier career as a sportswriter, as I’d sometimes find myself pulling for the team nobody would expect to win.

I felt the same way when I moved back home and began covering local politics in Brookhaven Town. I’m as apolitical as they come, but every so often I’d meet an emerging candidate with a good story and an inspiring vision. It would be hard not to root a little for that candidate on election night.

Maybe I’ve felt this way in my career because I know the underdog tale makes for a better story. Or maybe it’s just a natural human instinct to pull for the little guy. It’s so seldom anyone beats the odds in this life.

This past week I met some of the biggest underdogs around — the Southold Town Democrats — after the committee invited myself and Town Hall reporter Cyndi Murray to the committee’s meeting last Thursday. I’m told there were some concerns about having us there — some strategy and other issues were discussed — but in the end they felt our presence would do more good than harm for their campaign.

The event, which was held at First Universalist Church on Main Road in Southold, was an opportunity for the slate of Democratic town candidates to discuss their platforms with committee members and campaign volunteers.

Southold Democratic Committee chairman Art Tillman kicked off the evening by saying this year’s slate featured an eclectic arrangement of candidates he’s feeling very optimistic about.

But with Town Justice Bill Price, a longtime Republican spurned by his party this year, representing the only incumbent on the ballot, the Democrats sure do have their work cut out for them.

The candidates are a mix of longtime local residents like Town Board hopeful Ron Rothman or highway superintendent candidate Tobie Wesnofske and transplants from other countries like Town Board nominee Mary Eisenstein or Trustee candidate Geoffrey Wells.

The common theme of all the Democratic hopefuls was a love of Southold Town. They spoke in general terms of preserving the way of life here, as opposed to any specific political issues.

In fact, save maybe a comment Mr. Tillman made about a growing number of successful tax grievances pointing to possible complacency in the assessor’s office, the candidates pretty much steered clear of taking any shots at the local GOP. That was surprising to me.

In a year in which local Democrats lost their one Town Board member, Al Krupski, to the county Legislature, and their highway superintendent, Pete Harris, who decided at the 11th hour to not seek re-election, it seems the party will need to dial up the volume in order to get any members of its slate elected. Ms. Eisenstein, whose tone came in stark contrast to the subdued nature of the rest of the candidates, seemed the most likely to command attention. And given the knock on the assessor’s office it seems Democrats are most optimistic to land an assessor’s seat, with Marie Domenici of Southold perhaps having the best shot of their three candidates, which also includes Teri Hoffer and Jason Petrucci.

Mr. Tillman said Thursday he was pleased to still have Mr. Krupski’s name on the ballot as he seeks re-election to the Legislature post he won in a landslide this January, something he believes will help to get town residents to vote Democrat.

The party could certainly use the help after no Southold Democrat secured more than 38 percent of the vote in the 2011 general election.

Thursday’s committee meeting was a lot like a spring training game, as the candidates practiced their pitches and all remained hopeful for the coming season. The slate was certainly an energized group of long-shot candidates hoping to earn your vote.

Who knows, maybe one day we’ll see one of them wearing one of those single-digit uniform numbers.

The author is the executive editor for Times/Review Newsgroup. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631-354-8046.

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