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Southold Town races too close to call on Election Day

Curious Southold residents who stayed up deep into the night on Election Day might have to wait a while to find out who won in the races for Town Supervisor and Town Board.

While preliminary results from the Suffolk County Board of Elections show incumbent Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, a Republican, leading Democratic challenger Greg Doroski by 220 votes (3,988 to 3,768), the victory celebration was put on hold Tuesday night. That’s largely because at least 473 absentee ballots must still be counted.

“It is a very tight election,” said Southold Town Republican Committee Chair Peter McGreevy. “The future of Southold is with the Board of Elections. I believe it’s in our favor, but it’s very close.”

That tightness is particularly true in the race for Southold Town Board, where Democratic challenger Sarah Nappa trailed longtime incumbent Republican Bill Ruland by just 47 votes, 3,778 to 3,731. Fellow incumbent Republican Jill Doherty leads all vote getters with 3,896 votes and Democratic challenger Bob Hanlon is the fourth-highest vote getter at 3,618.

The race between incumbent Town Justice Brian Hughes, who was backed by Republicans this year after one term as a Democrat, and challenger Dan Ross, was also too close to call. Judge Hughes held just a 95-vote lead at 3,870 to 3,775.

Mr. Russell checks results on Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo’s phone Tuesday. (Credit: Elizabeth Wagner)

The party affiliation of the 473 absentee voters makes things appear even closer in each of these races with 248 registered Democrats returning ballots to 128 Republican voters. There were also 18 Independence and five Conservative absentee voters, minor parties that endorsed the Republican candidates. That means the races, and in particular Ms. Nappa’s bid for a Town Board seat, might ultimately be decided by 74 absentee voters with no party affiliation.

It is also possible, Southold Town Democratic Committee Chair Kathryn Casey Quigley pointed out, that even more absentee ballots could come in. As of Monday, there were still 264 outstanding absentee ballots in Southold Town.

“The law is that any [ballot] postmarked [Nov. 4] will be counted even if they arrive [Wednesday],” she said. “There could be a few more that trickle in. Probably not a ton.”

While the County’s absentee ballot count will begin Wednesday, Mr. McGreevy cautioned it might take up to two weeks to certify the races in Southold. In 2017, when Democrat Mary Eisenstein closed a 123-vote gap down to 34, the final count took three weeks.

In an emailed statement sent Wednesday morning to his campaign mailing list, Mr. Hanlon, 71, of Orient said that while it’s unlikely he and Mr. Doroski will win election, he believed Ms. Nappa and Mr. Ross have a “very good shot at a victory.”

Mr. Russell, who was first elected Town Supervisor in 2005 and this year became the longest tenured elected supervisor in town history, thanked his supporters Tuesday night at GOP headquarters in Mattituck, but declined to declare victory in the race for a new four-year term.

“I can’t say how grateful I am with all of you,” said Mr. Russell, 55, of Cutchogue. “So far, so good, but we have a ways to go. But we will pull it out,” he concluded to a round of applause.

Greg Doroski addressed supporters before the results rolled on election night. (Credit: Tara Smith)

At the town Democrats’ gala at Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. in Peconic, tension turned to excitement as the results came into sharper focus.

“I think we ran a helluva race and no matter what happens I think we’ve done a really good job,” Mr. Doroski, 39, of Mattituck said in an interview. “We raised important issues and this administration has been dragging their feet.”

He added that no matter where the final results end up they will show that roughly half the town voted for change. Win or lose, he said he has no plans to go away.

“It’s not just about winning the election, it’s about preserving the future of our home,” he said. “There are many different ways to do that. And I’m happy with how things have gone.”

Ms. Nappa, 38, of Southold described Tuesday’s preliminary results as the “start of a conversation.”

“I’m really proud of the campaign that we ran and getting that kind of support as newcomers coming out of the gate,” she said.

Town political leaders, like Mr. McGreevy (shown here), spent much of Tuesday night trying to make sense of the results. (Credit: Elizabeth Wagner)

The Southold Town Board has been made up entirely of Republicans and Conservatives since Democrat Al Krupski, who won re-election for County Legislator Tuesday, abandoned his former seat in 2013 to run in a special election for his current one. Each of the incumbents has been in office since at least January 2014.

Mr. Ruland, 71, of Mattituck, whose seat appears most in jeopardy, was first elected to the board in 2007. He also serves in an appointed role as the town’s deputy supervisor.

The 8,229 votes cast in the supervisor race are the most since 2005, Mr. Russell’s first year running for the position and the election that saw town residents support a referendum to extend the supervisor’s term from two years to four. That was also the previous closest race for Mr. Russell, who captured 63.2% of the vote that year and so far just 51.4% in 2019.

Early voting likely played a factor for Democrats as unofficial results shared by town Democrats indicates that registered Democrats outvoted Republicans 708-439 in the nine days leading up to Election Day. Absentee ballots push that advantage up another 120 voters.

Mr. Doroski received more votes than any Southold Democratic candidate for supervisor since Josh Horton won in 2003.

For now, it’s the closest Southold supervisor race since 1995, when Jean Cochran became the town’s first female supervisor and Republicans took back the town from the United Southold party. Ms. Cochran edged former supervisor Tom Wickham by just 174 votes that year.

No matter what the end result is in the Supervisor and Town Board races, at least one newly elected official will be sworn into office as Republican Kelly Fogarty ran unopposed for receiver of taxes. Incumbent Trustees Glenn Goldsmith and Nick Krupski were also re-elected without a challenge, as was Assessor Rich Caggiano.

On the county side, County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, won a new term, defeating Republican John Kennedy with 55% of the vote. Democrats also appear to have won 10 of 18 seats in the Legislature.

Top Caption: It appears Democratic Town Board candidate Sarah Nappa, shown here being greeted with applause from supporters, is in an extremely close race with incumbent Bill Ruland for the second council seat.

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