Taking a quick glance at the results of Tuesday’s Southold Town election, a casual observer might see only a balanced outcome, with many of the contested races too close to call.
Someone with a sense of history, however, might view things a little differently. After all, for more than a decade, Democrats have held no more than one seat on the Town Board at a time. Republicans have held a majority for 14 years. That all could soon change.
On a night when Republicans across Long Island were claiming victory, it was Democrats who left cheering in Southold, picking up at least one seat on the Town Board and the Board of Trustees and holding an advantage in three other races that will come down to an absentee ballot count, including two that appear likely to have already been won. Southold Democrats have not won four races in a single election year since 2005.
“We could not have done this without you,” Town Councilman-elect Greg Doroski told supporters at his party’s gathering at Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. in Peconic. “If these results show anything it’s that more of the same is not enough in Southold Town.”
Mr. Doroski, who preliminary results show earned just under 27% of the vote in the four-candidate race for two seats, could be joined on the Town Board next year by running mate Brian Mealy. But while Mr. Doroski had a comfortable lead with 4,475 votes, Mr. Mealy’s 4,110 was just 120 votes ahead of Republican Greg Williams. Anthony Sannino, the other GOP nominee, was just 22 votes behind Mr. Williams at 3,968.
“The results we are seeing here are not what we wanted to see,” said town GOP chairman Peter McGreevy. “There are races here too early to be called.”
The only contested race called for Republicans Tuesday was for Town Clerk candidate Denis Noncarrow, who gained ground as polling places reported the results and ended up winning by more than 10% of the unofficial count over challenger Candace Hall.
“We worked hard for this, and I am very glad how it turned out,” Mr. Noncarrow said at Tuesday’s Republican gathering at Sannino Winery in Cutchogue.
But even in that race, where Ms. Hall was the first black woman to seek office in Southold Town and her candidacy was not announced until after the party’s nominating convention, Democrats found a silver lining in the result against a well-liked Town Hall employee in Mr. Noncarrow.
“This is not a loss,” said Democratic Councilwoman Sarah Nappa of Ms. Hall. “She had the toughest race by far.”
Said Ms. Hall: “Being a young black woman in a town that has not ever represented my people, who have been here for seven generations, is a very hard thing to do, and I know I’m very proud of myself.”
It’s Mr. Mealy who now has a chance to make history if he were to become the first black elected official in Southold Town, something that seems even more likely after he widened his lead when the final polling place reported results after midnight. If he does win, the board would feature an even split of three Democrats and three Republicans.
But while Democrats have historically made gains through absentee voting, the GOP is said to have pushed for their supporters to return absentee ballots this year, closing that gap. It remains to be seen exactly how many absentee ballots will be counted.
As of Oct. 29, 561 of the 1,134 absentee ballots that were mailed to voters in Southold Town had been returned to the Suffolk County Board of Elections, according to Democratic chair Kathryn Casey Quigley. Ballots can be postmarked as late as Election Day.
So Democrats stopped short of declaring a win for highway superintendent nominee Dan Goodwin at their gathering Tuesday evening, but when the vote count shifted further in his favor as the last precinct reported, he appears to have now won with a 243-vote lead over Republican Don Grim.
It’s also possible that Democrats could pick up all three open seats on the Board of Trustees with Eric Sepenoski having already declared victory with 4,331 votes and running mate Liz Gillooly in second with 4,133. While it’s possible Republican Kristina Gabrielsen (4,112) could still finish ahead of Ms. Gillooly in the final count, she also could fall out of the third spot if Democrat Elizabeth Peeples (4,028) is able to gain on her in absentees. In 2019, Ms. Nappa trailed by 47 votes in her race for Town Board on election night and ended up winning by 81 — a 128 vote swing.
Regardless of how many seats they pick up, Democrats were glowing over Tuesday’s outcomes.
“Our candidates ran an incredible race and they’re so impressive,” Ms. Casey Quigley said. “They have so much integrity, they were better prepared and they’re better on the issues.”
In his victory speech, Mr. Doroski called this “an existential moment in the history of Southold Town.”
“It’s now or never,” he said. “How many hotels are we talking about? How many big subdivisions are we talking about? Too many. You know, one isn’t the problem, but all of them. All of them will fundamentally change Southold.”
He said working to revamp existing zoning code will be the key to fighting the threat of overdevelopment. Mr. Doroski also referenced a pair of negative campaign mailers sent out last week by the town’s Republican committee that might have helped pushed things over the edge for Democrats.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, a Republican, said late Tuesday night that he looks forward to working with all who are elected.
“The business of politics is over tonight,” he said in a statement. “Now is the time to come together to serve the people of this community as we face the challenges before us.”
In his address to GOP supporters, Mr. McGreevy, the commitee chair since 2013, said “the party has to be relevant in politics in Southold so it remains what we know and love.”
Fishers Island Justice Louisa Evans, Town Justice Eileen Powers and Assessors Kevin Webster and Charles Sanders, all Republicans, were re-elected in uncontested races Tuesday night.
At the county level, Republicans surged, appearing to claim control of the 18-member Suffolk County Legislature, knocking out both the presiding officer and the majority leader, according to preliminary results. And in perhaps the biggest race of the year, Republican District Attorney nominee Ray Tierney defeated incumbent Timothy Sini, who received the endorsement of the powerful Suffolk County PBA but still lost his race by nearly 40,000 votes.
The North Fork’s County Legislator, Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) defeated Remy Bell of Riverhead, who did not actively campaign.