Larry Cantwell has revealed one of the poorest-kept political secrets in East Hampton -- he plans to run for town supervisor on the Democratic line. He made the announcement Friday and hopes to get the Independence Party line as well.
The town's political parties will not make formal decisions on their nominees until next month, but for the past few months some potential candidates have been seeking endorsements from both major parties in hopes of running unopposed.
But they have been doing so while contending with two big shadows cast by Cantwell, the administrator of East Hampton Village, and by popular Suffolk Legis. Jay Schneiderman, both of whom were seen by local politicians as nearly unbeatable.
Schneiderman, registered with the Independence Party, caucuses with Democrats in the Suffolk Legislature and also has broad support among local Republicans. He turned down an offer by East Hampton's Republicans to run for supervisor last month.
That left Cantwell, 60, who has been village administrator in East Hampton for half his life and announced his retirement from the $180,000-a-year job late last year.
"I hope to run as the Democratic and Independence nominee," Cantwell said Friday night. "I've spent my whole life in East Hampton. People perceive that I did a good job and that I'm evenhanded." He already has screened with the Democrats and expects to screen with the Independence Party later this month.
No one runs for village board in East Hampton as a Republican or Democrat, and Cantwell has shown no political agenda while working for the village. The only time Republicans and Democrats are politically active in the village is in the summer, when exclusive six- and seven-figure fundraisers are held in private homes, where movie stars, senators and sometimes a president will pop up.
Cantwell demonstrated he could compete as a Democrat in local politics decades ago. At age 25, he was elected town bay constable, the first Democrat to hold a town office in 42 years. He later was elected to the town board before taking his full-time village job.
The race for town supervisor is particularly sensitive for both parties this year. None of the Republicans now on the town board has broad enough support to run for the supervisor's office, and the Democrats suffered a monumental reversal of fortune four years ago.
That's when current Supervisor William Wilkinson was voted in after it became clear the fiscal mismanagement of former Democratic Supervisor William McGintee had left the town $18 million in debt, and with a 24 percent tax increase in 2008.
Wilkinson cut town taxes by 17 percent in his first budget, and all but eliminated the debt over four years. But his reorganization of the town, reduction in the number of employees, and cuts in services almost cost him the election in 2011, when he defeated Democrat Zachary Cohen by just 15 votes.
Wilkinson has said he will not run again.