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Former police chief rides $100G mayoral campaign to victory in East Hampton Village

Incoming East Hampton Village Mayor Jerry Larsen is

Incoming East Hampton Village Mayor Jerry Larsen is a lifelong resident who was village police chief from 2002 until 2016, when he stepped down.   Credit: Megan Miller

East Hampton Village has a new elected mayor for the first time in 28 years following a race where the winning candidate raised more than $100,000, a previously unheard-of sum in a village where sometimes fewer than 100 ballots are cast.

Former village Police Chief Jerry Larsen raised more than $110,000 and spent about $100,000, according to the state Board of Elections. He won in Tuesday’s election with 453 votes. He will replace interim Mayor Richard Lawler, who was appointed and served from January until this week.

Larsen, 56, said his campaign, which launched in April 2019, targeted the village’s second-home owners and focused on revitalizing its business district.

"They basically bring a lot of tax money to the village and they draw none of the services," he said in an interview Thursday. "We kind of saw that no one was really paying attention to them."

A local party supporting his opponent, trustee Barbara Borsack, raised nearly $50,000, according to a campaign disclosure filed with the village. Borsack garnered 271 votes. A third mayoral candidate, trustee Arthur Graham, whose term was not up this election cycle, estimated he spent a little less than $30,000 and received 121 votes.

The mayor is paid $26,000 a year.

Larsen is a lifelong resident who served as village police chief from 2002 until 2016, when he stepped down. He and his trustee running mates, Sandra Melendez and Christopher Minardi, were expected to be sworn in at 11 a.m. Friday.

It is difficult to estimate the village’s population due to its seasonal residents and the large influx of people who’ve settled on the East End during the pandemic, said village administrator Rebecca Molinaro-Hansen. The village has 1,578 registered voters and 2,033 taxpaying properties, she said.

Graham said he ran to give voters another alternative to Larsen, who sued the village in 2017. The lawsuit, involving a village policy restricting the former police chief’s work in the lucrative private security industry, was dismissed in 2019 by a federal judge because it was not filed within the statute of limitations.

"Jerry did work very hard at getting elected, and you cannot take that away from him," Graham said Thursday. "But there’s no reason to spend $100,000 for an election for a job that will only pay you 26 [thousand dollars]."

Borsack could not be reached for comment.

Former Mayor Paul Rickenbach, who was elected to the post in 1992 and stepped down at the end of 2019 to retire, estimated he spent at most $12,000 in the years he faced an opponent. There were contested elections in two of his six reelection bids, according to the village.

"It’s a sad commentary when you look at the amount of money that was raised," Rickenbach said. "What it costs to run for office is prohibitive and it’s very telling."

Larsen said campaign spending included traditional advertising, a promotional video, an election lawyer and meet-and-greets, including one event held in Manhattan. He said he was surprised by how much constituents were willing to give to his campaign, but did not say how much he originally planned to spend.

"It certainly wasn’t our intent" to raise more than $110,000, Larsen said. "People would just give us money. We created a website and the money was just coming in nonstop."

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