The campaign for the Freeport mayor's office is starting early this year -- and pits incumbent Mayor Andrew Hardwick against one of his former running mates, trustee Robert Kennedy.

Both sides say the race is emblematic of the politically fractured village.

Kennedy was elected with Hardwick on the Change Freeport line in 2009, but has bickered frequently with the mayor since, as have all four trustees.

Hardwick is seeking his second term on the Village Independent line. Kennedy is running on the Unity/Home Rule line.

The candidates are getting started early, as the election is not until March 19, and village elections rarely spur campaigning until the weeks before ballots are cast.

But Hardwick, who called Kennedy's bid "really despicable," said he is prepared for the extended campaign.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"Everyone wants to be the mayor," Hardwick said. "There's no rhyme or reason to why these trustees turned the way they did."

Kennedy accused Hardwick of focusing on petty internal politics instead of the village's budget and reducing crime. The 43,000-resident village, the second largest in New York, deserves better, Kennedy said.

"You have to open up a dialogue, not a monologue, with the trustees and the residents," Kennedy said.

Hardwick, 55, is a former deputy commissioner of operations for Nassau County parks, recreation and museums, which was the post he held when he became mayor of the village. He has lived in Freeport for 50 years.

Kennedy, 58, has owned a heating and air-conditioning business, Winston Mechanical, for 27 years. He has lived in Freeport for 12 years.

Hardwick said the village's swift response to superstorm Sandy showed that he deserves re-election.

"Right now, Freeport's in a critical state and we, quite frankly, have to have someone at the helm who really cares about Freeport's future," he said.

But Kennedy said the mayor has divided the village.

"I went in to try to correct a few things, and now there's a million things that must be corrected," he said.