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Longtime Brightwaters trustee loses to two newcomers

As the results came in at Brightwaters village hall on election night, supporters of the losing longtime trustee Robert W. Fischer wore worried faces, while a vocal critic sang "God Bless America," attendees said.

The divergent reactions to the result of the June 18 election -- steelworker Joe McDermott (347 votes) and attorney John Lawlor (361 votes) are set to be sworn in as trustees July 1 -- speak to a divided electorate in the small village of 3,000, where civic participation is high and public debate can sometimes resemble a bruising contact sport.

Longtime Mayor Joseph A. McNulty, who enjoys both wide support for ensuring the quality of life and sharp criticism for a perceived lack of transparency, said he welcomed the new trustees, calling them "two fine gentlemen," but he bemoaned the loss of Fischer, his close ally.

"I feel bad for Bob," McNulty said. "He gave a lot of time and effort. He's a talented man. He gave it very freely to the village. I'm going to miss him."

McDermott, a member of the Unification party who has spoken out at board meetings, and Lawlor, a member of the Citizen's Party who has been less civically engaged, join the five-member body at a tumultuous time.

The board has frequently sparred with residents -- and sometimes each other -- over allegations of an illegal ambulance contract, the work performed by a village consultant and the minutiae of what's included in meeting minutes.

McDermott, who campaigned on a promise to institute term limits, said residents demanded change. "It's gonna be an uphill battle for me, but I'm there to work as a team, be a team player," McDermott said. "When they try to rattle me, I'll just act like a gentleman, because I know they'll try to get me off my game. Do what my mother says, 'Kill them with kindness.' "

Lawlor did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Some residents and Trustee John J. Riordan say they hope the new board members usher in a fresh era for village government.

Riordan, who is also a member of the Citizen's Party, but recently publicly squabbled with the mayor and Fischer over the budget and other issues, supported McDermott and Lawlor.

"There's the desire to encourage new blood on the board; I think the community's asking for it. I would like to see term limits introduced and new leadership and more transparency -- more information for the community about how the village is run."

John Valdini, a former trustee who frequently spars with the mayor and other board members, said, "I think the residents of Brightwaters have spoken loud and clear that they want things to change, and it's up to the mayor to follow the wishes of the people. We just want him to open up the doors to the people and let them know what's happening."

But McNulty said he doesn't foresee much change.

Fischer, a Citizen's Party member and lifelong Brightwaters resident, said there was "no hidden meaning" in his defeat. "This year, they don't want me to serve anymore. I'm fine with that," he said.

Fischer, who received 273 votes in his bid for a fourth two-year term, said he planned to occasionally attend village meetings.

"It's still the most entertaining thing that happens on Monday night," he said.

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