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Shelter Island has quiet election season

It's not that people on Shelter Island have no interest in local politics, but when it comes to town elections this year, most of the races have just one candidate, running unopposed.

Three candidates are running for two town board seats, but only one for supervisor, one for town clerk, one for highway superintendent and one for assessor. Two are Republicans, two are Democrats. None has a major party cross-endorsement.

In past years, there have been heated contests for town supervisor. But this year is exceptionally quiet. Local residents are hard-pressed to say just why so many races are uncontested.

"If you're satisfied with the way things are running, don't change it," speculated Stuart Nicoll, 57, who has lived on Shelter Island most of his life. "Until there's a real problem, you won't find anyone who will step up and run."

With fewer than 2,300 registered voters, Shelter Island is -- in many ways -- more like a village than a town when it comes to politics.

Most Shelter Islanders know candidates as neighbors or friends, or see them every week at the post office -- there is no local mail delivery -- or in the parking lot at the supermarket or on a ferry, the only way to reach the rest of Long Island.

So, the endless tension of partisan politics often doesn't apply on Shelter Island, where people from opposing parties often bump into one another and even have meals together.

For more than half a century, in fact, the Episcopal Church Women, of St. Mary's Church, have had an election-eve fundraising ham dinner that attracts Republicans and Democrats and people with no party affiliation.

"It's always on election eve," said Jean Brichter, a longtime church member whose 60-year-old son was baptized there. "We have two sittings, at 5 and 7 p.m. We lowered the price a little this year," she added. Adults pay $22, children 13 and younger, $10, with those younger than 5 free. "They eat off their mother's plate," Brichter said.

She couldn't say when the dinner began, but said it isn't the only church program that draws a bipartisan election crowd. "The Presbyterians make Manhattan clam chowder. . . . We go to their lunch on Election Day," she said.

Shelter Island Supervisor Jim Dougherty, 76, a Democrat, has been going to the ham dinner for years and says there is only one sign of a political divide. "The Republicans sit on one side, the Democrats sit on the other," he said.

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