Familiar names dot Southold Town Democratic ticket

Kelly Zegers and Grant Parpan
The Suffolk Times

Even in a year with no Democratic incumbents on the ballot, the Southold town committee has assembled a slate of candidates with familiar names.

Of the party’s six nominees for town office, three have run in the past, including a recent candidate for town supervisor and two prior Town Board hopefuls.

“I’m elated,” said town Democratic committee chairman Art Tillman. “I think this is the strongest ticket that we’ve had in the three decades I’ve been involved.”

Perhaps most notable, however, is that the Democrats have opted to leave nearly half their side of the ballot empty, including not nominating a candidate for the town justice seat being vacated by retiring Judge Bill Price.

The Democrats will also not challenge longtime incumbent Town Clerk Betty Neville and Fishers Island Justice Louisa Evans. For trustee, only two candidates are running for three seats and just one Assessor candidate has been nominated in a year two seats are up for grabs.

In total, there will be a Democratic nominee for just six of a potential 11 spots on the ballot. Mr. Tillman said some of the vacancies on the ballot have to due with a lack of people interested in running for the posts.

Of those actually running, several have experience with a town campaign.

Mary Eisenstein, who founded the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association after an unsuccessful bid for Town Board in 2013, will run with 2015 Town Board hopeful Debbie O’Kane. Ms. Eisenstein, 67, of Mattituck was a relative newcomer to the political scene when she lost by just 600 votes in her previous race. She said she’d never run again, but began to change her mind over time.

“Through the work with the civic association, I just recognized how important being civic, being informed, being educated and how precious where we live is,” she said. “I believe with my background and understanding, having that shared vision, that I’ve demonstrated the leadership, that I can bring people together from diverse backgrounds and thoughts and I’d like to take that to the Town Board.”

Ms. O’Kane, 61, of Orient programs director for the North Fork Environmental Council, lost by more than 1,300 votes when she last ran, but she’s continued to play an active role in civic endeavors in the two years since.

“I’m running for Town Board because I’ve been in a position as a community leader for over 20 years, worked for a number of different organizations and I’ve got lots of experience being an educator, an advocate and I just feel that I’m ready to be a decision-maker on the town level,” she said. Ms. O’Kane pointed to affordable housing and transportation and environmental issues among those she’s most committed to addressing.

The other recent candidate throwing his hat back into the ring is Damon Rallis, who after losing a bid for supervisor in 2015, is the Democrats’ only nominee for assessor this time around. Mr. Rallis, 43, of Southold has worked at Town Hall for more than 15 years, currently in the building department.

“I’m excited. This is a wonderful opportunity,” he said. “In fact, I feel like everything has brought me to this place to run for this position.”

Even in the race for town highway superintendent, a repeat name is on the ballot in Eugene Wesnofske, whose son Tobe challenged Vincent Orlando in a fairly close race in 2013. Mr. Wesnofske, 70, is the owner of Wesnofske Farms in Peconic.

“A lot of our taxes went up this year because of the highway department and I hope to keep it under budget if I’m elected, which I hope I am,” he said. “Our roads have been in terrible shape and we do need them fixed … we have this over $6 million [highway ] budget, where is it going?”

Two more newcomers on the ballot are trustee candidates Elizabeth Smith and Derek Bossen.

Ms. Smith, 42, of Greenport who has a Ph.D. in environmental and resource economics, is an environmental economist with the Nature Conservancy.

“My professional background, my skill set expertise is in conservation,” she said. “To have an opportunity to have that background and skill set for the continued protection of natural resources in our town, sometimes timing is right.”

Mr. Bossen, 47, of Southold is a past member of the town’s Conservation Advisory Council with experience as a landscape designer and permit expeditor.

“I’ve worked with the Trustees the whole time I’ve been out here, for 17 years, with the companies I’ve worked for and independently,” he said. “I know the ins and outs of the board.”

Democrats control just three elected offices in Southold Town: the justice seats of Mr. Price and Brian Hughes and Nick Krupski’s spot on the Board of Trustees.

The Southold Town Republican Committee will select its slate next Tuesday, May 30. Ten GOP-backed incumbents are up for re-election: Mr. Orlando, Ms. Neville and Ms. Evans; Jim Dinizo and Bob Ghosio for Town Board; Trustees Mike Domino, John Bredemeyer and Charles Sanders; and Assessors Kevin Webster and Bob Scott.

Mr. Rallis said it’s his expectation that Mr. Scott, 69, will not seek re-election, citing a prior statement Mr. Scott, a 27-year incumbent, made to The Suffolk Times. He could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Mr. Tillman said he believes his party’s ticket will be up to the task come Election Day, Nov. 7.

“[We have] everything from a PhD for Trustee to a farmer who knows roads, where the tax problems are and is a hardworking man who has managed over a hundred people,” Mr. Tillman said. “To have somebody the caliber of Mary Eisenstein and we’ve got the environmentalist covered with Debbie O’Kane … It’s a fabulous ticket.”

Caption: The Southold Town Democratic slate, from left, Mr. Rallis, Ms. Smith, Ms. O’Kane, Ms. Eisenstein, Mr. Wesnofske and Mr. Bossen. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)