Outgoing Supervisor Bill Wilkinson isn't running in the upcoming election, but he was taken aback by what he described as manipulative, political attacks aimed at him and his administration.
Wilkinson, a Republican who has served for four years, fired off at Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and supervisor candidate Larry Cantwell at a press conference where Cantwell announced his bid for town supervisor on Friday. He hopes to get the Democratic and Independence nominations.
Thiele, a member of the Independence party, did not mention Wilkinson by name in his speech, though he said East Hampton Town needed a new leader.
"East Hampton Town used to have a leadership position on the East End of Long Island. Whether it was land preservation or zoning or the management of the government, East Hampton was first and other towns would look to see what it was doing. That's not the case anymore. That's not the case at all," he said. The reason, he believes, is a fundamental quality he said is missing too often in government: "Not to tell them how smart you are, but to listen."
"We need to bring East Hampton back to a leadership position," he said, mentioning past supervisors whom he said demonstrated that type of leadership; Judith Hope, Cathy Lester, and Tony Bullock.
Notably missing from the list was not only Wilkinson, who was elected after the town's financial mishandling during the Bill McGintee administration came to light, but also Jay Schneiderman, a former Republican supervisor, now a member of the Independence party and a county legislator, who turned down the Republican nomination for town supervisor just last month.
"There was no reason for this attack," Wilkinson said. "You attack the town supervisor who has been an ally up to this point?," he said. "Larry Cantwell has support. Bill Wilkinson is not a threat. But this is what politicians do — the political chameleons come out."
Wilkinson called it a "manipulative and orchestrated" move. "Are they still worried about Bill Wilkinson being a candidate?"
Thiele, however, said his speech on Friday was more about Cantwell than it was about Wilkinson. "It certainly wasn't my intent. I've endorsed him twice. He needed three or four different pieces of legislation to restore the town's finances — we gave him everything he asked for. I've said it before, I think he did a remarkable job repairing the town's finances," Thiele said on Monday.
"I was there to support Larry Cantwell. I really think he's the person to be supervisor," he said. "Obviously, there were references to the fact that this particular town board hasn't gotten high grades for playing well together. "But elections are about the future, they're not about the past. I think Larry is someone who is a consensus builder, who can bring people together."
Wilkinson said he also took exception with comments he felt were targeted at either him or Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, though he attributed them to inexperience.
At his announcement, Cantwell said: "The public is rightfully disgusted with the lack of civility from some town board members. This must change. We must stop trying to find ways to disagree and start finding ways to agree."
Cantwell declined to comment on Monday.
"I do believe that the comments were directed at me and Bill, and I believe it's part of a campaign that's been going on for three years now — painting Bill and I as people who are destructive to the town," Quigley said. "I believe it's unwarranted."
She said she feels doing so is counter productive. "Why can't it be about issues that are facing the town? But it always turns into personal attacks and I find it discouraging."