Local Politics: Frank MacKay Quickly Losing Favor

The buzz in both the Town of Southampton and the Town of East Hampton concerning the local political scene focuses upon N.Y. State/Suffolk County Independence Party Chairman Frank MacKay. Although he may view himself as a kingmaker, his recent behavior has many wondering out loud, “What is going on with MacKay?”

First, the facts. The East End has more elected Independence Party officials (Indys) than any other place in the state. County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele have been the face of the Independence party out here the last few years. They are popular winners. I was told by some of them over the years that their primary attraction to the Independence Party was that it enabled candidates to put people above politics and let voters of all parties support candidates and officials who do a good job, regardless of party affiliation.

For the next election in Southampton, business as usual takes a weird turn. The Independence Party/Frank MacKay, who supported Democratic winner Bridget Fleming in the last Southampton Special Town Board Election that was held in March 2010, has withdrawn their support for her bid in the November 2011 election. Many in Southampton believe she has done a great job and should be re-elected. Almost everybody was under the impression that the Independence Party would endorse her again. She has been the number one ally of Supervisor Throne-Holst. She has been everything she said she would be, focusing on bringing jobs to Southampton Town but not at the expense of the environment. Yet Fleming was dropped as an Independence Party candidate, without even having the chance to run in an Independence primary for the Indy nomination for Town Board. [expand]

Some have wondered if it was all part of a countywide deal for endorsements by MacKay that had nothing to do with the East End. So far the details have yet to be revealed. It’s just speculation. But what we have currently is the Independence Party/Frank MacKay supporting both Democrat Brad Bender and Republican Christine Preston Scalera for Southampton Town Council. Now Supervisor Throne-Holst is dealing with a rumor that she sold out Bridget Fleming so that the Republicans would not oppose her for the Supervisor slot. Although completely untrue, it seems plausible to many people. Worse yet, it puts Throne-Holst on her own Independence Party ticket (she also has the Democratic Party endorsement) with a Democrat, ally and good friend—who just happens to be Fleming’s opponent.

I have seen these two women, Fleming and Throne-Holst, behind the scenes of political life. They are friends who also fight the good fight, often losing together to the Republican majority on the Southampton Town Board 3-2 (i.e. on all the budget amendments). There is no doubt that this situation will make for some bizarre local political theatre in Southampton this fall.

In East Hampton Town it gets even more bizarre, almost bordering on outrageous. East Hampton Independence Party Chairman Elaine Jones endorsed Zachary Cohen, the Democratic nominee for the Independence Party Supervisor slot on the November ballot. Citing a New York State law called the Wilson Pakula Act of 1947, MacKay has decided that it’s his choice who runs on the Indy ballot, not Elaine Jones’s. He has chosen incumbent East Hampton Supervisor William Wilkinson as the Independence Party nominee, as well as the Republican nominee for Supervisor. It should be noted that in the 2009 election, Wilkinson did have the Independence Party nomination. There will be more to this saga because by all reports Jones is still very much upset about this whole situation.

In my opinion…the good government thing to do in both towns would have been to let the candidates slug it out in a primary and let the registered Independence Party voters decide.

Instead it looks like backroom deal politics. Many in the past have said that McKay has been a good leader, but now these same people say he blew it on this one. With all the turmoil in local partisan politics in recent years, the apparent attraction of the Independence Party was that it was different from the Democrats and Republicans. If MacKay were interested in fairness, a primary would have given the Independence Party a great opportunity to raise its profile and in effect show that they take the high road. Instead MacKay now looks like just another party dealmaker and that will not curry favor on the East End for long if it continues. [/expand]

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