Bridget Fleming, a Sag Harbor-based lawyer and Noyac resident, won the vacant council seat on the town board last Tuesday, March 9, in a special election. Fleming will be the second non-Republican voice on the board serving with Republican council members Chris Nuzzi, Jim Malone and Nancy Graboski. Before she is sworn in next Tuesday, The Express sat down with Bridget to learn what kept her in the race and what we should expect from her in the coming months.
Did you expect you’d be a local politician two years ago?
No. I came back to work as a lawyer in October of 2008, when my son started school full time. And then in the spring of 2009 [former councilwoman and current town supervisor] Anna [Throne-Holst] asked me to run. My husband, my son and I talked at length and even though it wasn’t the greatest time, —I had just started my practice — I felt it was a good opportunity for me to contribute in a unique way. Because I was new to the political scene, I thought if there was going to be a special election I would be able to realize the fruits of my work in the first election, [the general election in November]. I would have the name recognition, the connection to the community and the understanding of the issues. And that is exactly what played out.
What was it about the political scene in Southampton Town that intrigued you or persuaded you to join the race?
Well, my attention was first drawn when I saw [former town supervisor] Linda Kabot and [councilwoman] Nancy Graboski showing a certain degree of political courage and independence. I thought that things were happening and people recognized there was room for independent thinking in the political scene of Southampton Town. And then Anna continued that movement away from business as usual and I could see a place for myself in that progression.
What was the town like before this change?
It was mostly business as usual in terms of a small group of people running the town and I am very happy to see that there is room for a more inclusive and open minded approach. It shows a trend that people with different ideas and backgrounds are stepping up to serve and the voters see the value in that. I hope that it continues.
You ran and lost in the general election in November. What kept you in the race for the special election?
There was a need. I was the person in the best position to capitalize on the momentum and name recognition and connections to the community that I had built over the course of the first campaign. It just made sense. [In November], I was going into it with no name recognition. I anticipated that I might be in the position to run in the special race. I had hoped that [former councilwoman] Sally Pope would have won [in November]. I lost by two percentage points but I did very well for someone who had no name recognition. To many observers that was actually a win.
Do you think the endorsement from the Independence Party was crucial to your win last Tuesday?
It was crucial in terms of momentum. We started the campaign with a great deal of momentum and that momentum continued. The Independence Party support gave us a huge boost in that early part of the campaign. It also showed that the Independence Party had confidence in what I brought to the table. It meant a lot to me personally and meant a lot to the supporters and potential supporters. And then on election day, granted this was a special election and people already knew who they would vote for, but it did give people who didn’t want to vote on the Democratic line the opportunity to place a vote.
Throughout the campaign you emphasized stimulating the local economy and creating jobs in the town. How do you hope to achieve these goals?
One of the first things I want to do is to continue to build my relationships with public officials at different levels of government in order to bring resources and initiatives to Southampton Town. It is going to take the county, state and federal government and some heavy lifting. I have spoken to Congressman Tim Bishop about the idea of getting federally backed loans to small businesses. It is definitely a problem in the community for small businesses to get any kind of credit they need through the retail banks. And it is difficult for the retail banks to take on that risk. Something has to loosen that situation. A lot of this cannot be accomplished at the level of town resolutions. We need advocacy and the towns needs to push for initiatives at other levels of government.
Even though you were elected, there are still three Republican council members to two non-Republican voices on the board. Considering this political distribution in the town, do you think you will be able to affect real change?
Just on the level of the local economy and job creation, I don’t think there will be much opposition. I think on a local level those national labels are not necessarily as meaningful. We are talking about step by step legislation that is going to help the town. So I am confident that we are reasonable people and that we can come to consensus when we need to.
But it appears as if Nuzzi and Malone often are voting partners, or vote in concert with one another.
I don’t know if that is going to continue. Now that the fifth seat is filled, the power dynamics are drastically changed. The two person voting partnership is no longer going to have the kind of impact that it had when there were four members or four votes.
Do you think you will be able to move legislation forward to hire a sustainability coordinator and grant superintendent of highway’s Alex Gregor’s request for an extra $2 million to repave the town roads?
I look forward to voting yes on both of those resolutions. I have a great deal of confidence in the comptroller and if the comptroller supports the highway superintendent’s request and says that is the most efficient way to use the town dollars I would support his request.
Do you feel like this will be your only term in local politics or do you hope to stay in the political arena?
I am open to what the future holds. Right now I want to get to work and I have a lot of homework to do at this point, so my plan is to get to work and see where it leads.
How are you going to balance your law practice with the your obligations to the town?
Despite how the council position is structured, it is obviously far more than a half time job. During the campaign I had already begun to cut back on my practice . The bulk of my time is going to be spent in town hall. I can’t compromise on the quality of my work, so I am just going to reduce the number of clients I serve. And I have already done that to a large extent.