By Claire Walla
For the duration of the night of Tuesday, November 8, Independence Party candidate Brad Bender and Republican candidate Christine Preston Scalera were neck-and-neck in the race for Southampton Town Council. And though by the end of the evening Scalera edged Bender out of the number-two spot behind incumbent Bridget Fleming, the race has not officially been called.
Incumbent Bridget Fleming (D.) maintained a steady lead as voting results continued to pour in from districts throughout the town, and she ultimately ended the evening with a predicted 27 percent of all votes cast (excluding absentee ballots). Republican candidate Bill Hughes, on the other hand, remained at the tail end of the competition, trailing Fleming by three percentage points and garnering approximately 24 percent of the votes.
While the gap between Fleming at the top and Hughes at the bottom was arguably close — representing a difference of only 655 votes — the competition between Preston Scalera and Bender was even more intense. The two candidates swapped places in the race on more than one occasion, at one point divided by a scant three votes, or .02 percent.
Though Bender showed an early lead — edging out Preston Scalera by almost three percentage points — Scalera was soon ahead by a nose. But by 10:53 p.m., with 41 of the town’s 42 voting districts accounted for, it looked to be Bender ahead by 68 votes. Finally, at 11 p.m., the competition flipped for he last time.
The unofficial results as of Tuesday night showed Fleming in the lead with 26.97 percent, Preston Scalera in second with 24.72 percent, Bender in third with 24.32 percent, and Hughes rounding off the competition with 23.94 percent of the overall vote.
“This is not over,” said Southampton Democratic Committee Chair Gordon Herr at the Democratic committee gathering, held in the large auditorium of 230 Elm in Southampton Village. “We still have 791 absentee ballots. I’m still convinced Bradley’s going to win.”
In an email response Wednesday night, Preston Scalera wrote that she is “cautiously optimistic” that the results reported Tuesday night will remain. ”I look forward to the opportunity to be able to serve the residents of this town,” she added. Hughes did not respond to a request for comment on the election results.
But in an interview on Wednesday, Bender said a margin of 85 votes is still too small to make a final call on the race. With 271 absentee ballots yet to be counted, he added that it’s anyone’s game.
“I wouldn’t want to concede or congratulate a victory with 85 votes,” Bender stated. Now it’s just a waiting game, which Bender said he’ll take one day at a time.
“For a virtual unknown to poll within 85 votes on my first time shows how well a race I ran and what the people actually think of me,” he said. “However the people decide is how the people decide.”
Standing on the stage against a patriotic backdrop lined with her running mates, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst (a member of the Independence Party who also was endorsed by the Democrats) offered similar sentiments.
“What you’re looking at here is the new majority of the town board,” she declared to much applause from the audience composed of Democrats. The supervisor continued by saying to her constituents that while watching the election results as they were projected against the wall of the building, “a moment of true emotion came over me.”
“[I thought about] what the last two years have been,” she added, referencing the fact that she has been the supervisor in the political minority on the town board. “And I’m confident that they’re over.”
“We’re only a few votes away,” Bender added from the stage.
Councilwoman Bridget Fleming also said she felt assured Bender would pull ahead and become the newest member of the town board. But she also made sure to congratulate the election of her fellow Democrat Steve Bellone who was voted the new Suffolk County Executive, replacing Steve Levy.
“I’m looking forward to working with him and not being ignored by the county executive’s office anymore,” she declared to the sound of much applause.
By the end of the night, incumbent Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst — the only supervisor candidate officially on the ballot — gained 63.43 percent of the total votes for supervisor, while 36.56 percent of votes were recorded for write-in candidates. Presumably, the vast majority of those write-in ballots went to former Southampton Supervisor Linda Kabot who waged a strong write-in campaign against the current supervisor.
In an email response Wednesday morning, Kabot wrote, “I am proud of all the grass-roots campaign efforts and the percentage points I garnered … without even having my name listed on the official ballot line-up.”
She added, “For me, this race was all about integrity and demonstrating a tireless and true commitment to public service.”
Even though she fetched an impressive 3,602 votes compared to the supervisor’s 6,349, that count was still not enough to tip the scale and oust Throne-Holst from office.
Also celebrating victories Tuesday night were Southampton Town Trustees Fred Havemeyer, Eric Shultz and Bill Pell — all Democrats — who joined Throne-Holst, Fleming and Bender on stage when the unofficial results were revealed. Across town, at the Republican celebration in Hampton Bays, trustees Ed Warner, Jr. and John Semlear cheered on victories of their own.
The three candidates challenging the town’s trustees in this year’s election race — Scott Horowitz, Janet Beck and Edmund Pavlak — were left out of the running when the final votes were tallied.
Finally, a Southampton Town proposition pertaining to PDD (Proposed Development District) legislation passed with 79 percent of voters voting “yes.” The proposition will make it so that a super majority of town board members will be required to approve all non-agrarian PDD applications in the future.