Local elections around here have always occupied a homegrown season. Like apples, pumpkins, bay scallops and Halloween costumes, the crop of campaign lawn signs here has historically had a personal flavor, with long-time residents mixing and matching the parties of the candidate signs on their lawns in favor of people who they already know and trust.
We even saw one campaign sign recently that came from party headquarters with two candidate names on it, but one name was neatly crossed off with duct tape, while the whole sign was placed proudly at the roadside in front of someone’s home.
After the historically foul 2020 national campaign season we all lived through last year, we were looking forward this season to another chance to hear from local candidates about critical issues affecting our neighborhoods, from housing for local workers to the influx of developers from out of town to protecting our fisheries and farms, increasing our resilience against climate change and weening our energy consumption from fossil fuels.
It was a naive idea, but we couldn’t get up and do what we do every day without the belief that there are people here who are committed to civil discourse.
We don’t endorse candidates on these pages — our staff is not large enough to have a separate editorial board to make endorsement decisions that are one step removed from the on-the-street reporting that is the backbone of our work. This is crucial to our independence as a news-gathering organization.
We’ve always found hope, in prior years, in the collegial nature of local elections here. When you live in a small town, you have to find common ground with neighbors with whom you disagree.
For decades, the most successful politicians here were those, of all parties, who engaged in the politics of inclusion, welcoming diverging opinions and working to build consensus, knowing they’d have to make unpopular decisions and live with them every time they popped into the supermarket to buy milk.
Unfortunately, the national malaise that reached a peak in 2020 is very much alive in this season’s local elections, from the refusal of East Hampton’s Republican candidates to participate in virtual debates to the bitter disdain for her opponent on display on the dais by the Riverhead Town Supervisor, to a series of vulgar and shameful campaign mailers that hit homes in Southold in the final week of October attempting to paint the Democrats there as drunken communist slobs who want to defund the police.
We won’t know until after this paper goes to press whether these campaign tricks will prove successful, but we do know that they have debased the public discourse in our community at just the time that we have never more needed some real, honest conversation.
That’s a shame for all of us, regardless of our political beliefs.
Home should be a place where you can feel safe talking to your neighbors. Like all the other garbage that has rolled east since the pandemic, there’s no place for this rot in our local elections. We hope everyone involved takes some time, after this election, to decide to stand for something worth standing for, and to work together with their neighbors to help continue to make this a great place to live.