Pictured Above: the Greenport Village Board at their January meeting.

The Greenport Village Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday evening to reinstate the candidacy of seven candidates for Village Board who had been sent letters Wednesday saying they had been disqualified from running because they did not file letters accepting their candidacy.

An angry crowd, including the initially disqualified candidates, filled the Third Street Firehouse for the board’s regular monthly meeting, demanding that the candidates be reinstated and that Village Clerk Sylvia Pirillo either be fired or removed from her role overseeing the village elections.

Nine candidates for Village Mayor and two Village Trustee seats filed nominating petitions by the Feb. 14 deadline, after which Ms. Pirillo sent the candidates letters stating that “there has been filed in this office an Independent Nominating Petition nominating you as a candidate… and that your name and party shall appear on the ballot as such. Kindly note that the last day to file a certificate of declination is February 17, 2023.”

Seven of those candidates, except for Mayor George Hubbard and Trustee Jack Martilotta, the only incumbents in the race, received letters from Village Attorney Joseph Prokop on Wednesday, Feb. 22 stating that they did not “comply with the requirement of Election Law Section 6-144 which requires you to file a proper certificate of acceptance with the Village Clerk by February 17, 2023.”

Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Martilotta both filed letters of acceptance by the deadline.

The candidates who weren’t informed of the need to file letters of acceptance include Greenport Business Improvement District President and Greenport Harbor Brewing Company co-founder Richard Vandenburgh and Kevin Stuessi, a developer of restaurants and hotels and founder of Peconic Holdings, who are both running for mayor, and Patrick Brennan, Alison Tuthill, Lily Dougherty-Johnson, Monique Gohorel and William Swiskey, who are running for trustee.

“This letter is what we are accepting as our right to be on the village ballot,” said Mr. Stuessi, holding up the original letter from Ms. Pirillo, which made no mention of the need to file a certificate of acceptance. “We have been given legal advice that this letter is what governs.”

Village Attorney Joe Prokop read a statement before hearing public comment that the actions taken by the village were “based on provisions in New York State Law,” and were taken after the village consulted outside election counsel.

“Who has the decision-making power to restore this ballot and thereby the trust of this village?” asked village resident Lisa Gillooly. “This breaks my heart. I am for free and fair elections. It’s part of our right as citizen of this nation, not just this village. This is very distressing.”

“It’s unconscionable that the Village Clerk did not help applicants for this election throughout the process,” said former Village Mayor David Nyce.

Ms. Pirillo did not respond to a request for comment.

“This hits directly in your lap, sir,” added Mr. Nyce, addressing Mayor Hubbard. “Yes, the clerk runs the election but the mayor at all times is in charge of the personnel in the village. If you wanted a free and fair election, you would have made sure every applicant had all the information they needed.”

“Many of you are literally my neighbors,” said Trustee Candidate Monique Gohorel. “” I can see your houses from my window. Many of you I’ve helped at the library or talked to at the farmers market. I don’t understand. At what point did we loose being good neighbors?… I feel like a student who’s been given half the material for a course and told to take the test.”

“What happened yesterday was an embarrassing step backward for the village,” said Trustee Candidate Alison Tuthill. “We’re in need of new leadership, leaders who have the courage to establish a culture of transparency and open dialogue with the community.”

After more than an hour of public comment, resident Tony Spiridakis asked the board to take action that night to reinstate the candidates.

Village Board members, who all said they were upset by what had happened, agreed to adopt a resolution reinstating the candidates, and to set a new deadline of Monday, Feb. 27 to receive the letters of acceptance.

“I will vote for anything to get these candidates restored,” said Trustee Julia Robins before casting her yes vote.

“I’m extremely angry. I have heard the complaints,” said Trustee Mary Bess Phillips, who said she had helped candidates who had asked for her advice on filing their petitions.

“I feel horrible. I feel sick that you’re not on it,” said Trustee Martilotta to the people whose names weren’t on the ballot. “I want to fix it…. We’re all going to live four blocks from each other tomorrow. This is America. This is what it should be.”

“I did nothing underhanded, and I did not try to keep anyone off the ballot,” said Mr. Hubbard, the mayor, who added that Ms. Pirillo was not at the meeting because she was attending to her father. “I don’t like the way this is going.”

Trustee Peter Clarke, whose seat is open because he is not seeking re-election, read a statement at the beginning of the meeting that he “was disappointed to see many qualified and distinguished candidates disqualified,” and pledged his support to righting the situation.

“I’m pleased the mayor, with the pressure of the community and several of the trustees, voted to reinstate us on the ballot,” said Kevin Stuessi, one of the candidates for mayor, after the meeting. “Every potential candidate, and voter, deserves to have clear information on the election process and I intend to fight for this to be on the village website 365 days a year.”

The March 21 election will be held from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Greenport Firehouse at 236 Third Street.

Community members are planning debates in late February and early March. Three will be held at the Greenport School Auditorium, 720 Front Street. Debates for Mayor will be held on Tuesdays, Feb. 28 and March 14, and a debate for Village Trustees will be held on Wednesday, March 8, all beginning promptly at 6:30 p.m.  

An additional Trustee debate will be held Saturday, March 4 at 1 p.m. at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church at 768 Main Street in Greenport.

Rena Wilhelm will moderate the mayoral debates and Heather Wolf will moderate the Trustee debates.

“I hope the debates — and a robust election process — move forward,” said Ms. Wolf on Thursday afternoon.

The Beacon will livestream the Feb. 28 and March 8 debates. Here’s the YouTube link for the Feb. 28 debate.

Voters who are registered with the Suffolk County Board of Elections using an address already inside the Incorporated Village of Greenport are automatically registered to vote in Greenport. Anyone registered to vote at a location outside the village is not eligible to vote in village elections.

The village will be holding two voter registration days on Thursday,  March 9 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday, March 11 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Village Hall, 236 Third Street in Greenport Village. More details are available at villageofgreenport.org.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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