Trouble: Southampton Mayor’s Feud Leads to Eviction Struggle

Zach Epley and Mayor Jesse Warren
Zach Epley and Mayor Jesse Warren
PMC/Courtesy Jesse Warren

You think the presidential election coming up shortly will be a big deal? What just happened in our local village elections will make the coming presidential election look like FDR’s landslide over Alf Landon in 1936—a walk in the park.

In Southampton Village, a loser in the election is the son of the owner of the house where the current Mayor lives, and that landlord filed papers to force him out when his lease is up in November. It’s against the law in Southampton to be mayor if you don’t live there. Will Mayor Jesse Warren, without a home, be forced to resign, thus overturning the election results?

As for the loser, he is freely telling people that this is a deliberate act. He told The Southampton Press that he and his father (who used to be mayor) cannot abide Jesse Warren living in the house after Warren said such bad things about their family during the run-up to the election.

Before we get to Southampton, however, let’s look at what happened on Election Day in East Hampton Village the week before. Three people were running for mayor there. One of them was a former police chief, Jerry Larsen. At a certain point during election day, Larsen learned that one of his two opponents had been, as he put it, “attempting to act as a poll watcher and remaining in the polling place all day,” according to The East Hampton Star. This opponent said he was not acting an official poll watcher, but was only looking on as people voted. Yet he was also contesting people at the site who he thought might be voting illegally. One of the voters challenged was Bernie Kiembock, the owner of Village Hardware on Newtown Lane. Bernie actually lives in a nice house in Napeague, well outside the village. But as he owned the store, he was using that address as his residence and thus could vote in the village election. Isn’t that okay?

Keep in mind that the village has just a few thousand residents in it. Each candidate might get just a few hundred votes. Everybody knows everybody.

As the night of vote counting wore on and this business was continuing, Larsen called his lawyer, who immediately filed paperwork to have all the votes impounded. But then the accused “poll watcher’s” plan collapsed. The count showed he was way behind. So, he gave up and withdrew his objections. Larsen, who then won, withdrew his order to impound all the votes.

The story in Southampton is a bit more complicated. The village government consists of the mayor and four trustees, all four of whom prior to the election were blocking Mayor Warren’s plans. But now there were two trustee seats up for grabs and four people running for them. If Warren’s two colleagues could win those two seats, he’d have a majority. And that’s what happened. Game over. Or was it?

One of the two losers was Zach Epley, son of former Mayor Mark Epley. During the summer, the house in which the mayor was a tenant was being sold to the Epleys. In fact, he went to the media, fearing they were going to force him out. It seemed ridiculous. But apparently it’s not ridiculous. He just got the goodbye paperwork.

This brings to mind a situation from 15 years ago. In another Southampton Village election, a sitting trustee, whose Tuckahoe property was partially, by a few feet, inside the village, was challenged about that as a new election loomed. Soon it was determined that a friendly surveyor had made that property line budge a little bit to make him a part of the village. He withdrew.

So where is Mayor Jesse Warren supposed to live? Rents have skyrocketed this year with people from New York City gobbling things up. The mayor owns a store. He’s not rich. How can he compete for a village rental?

I have a suggestion. Just maybe he could, like Bernie Kiembock in East Hampton, declare himself a citizen by sleeping on a cot in the back of his store. Or here’s another idea.

About 20 years ago, the weekly Manhattan newspaper West Side Spirit sent a reporter out to Jobs Lane to sit on the sidewalk, put out a cup and beg for spare change, and then, when it got dark, go to sleep there on a blanket.

The cops woke him up. Said you have to move along. You can’t sleep on Jobs Lane. So he got up and left and then he wrote a story about it.

But the cops were wrong. There’s no law against that. Poor reporting is what it was.

So the Mayor could do that if he wanted to. And there is nothing more “Southampton” than living on Jobs Lane.

Certainly, we can all agree on that.