Now it can be told...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Now it can be told... Chester Morris' appointment to the Vil­lage Board reckoned the course of Westhamp­ton Beach, possibly for decades to come.

Chester, a family friend my entire life... his mother Winnie worked for my paternal grand­mother and my Mom annually en­gaged his sister Julia to make her special Apple Brown Betty for all my single digit birthdays from age four.

Cut to 1999 when the Strebel administration engineered a move whereby Trustee Ray Dean resigned his Village Board seat to trans­fer as a Sergeant from Southampton Town Police to the Westhampton Beach department... and the on-going ram­ifications of that have been chron­icled here on a regular basis.

To fill the vacancy on the Village Board, Mayor Robert Strebel named the 78-year-old former Board of Education member, and the initial understanding was that it would be for the remainder of Ray Dean's term, approximately one-year, and then Chester would return to his retirement.

The gentleman from Hazelwood Avenue quickly made his mark by indignantly putting a fre­quent Board critic in his place in a manner that Mayor Strebel and the other Trustees, Harold Williams, Ridgie Barnett and Mark Raynor, had never been able to.

Whatever might have been intended, the following June, and two years after that, Chester Morris successfully stood with Bob Strebel and Harry Williams for re-election.

In 2004, Tim Laube decided that he would enter the political arena, and determined that the Westhampton Beach Village Board would be a good starting point.

He approached Mayor Strebel about running as part of the Ketchaboneck Party slate, but was told "Chester's still our guy."

Undaunted, Laube launched an energetic inde­pendent campaign for Trustee, and buoyed by a festering resentment by residents over how they perceived that the new Six Corners muni­cipal complex had been brought about, was decisively successful at the polls that year.

A key element of that election was former Police Officer Jim Kametler, who had initially entertained the notion of running with Laube, riding the challenger's coattails into office.

(Kametler had approached the late Don Noonan for help with his campaign, but Don declined, offering only the advice to "keep your mouth shut and stand close to the other guy [Laube]." It worked.)

The tea leaves for all to read in 2004 was that Hizzoner Robert W. Morgan Jr., 15th and al­most final Mayor of Westhampton Beach, once again filed a petition to return to the office in which he served from 1984-86 until Arma E. "Ham" Andon spiked his re-election efforts by a 4½-1 margin.

Morgan had rarely missed a mayoral campaign, routinely gathering 140-150 votes in the process.

In 2004 Bob Morgan lost to Bob Strebel, by just 30 votes, 270-240, and others tasted the blood in the water.

Add to that the lingering terminal illness of Mayor Strebel's wife Sandy, and he knew that 2004-2006 was to be his final term in office.

In 2005 former Police Chief Conrad Teller, as part of a field of seven, edged out Deputy Mayor Mark Raynor for a Trustee seat, and when he made a successful run in 2006 to suc­ceed the retiring Strebel as Mayor, in a deci­sion which must haunt him to this day, named Joan Levan to fill out his own unexpired term as Trustee.

And that, in large part, is how the Village came to find itself in its current situation.

One can only muse on what that situation would be today had Bob Strebel been more receptive to Tim Laube's overture, and thanked Chester Morris for his five years of service.

But those who know Bob Strebel know how hard it is to move the man off a position once he has taken it.

For want of a nail....


Chester passed away last Saturday at age 88.

Services are at Follett & Werner this afternoon from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. and this evening from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

A church service will be held 11:00 a.m. tomorrow at Saint Mark's, with interment to follow at Westhampton Cemetery.


1. Betty Boo said...

God bless Chet. I was fortunate to have known him.

2. Tugboat Bertha said...

I just read about Chester's passing in the Chronicle tonight. Another of my dearest friends gone. I miss his wife Micki very much. She and Chester will be remembered in my heart forever. My deepest condolences to his son Chet.

3. Hunt Marckwald said...

I was fortunate to have lived across the street from Chet and his brother for roughly 15 years. A kinder, more gentle man one would be hard pressed to find.

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