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Editorial: After Election Day, ‘what do we do now?’

At the end of the movie “The Candidate,” a newly elected senator from California, played by Robert Redford, is stunned that he has beaten a powerful incumbent. He can barely talk.

His father, the former California governor played by Melvyn Douglas, sits next to Redford in a crowded hotel room filled with enthusiastic supporters who also can’t believe their candidate won.

Breaking into a laugh, Douglas says, “Son, you’re a politician now.”

The look on Redford’s face reveals that he thinks he’s made a terrible mistake running for office.

As he is swept along by a mob of supporters and press, he grabs his campaign manager, played by Peter Boyle, and demands to speak with him privately. At first Boyle tries to ignore him. 

Redford says, “Now! Now!”

They push through the throng and eventually find an empty room. Boyle says, “You’ve got 60 seconds before people find out we’re here. What’s on your mind, Senator?” 

Redford, looking pained, stares up at the man who has just helped him pull off an enormous upset. 

Then he asks the question that defines the entire film: “So what do we do now?”

We were thinking of this line Tuesday night as results came in to Democratic and Republican campaign headquarters in Riverhead and Southold. It many ways, this year’s elections in both towns are enormously consequential, with major issues to be confronted.

The winners must make decisions that could change the landscapes of both Southold and Riverhead. They will have to answer the question: “So what do we do now?”

In Southold, perhaps the biggest decisions on the horizon involve how to handle the new money in town and the projects being proposed as a result, which could, if completed, alter what the town looks like. The question before those who will be sworn in next year comes down to this: What is our vision of Southold’s future?

In Riverhead, the Town Board must decide what to do about the Triple Five contract at EPCAL. When the council and supervisor candidates came in to speak with us last month, they all said it was a “bad contract.” 

Yet it continues. An enormous amount of open space is at stake — perhaps more than any Long Island town (except Shelter Island) has ever had the privilege of owning. Next year, as the new board decides its fate, it should undertake some sort of investigation, rewind the clock and determine how that contract came about and how such generous terms were included. Who is responsible for what everyone who ran for office this fall says was a bad contract?

The purchase price of $40 million — including 1,000 acres of open space — seems low considering post-pandemic real estate prices on the East End. There are oceanfront properties on the South Fork that have sold for tens of millions of dollars. One Sagaponack house was recently listed for $32 million. One house.

Riverhead’s board must also help residents near EPCAL, who have lived for too long with the reality of contaminated drinking water. The town has clearly not addressed this issue as a health emergency, instead sparring with Suffolk County over who would bring in new water lines. 

That debate has been a waste of precious time. That the residents of any American community do not have safe, clean drinking water is a disgrace.

So, to the newly elected and reelected in both towns: What are you going to do now?