And no, not the manicured lawns, tennis courts or golf courses.
“As sure as you’re going to find overpriced lobster salad on the menus, you’re going to have politicians coming to the Hamptons to raise money,” said Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committeeman and public relations executive who has an office in Southampton.
For many decades, the Hamptons — a series of villages and hamlets stretching 40 miles along far eastern Long Island’s south shore — have been a popular destination for the haves and have-mores. And that inevitably brings the politicians, seeking to reach into the pockets of everyone from the hedge fund traders on Wall Street, to rappers and rock ‘n’ rollers, film directors, fashionistas, comedians, artists and authors.
When he was in the White House, Bill Clinton occasionally popped into the Hamptons for a visit, staying with Steven Spielberg at the film director’s East Hampton home. Republican Bruce Blakeman, a former Nassau County legislator who has run for state comptroller and the U.S. Senate, said he has helped organize fundraisers in the past for former New York Gov. George Pataki and U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, among others.
“Because there is such a concentration of wealth in such a small area, fundraising becomes very easy, but also somewhat competitive,” Blakeman said.
Since New York is often a lock for Democratic candidates running nationally, money is the only reason a politician on the national stage would show his or her face on eastern Long Island, said Lawrence Levy, a political commentator and dean of Hofstra University’s National Center on Suburban Studies.
“That’s the fate of those living in a very blue or very red state,” he said. “There’s no reason to be here. If not for the wealthy in New York City that summer in the Hamptons, New Yorkers would never see a candidate here.”
Blakeman, who owns a home in Water Mill, points out that Hamptons fundraisers usually also have a social component that’s not seen when a politician jets into Manhattan to collect donor checks. Admission to these events can run from a couple of hundred dollars to tens of thousands, he said.
“There’s an opportunity for people to show off their homes, their artwork and throw a nice party,” he said. “Typically an out-of-state politician will have to stay somewhere, and there’s big competition as to who that politician will spend the night with.”
Blakeman was quick to emphasize he meant overnight accommodations, nothing more scandalous.
The Republican activist was reluctant to drop names of those who may be trekking eastward from Manhattan this summer, but said he and colleagues “would like to get Romney out there.”
Both Zimmerman and Blakeman agree that Democrats are usually more popular with the entertainment crowd that gathers in the Hamptons, but they noted that some Wall Street Republican types also play host to fancy gatherings in the seaside resort.
“Because of the big Hollywood contingency in the Hamptons, a lot of Republicans are reluctant to be associated with the Hamptons fundraisers,” Blakeman said. “President George W. Bush was invited many times; it wasn’t something he wanted to do.”
Zimmerman teased his political foes that Democrats have more fun. “Who would you rather come out and see, Bon Jovi or Ted Nugent?” Zimmerman asked.