James Neville achieved a rarity in American politics on Tuesday night. He ran unopposed for a third term as mayor in a North Hempstead village, and lost.

He is the first to admit that he let his guard down.

“I got lazy,” he said.

Running with the Unity Party in the tiny North Hempstead village of Baxter Estates, Neville shrugged off campaigning. A two-term village mayor, Neville, 51, came to office in March 2001, edging out challenger and two-term trustee John Maher by two votes.

By the time the short flurry of votes were tallied Tuesday night, Maher, a small-business investor with the Independence Party, had floored his unsuspecting opponent, knocking him from his mayoral seat, 29 write-in votes to Neville’s 14.

“This was a well-orchestrated sneak attack,” said Neville, a criminal defense attorney who was born and raised on the Port Washington peninsula.

Why didn’t he marshal his troops better? Neville said his stunned supporters wanted to know after the balloting.

“As a politician, I scored poorly on this one,” Neville said he responds, in retrospect.

He said he has one thing to say to the new mayor. “I wish him well.”

Evidently, Neville also scored poorly on keeping his word. Right before he took office, he told Newsday that one of his priorities is “to reach out to areas of the village that haven’t participated as much in village affairs.”

Maher, who was declared the winner and will be sworn in as mayor, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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