- Anticipation was piqued as the candidates for Southampton Town Supervisor moved through the overflowing crowd gathered at the Roger's Memorial Library Monday night. The hotly contested election pits Incumbent Patrick "Skip" Heaney, who lost endorsement of the Republican
Party in the September primary, against rival council member Linda Kabot
, (Rep.), Democratic Party hopeful Jim Henry and Independence Party candidate Alex Gregor
. At debate's end one thing was clear - an air of change was blowing through the crowd.
Debate moderator Barbara Jordan, of the local chapter of The League of Women Voters, kept a stern eye on the candidates who fielded remarks presented by a panel of local media representatives. The League, chartered to "safeguard democracy in the community," according to Jordan, "is trusted to be non-partisan." To that end, a time clock monitoring the length of each candidate's response and two red cards affording a redress were employed.
Republican candidate for supervisor
Councilwoman Linda Kabot.
Opening remarks from the non-incumbent candidates, while highlighting their own professional accomplishments, offered an out of the gate opportunity to outline contended deficiencies of the current administration. Independence Party candidate Gregor, a life long resident from Hampton Bays, put it most succinctly, asserting "I'm not happy with what's going on in the government." Listing reassessment and use of town vehicles as two cases in point, he questioned the "crony atmosphere" of the current administration. Democratic hopeful Henry touted his extensive professional resume, saying "thanks to my professional success I can give something back. I'm looking to put 'public' back in public service." Republican candidate Kabot, once a running mate to Incumbent Heaney, distanced herself from the administration claiming if elected her "door will be open to all regardless of political affiliation."
On the defensive, Incumbent Supervisor Heaney spoke to his longstanding service as Supervisor (six years), addressing recent criticisms leveled from opponents regarding charges of "wasteful spending," posing a question of his own. "How is it wasteful to provide a bus shuttle for the elderly or try to protect residents by hiring police? They all criticize the budgeting but we have a solid tax stabilization fund and a surplus."
Volleying a host of topical questions put forth by the media representatives and members of the audience, the candidates floated assertions of questionable judgment in the use of Community Preservation Funds (CPF), an intensely grieved residential property re-assessment and creation of a Police Commissioner's post. The only topic the four candidates appeared to reach consensus on was support of burying expanded transmission lines proposed by LIPA
Independence Party candidate Alex Gregor
In response to a question regarding the appropriate usage of CPF funds, Jim Henry contended the Poxabogue purchase was "a bad idea" which instead "should have been put to referendum. It's an example of the Town falling down on the job," adding that the fund should be used strictly for preserving open spaces and farmlands. Kabot, who supported the Poxabogue purchase, said she would "keep an open mind" regarding the proposed Bay Street Theatre
purchase. "The larger issue is the controversy over the CPF amendment by the State to expand the PILOT program."
Independent candidate Gregor applauded the Poxabogue purchase, claiming it was a good use of the money as the area is "surrounded by private golf courses." Characterizing himself as a "three digit golfer," Gregor said he was however "concerned about the operation and maintenance of Bay Street Theatre. Nonetheless, we should expand the CPF to a wide range of opportunities not realized by the private sector."
Conservative Party candidate Supervisor Skip Heaney.
On the topic of the LIPA expansion it was Henry who expressed the strongest position, claiming the "Town was behind the game.' In this instance Henry contended CPF money "would be appropriate usage for the burial," adding that after an independent assessment is conducted the Town would be in better position to "bargain hard to share the cost." Using a red card, he added the present administration "failed to give homeowners' incentives for alternate energy usage. We need forward thinking. To determine our own future we need to set the pace in energy conservation."
A suggestion to set up a special tax district to fund the burial project was denounced by Independence candidate Gregor who said the practice was "commonplace" in construction. "We have to talk to LIPA and twist their arm a little on this. I don't think we have to set up a special tax district to do it." Concurring, incumbent Heaney added it would "get LIPA off the hook too early." Instead, he asserted, "we need to amortize the cost over time."
Gambling and Immigration
Regarding questions concerning support of the Shinnecock Indian Tribe's efforts to gain recognition as a sovereign nation and build a gaming casino in Hampton Bays, each of the candidates supported the Tribe in its efforts for national recognition but fell short of supporting the casino proposal.
Democratic candidate hopeful Jim Henry.
The question of illegal immigrants overburdening Town services was also uniformly addressed as candidate by candidate pointed a finger at the federal government's inability to provide adequate leadership. "The federal government has forsaken us on this issue," Gregor charged. "They've put us in a position of solving the issue of day laborers. They're here folks. We have to deal with it. "
Pointing to illegal crowded housing, Incumbent Heaney said the year-round rental law was a first step in addressing the growing problem. "Immigration is good for America. Illegal immigration is bad for America," he asserted.
Claiming most people are "uniformed" regarding immigration issues, Democratic candidate Henry suggested the issue needs to be looked at "rationally and tenderly. This is the majority of our work force. We need a creative humane solution."
Upon addressing a laundry list of residents' concerns ranging from code enforcement to the housing of homeless sex offenders, the candidates reiterated their campaign platforms - Kabot speaking to "a moderate view with long-term benefits embracing transparency;" Heaney claiming "the one real Republican here is on the Conservative line," touted protection of natural resources, neighborhoods and safety as his main objectives.
"The most important activism I've done is right here in this campaign," Henry asserted in his own defense. "It's time for serious change. We are lagging woefully behind. We deserve to be a role model. I want to lead that effort."