- The three candidates vying for the two available seats on the Southampton Village
Board of Trustees squared off at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon, June 8, in the large assembly room of the Levitas Cultural Center across from Lake Agawam in the only scheduled debate on the political calendar prior to the June 20 village election.
Jay Deising, President of the Southampton Association,
welcomes the public to the annual debate.
The debate, sponsored by the Southampton Village Association, is an annual event that highlights the very local campaign season. NBC
TV Nightly News anchor Chuck Scarborough
, a part-time resident of Southampton Village, has customarily moderated the event, though this year he was unable to attend. Despite spectacular beach weather and temps in the low 90s prior to a late day thunderstorm, some 65 village residents and candidate faithful turned out to participate in the forum which lasted just under two hours.
Incumbent trustee Bonnie Cannon, of the Citizens With Integrity Party, is running for re-election to another two-year term along with fellow running mate Richard Yastrzemski, a newcomer to the Citizens With Integrity Party. Christopher Broich, a former village police officer who is currently in litigation with the village over personnel matters, is seeking a seat to the board as the sole representative of the Southampton Traditional Party. Broich is the first candidate from the Southampton Traditional Party to run for village trustee in more than a decade.
As Joseph Shaw, Executive Editor of The Southampton Press
, stepped up to moderate the proceedings, Hamptons.Com News Editor Christine Bellini and Frank Costanza, editor of the western edition of The Southampton Press
, vetted questions from audience members gathered by members of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters.
The candidates began the proceedings by delivering opening remarks, speaking to their candidacy and concerns facing the historical village, before the debate was opened up to the press and questions from the public.
As the afternoon progressed it was clear the major similarity among the candidates was a pronounced "love of the village" as each expressed a desire to find ways to help make it possible for residents to continue to live and work in the village despite escalating costs in the resort region. All three candidates contended it was crucial to control village government spending, keep taxes low, and make every effort to create affordable housing in the village. Each also emphasized a need to protect the environment and preserve the last remaining open spaces left in the village. How to go about achieving those goals was where the candidates diverged.
Debate goers submitted questions to the press panel which selected key issues among them for the candidates.
"The only thing growing in Southampton is the size of the houses," commented Broich, offering the only criticism spoken of the current administration during the debate. Noting the sale to developers of one of the last remaining tracks of farmland in the village a few years ago, he questioned what he perceived to be a lack of independent decision making among Trustee members who all hail from the same political party.
Making a stand, Southampton Traditional Party candidate
"I would like to be on the board so a new voice can be heard," Broich said as he discussed his candidacy. "If I am not elected, the entire board will consist of trustees from the Citizens With Integrity Party."
Future Of Landmark Buildings
Of particular interest to the candidates was a question posed regarding the disposition of the Parrish Art Museum
building on Jobs Lane
and Village Hall on Main Street, two landmarks of the historic downtown district. The occupancy of the Parrish building is up for discussion as the facility will be vacated by the Museum within two years in which time relocation to a new, state-of-the-art facility in Water Mill will be conducted. The future of Village Hall, erected on Main Street in 1911, is also paramount
on residents' minds as that building is in need of renovation work in order to fulfill its capacity as a municipal facility. Talks of selling Village Hall and relocating the municipal offices to village owned land on Windmill Lane have been entertained by the current administration which opted to put off a village vote on the subject until more research is conducted on the topic.
"These issues will ultimately be decided by the public, by the residents of the village," candidate Yastrzemki commented, referring to the postponed referendum on the sale of Village Hall. "I am attached to the Village Hall building," Yastrzemski added. "I grew up playing in the halls there when my father was a policeman."
"I think Lake Agawam is the jewel
in the crown of Southampton," Yastrzemski later said, referring to the lake just outside the Cultural Center where the debate was held. The village, along with a citizen's committee, has renewed its commitment to preserve the lake and protect the large body of water from further storm water infiltration.
All the candidates recognized the need to move forward with a master plan for the downtown area that would encourage business in the community and help maintain the infrastructure of Main Street and Jobs Lane. Broich noted the success of the outdoor dining legislation that enables village restaurant owners to set up sidewalk café tables in front of their establishments as one of the current administration's biggest achievements, while the loss of village farmland that he contends could have been purchased and preserved under the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) program, has been its largest misstep.
Taking exception to that estimation, incumbent candidate Bonnie Cannon pointed to the village's lack "of more sophisticated informational technology" regarding the administration of municipal programs as the missed achievement of the current Village board.
Day Laborers Issue
Moderator Shaw presided over the debate as questions touching on all the major issues confronting the village were submitted to the candidates.
By far, the thorniest issue confronting the village and the one with the most elusive solution is the matter of day laborers gathering along North Sea Road at the entrance to the Village. Mayor Epley and the board tried to resolve the controversial practice last summer when he suggested the use of a village owned park on nearby Aldrich Lane as a safe gathering place. Residents along the adjacent residential street immediately objected despite the efforts of village work crews to shield the area with a hedgerow and create a drive through turnaround. The residents went to court, secured an injunction and the park was deemed off limits as a hiring spot for the day laborers who continue to clog the street corners of Aldrich Lane and Willow Street.
As the debate progresses Frank Constanza, editor of the western edition
of The Southampton Press, goes over questions with Hamptons.com News
Editor Christine Bellini.
The lawsuit successfully maintained the village could not use the park that had been purchased with Community Preservation Funds for a designated purpose as an open air hiring hall.
"It is a federal issue," Cannon responded when questioned.
"We can use existing code enforcement to do something about this," Broich asserted. "Our hands are tied," Yastrzemski conferred with Cannon on the topic, noting village police could not ask for identification from day laborers who are lawfully assembled on the corner waiting to be picked up to do a day's work.
Can You Be A Team Player?
While all the candidates emphasized the need for teamwork and cooperation in dealings at village hall, questions from audience members revealed a concern over board members' abilities to work together regardless of party affiliations.
"I am a team player," Yastrzemki, a fiscal planner, said. "I will work with everyone."
"We all work together," Cannon asserted, referring to the current village board of which she is a member.
Conversely, Brioch said, "You have to know when its time to be independent and when its time to be a team player," making reference to having both competed as a member of a football team and as a wrestler in school sports. "We go to work and we do our jobs," Broich added. "We act like professionals, we don't take things personally. At the end of the day we go home to our family and our friends."
Embroiled in litigation against the village concerning his termination from the village police department after 19 and a half years of service, Broich contends he was terminated by the village after he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protesting the promotion of an African-American police officer who he claimed lacked the required credentials for a job that he was appointed to on the police force.
The candidates will continue to hit the campaign trail taking advantage of the remaining 12 days left to secure voter support before Southampton Village residents head to the polls on June 20. Voting will be conducted from 12 noon to 9 p.m.
According to Broich, complaints of this nature made to the EEOC are "protected," meaning they cannot be greeted with reprisals from the parties who are the subject of the complaint. After his termination, Broich filed a lawsuit against the village citing constitutional issues and reprisal actions. The case, which is making its way through the court system, will remain a matter for "the courts to decide" and not be dropped solely on the grounds that he is seeking public office, Broich explained. He recounted his years of police service as credentials for his candidacy as well as personal skills in the building trade.
"I have been involved in local government for 19 and a half years," Broich said. "I have seen government work from the inside out, rather than from the outside looking in. I love this village," Broich said. "but I don't love the village government."
Work Still To Be Done
Candidate Yastrzemski vowed that if elected he would take a few weeks to get his bearings and spend time to listen to the different department heads to learn the ways of Village Hall after which point he would offer his experience in financial planning to assist in tightening up fiscal practices. "I would not go in with a blunt butter knife to do the job better suited to a fine scalpel," he said.
Supportive of the gains in code enforcement, affirmative action and beautification efforts spearheaded by the current Village Board, incumbent Cannon did suggest that additional work needed to be done to identify solutions to the affordable housing concerns facing the community.
"I want to run again because I have been on a two- year journey and I am not finished yet," Trustee Cannon added. "You need to vote for me, and you need to vote for Rich," Cannon said, as she delivered her concluding remarks echoing her support of her fellow Citizen's With Integrity running mate. "There's a lot we've begun that I want to be around to see it gets finished."
Candidates Richard Yastrzemski and Bonnie Cannon, of the Citizens With Integrity Party are hoping for victory later this month as they campaign as running mates.