Pictured Above: Cynthia McNamara (l) and Maria Moore (r) are running for Southampton Town Supervisor

Underpinning much of the discussion on the campaign trail in Southampton this year has been a chorus from predominantly working class areas of the town that they don’t believe their leaders are listening to their needs.

From rampant traffic jams along the major highway corridors to the fights that ensue when affordable housing complexes are proposed, to where to place battery storage systems and cannabis dispensaries, the most serious issues facing Southampton are all tied in to whether the town’s leadership is responsive to the needs of residents.

Republican Town Councilwoman Cynthia McNamara, who is two years in to her first four-year term on the Southampton Town Board, initially ran for office because of the lack of attention she felt the town board was giving to her community of East Quogue, where residents were fighting off a major golf course resort development while she chaired the hamlet’s Citizens Advisory Council. Her Democratic opponent, Maria Moore, is an attorney who has been the mayor of the Village of Westhampton Beach for nearly 10 years, and is running on her work shepherding a major project to install sewers and rebuild the village’s Main Street to completion.

Current Democratic Supervisor Jay Schneiderman has been term-limited out after eight years in office.

Ms. McNamara’s running mates are incumbent Councilman Rick Martel, a Hampton Bays businessman, and attorney William Parash, who has served as a Southampton Town Trustee since 2021.

Ms. Moore’s running mates are Noyac resident Michael Iasilli, who received a Master’s Degree in Political Science-Public Policy from Stony Brook University in 2016 and has since advocated for transportation and people with special needs on the Brookhaven Town Disability Task Force and currently serves as a legislative aide to Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, and Bill Pell, a commercial fisherman who has been a Southampton Town Trustee since 2009.

Traffic safety and congestion is a top concern for Southampton residents and for everyone who  traverses the town’s busy roadways. Traffic problems have vexed elected leaders here for decades, and both of the Supervisor candidates at an Oct. 23 League of Women Voters of The Hamptons, Shelter Island & the North Fork Zoom debate moderated by Estelle Gellman said they believe it is time to think seriously about more commuter trains.

Ms. McNamara said that, in addition to more trains that work with the schedules of parents who need to get home for their kids after school, she would like the town to find more sites that can be zoned light industrial where tradespeople can keep their work trucks at night and take the train to and from the yard.

“That’s one solution, but we have to work with the state and the county,” she said. We need to make the back roads less desirable to speed through.”

Ms. Moore said she knows traffic circles and synchronizing lights work at keeping traffic flow moving, and she would request more tracks and sidings from the MTA.

The candidates said they would like to see Community Housing Fund money be used for things like down payment and mortgage assistance and rehabilitating existing housing, but most did not advocate for controversial housing complexes.

Ms. McNamara said the town has had a successful program with CDCLI to provide funding for people who want to build accessory dwelling units behind their homes, and would like to use the housing fund to purchase “affordability easements” on properties.

“Everybody my age, their home is a big part of their retirement,” she said. “If they could sell it to someone at an affordable rate, it would be a win-win for everybody and keep the house affordable for the younger generation.”

“I would like to work with the inventory we have, and find good plans for appropriate places,” said Ms. Moore.

Mr. Martel said he has two grown sons, one of whom has moved away and isn’t coming back and the other who is struggling to stay here. He said he believes the town could allow small, 12-unit complexes, and also build housing as part of its own construction projects, as it is planning to do when rebuilding the Bridgehampton Senior Center.

“We could also allow derelict properties to be repurposed, and allow young families to start by building a new house on those properties,” he said. “It’s a crisis. We need to find a way to keep young people here.”

Mr. Pell said his two daughters are also struggling to find a way to live here, and he hopes the town “looks at every idea and makes it work,” including people of all ages who are struggling to find housing.

Mr. Parash said that, if the Stony Brook Southampton college campus is not used for a new hospital, it should be used for community housing, and “the old hospital would be a great place for housing if a new hospital is built.”

He also said he’d like to see former Coast Guard officer housing in Westhampton, which is soon to be auctioned off by the federal government, be used for affordable housing.

Mr. Iasilli said the town needs “to find solutions that don’t add to density or negatively impact the environment,” adding that he would support fast-tracking the county’s 72H tax foreclosure program, which often gives properties seized from people in property tax default to towns to use for affordable housing.

Both Supervisor candidates said they are in favor of the current six-month moratorium on Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) after the community of Hampton Bays vociferously opposed a large BESS proposed near the Shinnecock Canal.

Ms. McNamara, who was instrumental in getting the six-month moratorium passed, said the town is having a difficult time finding experts in the field to serve on a committee to draft code changes because most industry experts have ties to businesses looking to build BESS facilities, and she expects the moratorium to go on past six months.

She urged citizens to get involved in the process “so that it’s open and transparent,” and did want everyone to be aware of one caveat.

“We have a moratorium in place, but the utility company can put these wherever they want on their properties,” she said. “It’s something we need to do soon. If we’re not proactive, we’ll have to be reactive.”

“I don’t think they should be located in residential properties,” said Ms. Moore, who added that some other areas of the country have a limit on the size of BESS facilities. “They burn for so long and are putting chemicals into the air and water.”

Most of the candidates said they weren’t in favor of allowing cannabis sales in Southampton Town — the town did not opt out to allowing them by the deadline of Dec. 31, 2021, and some said they believe the Shinnecock Nation, which already has dispensaries up and running, should be the sole place where people can purchase cannabis within the town.

Ms. Moore said the Village of Westhampton Beach opted out of allowing cannabis dispensaries, and also restricted smoking on public property within the village — including cigarettes and vaping — because they couldn’t single out pot.

“We didn’t want someone smoking on a bench on Main Street, so we restricted it that way,” she said.

Ms. McNamara said Southampton Town had already decided to allow cannabis dispensaries before she joined the board, but if she had been there she would have prohibited them. 

“We asked that they not be in village business zones, because that’s not fair to our residents, and we asked that it not be in light industrial, because contractors are already very, very short on space. The villages all opted out,” she said. “Now it is in ‘highway business’ and ‘shopping center business’ districts… If I had my way, I would have left this to the Shinnecock Nation and let them have the revenue from it.”

“I think the Shinnecock Nation should be the only place,” said Mr. Parash.

“It should stay with the Shinnecock Nation,” agreed Mr. Pell. “The town is not equipped to handle this.”

“Let’s give all the revenue to the Shinnecock Nation,” agreed Mr. Iasilli. “The state roll-out has been an utter failure.”

He added that the town will need “to be mindful of packaging of edibles to advertise toward children.”

“I wanted to opt out, but I did not get enough support from the board to move a resolution forward,” said Mr. Martel. “The zoning area that is in place for a dispensary in Hampton Bays is within walking distance to King Kullen, Carvel. That’s terrible. It still troubles me to this day. Right behind the dispensaries will be consumption lounges, and like a bar, they can go just about anywhere.”

Mr. Iasilli has been advocating on the campaign trail for councilmanic districts, a mode of town government in which town council members are selected by voters within a certain geographic area to represent that area on the town board. Though there are no councilmanic districts on the East End, they are fairly common in more densely populated areas and are used in the Town of Brookhaven.

“A lot of people think the town is not responsive to their communities,” he said. “We have four council members at large, and they aren’t held accountable by any particular group of hamlets.”
Other candidates weren’t convinced.

Mr. Martel said that being the liaison to several hamlets “doesn’t put me in a vacuum. I get to understand how the whole town feels.”

“The town board needs to know what’s going on in every district,” said Mr. Parash. “Some members of the board have lost the touch and lost the pulse of the community.”

“If the town board members got up and did what they were supposed to do, the town would be a lot better,” said Mr. Pell.

The debate can be viewed live on Sea-TV’s YouTube channel below.

Read Our Full Election Coverage

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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