Dems Wage East Hampton Primary

Pictured Above: East Hampton Town Councilman Jeff Bragman (far left) is challenging Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc (second from right) in a Democratic primary in June. Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez (far right) is also seeking reelection.

Tuesday, June 22 is Primary Day in New York State, and locally the biggest contest here is a battle between East Hampton Democrats over who will represent their party in the Nov. 2 General Election.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, a Democrat, is running for a third two-year term this year. He is joined on the Democrats’ official ticket by Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez and Cate Rogers, who serves as chair of the town’s Democratic Committee. 

The committee picked Ms. Rogers over incumbent Democratic Councilman Jeff Bragman, an attorney whose bombastic style and contrarian views have been at odds with other Democratic board members during his term on the board. Mr. Bragman has also been a frequent critic of the board’s support for the South Fork Wind Farm.

Mr. Bragman is waging a Democratic primary for Town Supervisor against Mr. Van Scoyoc, and town Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman John Whelan, who had screened with town Democrats to run for Town Council but was passed over by the party in favor of Ms. Rogers, is also waging a primary.

All the primary candidates took strong positions on protecting the environment in a June 3 debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, North Fork & Shelter Island, which was aired live and streamed on LTV.

While Mr. Van Scoyoc and Mr. Bragman seemed to share similar views on the most important issues facing the town, Mr. Bragman said what would set him apart would be “leading by listening to the public,” adding that he would not be a “my way or the highway” supervisor and criticizing several actions taken by the town board, including the hiring of a public relations firm and the town’s focus on offshore wind as a solution to the climate crisis.

Mr. Van Scoyoc said he was running on his record, which included protecting water quality, promoting renewable energy, directing money to food pantries and meals for residents stuck at home during the pandemic, as well as setting up a mass vaccination center in Wainscott, “the only community in Suffolk County to accomplish this feat.”

Mr. Bragman criticized East Hampton for focusing on approving the South Fork Wind Farm instead of on Community Choice Aggregation, a way the town can make it possible for residents to buy energy from wind power that is already being produced elsewhere.

Community Choice Aggregation, which has been spearheaded locally by Southampton Town, requires state enabling legislation that recently passed both houses of the State Legislature and was awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature as of press time.

“Offshore wind is the best way to reach our renewable energy goal,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc, adding that the town had done an exhaustive environmental review of the South Fork Wind Farm cable landing route from Wainscott to East Hampton — the only part of the wind farm project that is within the jurisdiction of East Hampton Town.

Mr. Van Scoyoc also touted the town’s “first megawatt scale solar farm on the South Fork” near the town’s transfer station in Springs, and a solar battery storage program in the works at town hall.

Mr. Bragman countered that East Hampton is “three years behind Southampton” in implementing Community Choice Aggregation.

“Southampton is in the same position we are with CCA,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc. “No municipality on Long Island is moving forward. There are amendments to the LIPA power structure that are needed.”

The two were also at odds over the construction of a new senior center in Accabonac, with Mr. Bragman saying there has not been enough community input in the project.

Both candidates said East Hampton should look into opting out of allowing marijuana sales within the town, though both said they are in favor of legalizing the use of marijuana, which they both said had been a victimless crime.

In the Town Council debate, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez and Ms. Rogers both talked extensively about their concerns about the changing climate, while Mr. Whelan talked about preserving open space and the historic character of the town.

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez touted the town’s work on affordable housing, with 600 units of housing already being managed by the town and three workforce housing developments in the pipeline on Route 114 and Pantigo Road. She also said she’s hopeful for state approval of community housing funds similar to the Community Preservation Fund, which would give towns a funding source for housing projects and down payment assistance programs.

Ms. Rogers urged listeners to call Governor Cuomo’s office to ask him to sign State Assemblyman Fred Thiele’s bill that would create the housing fund. She also said she’d like to look into whether town code changes allowing apartments in accessory structures need further tweaking to encourage more people to take advantage of them.

Mr. Whelan said affordable housing tops his list of priorities, adding that he hopes they are designed to green building standards.

Ms. Rogers said her top priority, if elected, would be to work toward a sustainable East Hampton, adding that improving broadband and cellphone infrastructure are an important part of a sustainable future, along with protecting the town from climate change and building affordable housing.

Mr. Whelan said he hopes to curtail development and ensure the town has the proper zoning to maintain its character.

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez also focused on sustainability and resiliency, saying preserving the natural environment, water quality and developing coastal resiliency, along with fostering renewable energy, were her primary goals.

“It’s a big lift. It’s a heavy lift. But it’s why we all live here,” she said. “We need to protect our natural environment.”

In this heavily Democratic town, East Hampton Republicans often pose a sideshow to the Democratic party infighting.

East Hampton Republicans are putting up Montauk resident and former owner of the Oceanside Beach Resort Ken Walles for supervisor, along with longtime school administrator George Aman and landscaper and Amagansett Fire Department member Joe Karpinski for the two town council seats.

East Hampton Republicans have cross-endorsed town Democrats’ picks for several posts, including Town Clerk Carole Brennan, Assessor Eugene DePasquale, Town Justice Steven Tekulsky and Highway Superintendent Stephen Lynch.

Early voting for local primaries continues through Sunday, June 20 — primary day is Tuesday, June 22. Here’s where to vote early if you are registered with a party that has a primary — only registered party members can vote in New York primaries. Any registered voter in Suffolk County may vote at any of these locations during early voting. Voting on Primary Day, June 22, will be held in your regular local polling places.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, 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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