From climate change to the FAA, the town’s role in immigration to affordable housing, attendees at the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons’ East Hampton Town Supervisor and Town Board candidate debates Oct. 16 got a good idea of where the candidates stand on the issues affecting them.
Incumbent Democratic Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell isn’t seeking re-election, and Democratic Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc is looking to fill his shoes, as is Republican challenger Manny Vilar, a Springs resident who’s had a long career in law enforcement.
Mr Van Scoyoc has served on the town board for six years, and has spent the past four as deputy supervisor. He said in opening statements at the debate that the board’s accomplishments during his tenure include working to improve water quality, energy sustainability, open space, infrastructure grants, working on coastal planning and hamlet studies and providing mental health services for adolescents.
Mr. Vilar, a State Parks Police Sergeant and vice president of the New York Park Police Sergeants Association, helped to create the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, a union that represents forest rangers, park police, university police and DEC environmental conservation police officers, and frequently travels to Albany to lobby on behalf of the union. He is also a firefighter.
The debate, before a packed crowd at the East Hampton Village Emergency Services Building, was moderated by Judy Samuelson from the League of Women Voters and East Hampton Star editor David Rattray. Below are some of their answers to questions raised at the debate:
Mr. Van Scoyoc said the town board has opened up leases at the East Hampton Airport in Wainscott to landscaping and building companies.
“Small business are struggling, they’re being priced out and they can’t afford work spaces,” said Mr. Vilar. “There hasn’t been a single true unit of affordable working spaces. We need to empower small businesses.”
He added that town employees, whose median income is $38,000, don’t make enough money to qualify for affordable housing in East Hampton.
On the future of the East Hampton Airport, Mr. Vilar described the town’s efforts to control noise as “the definition of insanity.”
“We’re no further along than we were 5, 10 or 15 years ago, we still have noise and no restrictions. It’s a noisy airport and we need to bring relief to neighbors,” he said. “We need to sit down and negotiate in good faith and we need to strategize.”
Mr. Vilar said he believes it’s vital for public safety to keep the airport open, but he doesn’t know why the town would take federal funds to do upkeep at the airport, since it is currently self-funded.
“I think we’re a lot further ahead than we’ve ever been,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc. “We’ve dispelled the myth that it couldn’t survive without FAA funding. It’s completely self-funded by users and leases. We’ve dispelled the myth that only people who bought and built right next to the airport are affected. This is a regional problem that expands all over the South and North Forks.
“You can’t negotiate with the FAA as Manny described it, and we’ve exhausted all our judicial outlets,” he added.
Deepwater’s Wind Farm
Mr. Van Scoyoc said he “completely supports the idea of moving (the town) to renewable energy,” and added that the proposed Deepwater Wind wind farm 30 miles off of Montauk is a key component of the town’s attempt to be self-sufficient with its electricity production by 2020.
He said he wants to make sure the turbines are sited far enough from the fertile fishing grounds at Cox’s Ledge, which lies within Deepwater Wind’s lease area, and he would like to look into having the cable that brings the power to land sited on the ocean side of East Hampton instead of the bay, as first proposed by Deepwater Wind.
“My personal feeling is the bayside landing is too disruptive to a more fragile ecosystem,” he said.
Mr. Vilar said he believes wholeheartedly in transitioning away from fossil fuels but “I question whether this location would be environmentally destructive to the ecosystem.”
“I’m an environmental conservationist. That’s my discipline,” he said. “We should not be doing anything to ruin the environment.”
East Hampton and Climate Change?
When asked by Mr. Rattray about their opinion on climate change and what they would do as supervisor to protect the town from sea level rise, Mr. Vilar said “renewable energy is the wave of the future and we need to be concerned about anything that is environmentally disruptive.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc said that, during his time on the town board, East Hampton became the first community on Long Island to set a goal of producing 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
“We may not reach that, but I think we’re going to be very close,” he said, adding that the town has been designated a clean energy community and a climate smart community by New York State because of the current board’s efforts.
“The Southern Pine Beetle is now here. It’s because the climate is changing,” he added. We can argue about the causes, but it’s happening. We need to adjust to that and it’s going to take leadership.”
Getting Latino Residents Involved
When asked how to bring the town’s Latino community into the political process, Mr. Van Scoyoc said “that’s become a lot more difficult since last November.”
“They’re afraid to meet at town hall now, not because they’re undocumented, but because they feel there’s a general sense that they’re no longer welcome here.”
Mr. Vilar said his father immigrated to this country in 1947, and he is fluent in both Portuguese and Spanish. He said he also worked closely with the Latino community while in law enforcement in Washington Heights, and that outreach has to be to “everybody,” including Polish and Russian immigrants.
“The other day I heard that 1 in 5 people in our community was born in a foreign country,” he said. “What’s going on in Washington is unfortunate. It’s served to alienate a portion of our immigrant community, but at the end of the day, we want to have good paying jobs. Good housing and education helps us all, and a rising tide raises all boats.”
Getting Around a Crowded Town
Mr. Rattray asked both candidates what they’d do to ease the town’s transportation mess.
Mr. Vilar said he’d resurrect the East End Transit Commission proposed by the 2009 Volpe Study, which would be funded by tens of millions of dollars that currently go from the East End to Metropolitan Transit Authority operations closer to New York City.
He said workers with equipment need places to put their trucks, and “providing rail service is a great thing, but when you get here there’s no connection.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc touted a pilot shuttle project in Montauk, and said the Volpe Study is currently being updates, with work being done on the “last mile” problem of connecting mass transit users to their final destination.
Mr. Vilar also said he believes more can be done to provide housing to the town’s workforce.
Mr. Van Scoyoc countered that all of the town’s housing projects were built by Democratic administrations.
“Our record’s pretty strong and clear,” he said, adding that he’d like the town to make it easier for people to build affordable housing above businesses. “Have we built enough? Absolutely not. But we have $2 million in the budget for reinvigorating the process.”
Mr. Vilar said the median income of residents of the town’s Green Hollow affordable housing project is $47,000, well above the median income of town workers.
He added that Republican town supervisors Perry Duryea and Jay Schneiderman (now a Democrat) saved huge areas of land in East Hampton.
“No one saved more open space than Republican administrations,” he said.