LWV Debate: Three Want East Hampton’s Top Spot

East Hampton has been filled with musical chairs this election cycle, with three candidates for Town Supervisor and five candidates to fill two seats on the town board. Sitting Councilman Jeff Bragman, who first won his seat on the Democratic Party line, is running on the Independence Party line to unseat Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, after Mr. Bragman was passed over for endorsement by the Democrats to run for his current seat.

Republicans are putting up Ken Walles of Montauk, the longtime owner of the Oceanside Resort and president of East Coast Management, to run for Supervisor.

Democrats have endorsed sitting Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez for re-election, and have endorsed their town party chairwoman, Cate Rogers, to run for Mr. Bragman’s seat. Republican town board candidates include former East Hampton School Board President George Aman and Joseph Karpinski, an arborist and volunteer with the Amagansett Fire Department.

John Whelan, a lifelong East Hampton resident, Democrat and architect who has served on several land use boards in town, is running for the town council on the Independence Party line.

Republican candidates declined to attend the League of Women Voters of The Hamptons, Shelter Island and the North Fork town candidate debate Oct. 21 because it was conducted over Zoom and not in person. The League’s debates have long been the go-to event for candidates seeking office in East Hampton Town.

But the presence of third party candidates still made for a lively LWV forum on issues facing the town, including the potential closure of the East Hampton Airport, whether to allow marijuana sale, what can be done to help local businesses recover from the pandemic and how to best proceed with affordable housing.

The status of the East Hampton Airport is on the front burner right now (see page 3), with big decisions that must be made in the near future.

Mr. Van Scoyoc and Mr. Bragman sparred at length about the nuances of their views on the airport closure, with Mr. Van Scoyoc saying he believes the town should take a deliberate approach to dialing back traffic to the airport, in an effort to not overwhelm neighboring airports, particularly a small, privately owned one in Montauk, while Mr. Bragman, who is the town board’s current liaison to the airport asserting, as he had in a recent letter to the East Hampton Star, that he believes the airport should close for an entire year. His comments brought him a mountain of criticism at a recent meeting with residents of Montauk who are concerned the air traffic could now be heading their way.

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, a former town board liaison to the airport, said she’s in favor of having the airport temporarily close this winter and then re-open with more restrictions in place. 

“We would tighten the valve and continue to work at it until we hit the sweet spot of not diverting traffic to Montauk and giving relief to people who live under the routes,” she said. 

Ms. Rogers, who is a Climate Leader trained by former Vice President Al Gore, said she believes the town should take the impact on the climate and the environment into account with future activity at the airport.

Mr. Whelan said he “would support re-opening the airport, eliminating and banning helicopters, jets and commercial traffic.”

“I would support the purchase and condemnation of the Montauk Airport,” he added. “I think it’s obvious that people in Montauk do not want small jets and helicopters landing there.”

The candidates also weighed in on the Peconic Bay Region Community Housing Fund, a proposed fund for affordable housing based in the Community Preservation Fund’s real estate transfer tax model. New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation in early October allowing each of the five East End towns to hold referendums on creating these funds.

“There are myriad ways this money can be used to address what is truly an epic crisis in affordability, and a real shortage of rental housing and housing for seasonal workers,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc. “We can offset costs and subsidize housing to allow local families to purchase housing, with the town retaining underlying rights to the property so it could remain affordable in perpetuity.”

Mr. Bragman said he’s very excited about the fund, which “opens up a whole new area of creativity” in affordable housing.

“People overwhelmingly support single-family housing,” he added. “We will have the opportunity to buy small homes when they come on the market and preserve their affordability. And it will be much simpler to do the financing…. This opens up a whole new world for us.”

“I believe the monies raised can be used for first time homebuyer down payments, to purchase property for affordable housing and to offset the cost of construction,” said Ms. Burke-Gonzalez. “It’s a real win for our community.”

Ms. Rogers urged everyone to work to get out the vote for the referendum creating the fund, which is likely to be held in conjunction with the November 2022 General Election.

She added that the legislation offers the flexibility “to both offer rental and purchase of homes and being able to use the money to rehab existing buildings,” and added that including upgraded nitrogen-reducing septic systems in the housing will be a key to making future affordable housing sustainable.

“Everyone in town agrees how wonderful it is that this bill was signed,” said Mr. Whelan, adding that he hopes the town opens up the design process to local architects.

On reducing the effect of climate change on the town, Mr. Van Scoyoc touted his record supporting the South Fork Wind Farm, an offshore wind farm off the coast of Montauk, as well as the town’s first megawatt-scale solar farm on the town’s capped landfill in Springs, a program to offset peak electric load demands and upgrading the town’s automotive fleet to electric vehicles, as well as the town’s work to develop a Coastal Assessment Resiliency Plan for its coastline.

Mr. Van Scoyoc also said Mr. Bragman had opposed electric vehicle charging stations in Montauk and the South Fork Wind Farm.

“We have to do every single thing we can to meet this crisis,” he said, adding that the devastation of the town’s forests by the southern pine beetle, which is moving north due to warming temperatures, is just one example of why it is so necessary to fight climate change.

Mr. Bragman said he didn’t oppose electric vehicle charging stations — he objected to one project that included just Tesla chargers in Montauk.

“They were very expensive vehicles at the time. I insisted they put in universal chargers,” he said. “I didn’t want to convert Montauk into a Tesla dealership.”

Mr. Bragman added that, when the developers of the South Fork Wind Farm first approached the town offering $8 million in community benefit funds in exchange for easements to put the power cable for the wind farm under town road rights-of-way, Mr. Van Scoyoc had come into his office, leaned over his desk and insisted that the town should take the deal. After several years of negotiations, that funding was upped to nearly $29 million.

“He tells this story about how I came into his office and physically loomed over him,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc. “Jeff wasn’t involved with the negotiations. It was myself, outside counsel and the Trustees.”

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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