Southampton Town Board candidates have been running all over town from Remsenburg to Bridgehampton this autumn for a series of hamlet-centered voter forums, but Thursday night they were in the heart of Southampton for this year’s big League of Women Voters debate at the Rogers Memorial Library.
Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who stole away the town’s top seat from Linda Kabot four years ago, is facing a rematch with an opponent who is hopping mad that ideas Ms. Kabot says she herself has fostered have taken root in Ms. Throne-Holst’s administration.
Ms. Throne-Holst was near tears at one point in the debate after Southampton Press editor Joe Shaw asked Ms. Kabot if she’d made a statement at the Remsenburg debate that she was better qualified to be supervisor because she a married homeowner, while Ms. Throne-Holst is a single mother who rents her house.
Ms. Kabot said the issue was raised by a Democratic committee member at the Remsenburg debate in an attempt to stir the pot.
“It is political spin and it is wrong,” she said.
Ms. Throne-Holst said, however, that Ms. Kabot’s message that she’s better able to serve because she’s a married property owner has been an undercurrent throughout her campaign.
In a letter to voters on the home page of Ms. Kabot’s website, the candidate says: “As a property owner, I can better represent the majority of taxpayers and voters in Southampton Town. As a married mother of three children, I can provide values-based leadership with deep roots in the community.”
“Linda Kabot raised your property taxes 15 percent. I have raised them zero,” said Ms. Throne-Holst. “As a result of a very painful divorce, I am no longer a homeowner.” She added that 60 percent of people in Southampton live in households led by a single person and 40 percent of residents don’t own homes.
“I represent you equally, if not with more concern,” she said of those constituents.
Ms. Kabot dismissed Ms. Throne-Holst’s comments as “political nonsense,” and said that the tax increases she imposed were corrective measures that needed to be taken in the aftermath of the 2008 economic meltdown.
Ms. Throne-Holst said it took her a year and a half after she was first elected to the town board to get enough votes to bring forensic auditors in to look at the Kabot administration’s books, and added that the town had never courted bond rating agencies to look at their credit rating during her opponent’s administration.
“There are 10 days until Election Day and people want to hear about the future. They don’t want to hear she said, she said,” said Ms. Kabot. “I’m scanning Moody’s credit report and I’ll put it on my website. It says everything that happened. These are efforts to distort my record.”
Ms. Kabot also claimed political shenanigans in Ms. Throne-Holst’s work to create special taxing districts allowing oceanfront homeowners at the eastern end of the town to pay to put sand on their beaches. While Ms. Throne-Holst touted the project as an example of government working with homeowners to fix the problem at their own expense, Ms. Kabot said many of those homeowners have since donated to Ms. Throne-Holst’s campaign.
“It’s a concern and a criticism and I’ll leave it at that,” said Ms. Kabot. Ms. Throne-Holst said she would rebut her opponent’s comments, but it would likely use up too much of her alloted debating time.
Both candidates said more must be done to protect the bays from pollution from cesspools, but Ms. Kabot said she believes it’s an issue best addressed by the Suffolk County Health Department and she doesn’t think the town should get involved in regulating septic systems. Ms. Throne-Holst said the town is participating in a regional clean water coalition that is looking into cheaper ways to treat cesspool waste.
“If the technology is not there, we will never solve this problem,” she said. “We need to put money behind research and development…. It needs to be dealt with like a Manhattan Project.”
When asked what can be done about the economy, Ms. Throne-Holst said the town has taken the governor’s Regional Economic Development Council on a tour of Southampton’s assets to see what they can do to help business, and has formed an economic development task force to deal with the blighted corridor along Flanders Road in Riverside and Flanders.
Ms. Kabot said she would streamline the site plan process for small businesses and do what she can to get government to get out of the way of business.
The four candidates for two seats on the town board discussed issues ranging from whether the town should have a professional manager to the proposed Tuckahoe Center shopping plaza on County Road 39 to hurricane preparedness.
All four candidates would be new to the board if elected, as Councilmen Chris Nuzzi and Jim Malone are not seeking re-election.
Bridgehampton National Bank Vice President Stanley Glinka and Jeffrey Mansfield, a Bridgehampton resident and investment banker who touted his working class and small business background throughout the debate, are the GOP’s candidates.
Southampton Democrats have put up Brad Bender, a builder who has been active in community issues in Flanders and ran unsuccessfully for a town board seat two years ago, and Frank Zappone, a former school administrator who serves as deputy supervisor and has been involved in civic issues in Tuckahoe and surrounding County Road 39.
The candidates had a wide variety of opinions on the town manager position. Mr. Zappone supports the position, likening it to a school superintendent hired by an elected board. Mr. Bender said he would like to see the matter brought to the public for a vote to “make sure it does not become a political football.”
Mr. Mansfield said he’s a “small government guy who’s wary of adding another layer of government.” Mr. Glinka said he would want to make sure the manager’s role didn’t duplicate the roles of anyone else already working in town government.
When asked what their first piece of legislation would be if they were elected, three of the four candidates gave general answers. Mr. Bender said he would focus on water quality. Mr. Mansfield said he would focus on fiscal responsibility, code enforcement and water quality. Mr. Glinka said he would focus on economic development, public safety and water quality.
Mr. Zappone said his first piece of legislation would be to continue to restructure the town’s code enforcement department, which has been brought into the town attorney’s office. He said he would like to bring the fire marshal into that office as well. He said his second piece of legislation would be to improve the town’s existing zoning laws for creating planned development districts.
When asked if the town was better prepared for hurricanes now than when Superstorm Sandy hit last year, both Republican candidates said they were concerned by the lack of evacuation routes out of Southampton. They pointed out that a traffic accident shut down County Road 39 for nine hours last summer.
“We are limited by the geography we have,” said Mr. Mansfield. “If we get a Category 3, there’s not going to be a lot of preparation we can do.”
“It’s concerning. Our demographic area is very unique,” said Mr. Glinka.
Mr. Bender said FEMA and the town had been very helpful to residents of Bay View Pines in Flanders, where many people lost their houses in the hurricane. He said the Crohan Community Center on Flanders Road is supposed to be a disaster command center, but the command center isn’t complete. He’d like to see it finished.
Mr. Zappone, who, as deputy supervisor, was part of the hurricane response team, said the town is in the final stage of completing a hazard mitigation plan, which would include changes to the town’s infrastructure to make it more safe.
“Absolutely, yes. We are better prepared than we were this time last year,” he said.