Southampton: Into Town Debate Season

Pictured Above: Left to right: Alex Gregor, Jay Schneiderman and Greg Robins are vying for Southampton Town Supervisor.

Southampton Town is poised for a contentious election season, with three candidates for town supervisor and five candidates, only one of whom is an incumbent, vying for two seats on the town board.

Water quality, traffic and keeping local people in their homes were the big topics on the minds of candidates and the community in debates for both the town supervisor and the town board sponsored by the Hampton Bays Civic Association Sept. 23.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman is seeking his third term in office, and he’s facing challenges on either side, from Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor, running on the Independence Party line, and from Greg Robins, a retired history teacher from North Sea, who has served as firefighter and fire commissioner for the North Sea Fire Department.

During the hour-long debate at the town’s Hampton Bays Senior Center, Mr. Gregor attacked Mr. Schneiderman on town spending and a recent town-wide reassessment that saw many people’s property values rise significantly, while Mr. Robins, who pitched himself as a common-sense candidate, said he is living on a pension and he entered the race in part because his house also received a much higher assessment this year. He also said he would like to see the town work with the county to make the turning lane in County Road 39 a third lane for commuters during the clogged morning and afternoon commutes.

Mr. Schneiderman touted the town’s dramatic decline in major crime and opioid deaths, two years without a brown tide bloom in Shinnecock Bay, numerous capital projects that have recently been constructed in Hampton Bays, and a six percent decline in town taxes expected this coming year.

While letters detailing the new assessed valuation of properties throughout town were sent to homeowners earlier this year, tax bills will not be sent out until after the election, once the town’s 2020 budget is set in mid-November, leaving many homeowners scratching their heads not knowing how the reassessment might impact their taxes.

Mr. Schneiderman said he doesn’t control town assessments, which are handled by the tax assessor’s office, but he does control the tax rate, which has been declining during his tenure.

The debate questions were heavy on concerns in Hampton Bays, which has the only town-run public water district in Southampton Town, which the town is considering turning over the Suffolk County Water Authority due to ongoing problems with old pipes and concerns about the emerging contaminant PFOA/PFOS found in some of its wells, necessitating a costly filtration system.

Mr. Gregor said the town has “kicked the can down the road” in dealing with problems at the Hampton Bays Water District, and should have long ago had a capital plan for maintenance of the water system.

Mr. Schneiderman, who was a science teacher before he entered politics, said he frequently visits the water district to go through its records and “make sure they’re doing everything by the book.” 

Mr. Robins said he thinks the town’s “decision to get proactive came a little late.”

The three men also butted heads over the town’s work creating an overlay zoning district in collaboration with the community over the past several years.

Mr. Schneiderman said he believed there was a great deal of community involvement in the plan.

“People said they want wider sidewalks, more vibrancy, more outdoor seating — your current zoning doesn’t get you where you want,” he said. “It’s gonna get you more strip mall development. Now people will have an option to develop more in accordance with the wishes of the community.”

“I’m not in favor of the town plan for downtown,” said Mr. Gregor,” We didn’t talk about having assisted living. I want to see it walkable. We need wider sidewalks.”

Mr. Gregor also attacked Mr. Schneiderman for the length of time it took to get a bathroom put in the new Good Ground Park. 

“You finally got a bathroom in the park after three years. It’s a no brainer,” he said. “I’m not a scientist, but I’m not a stupid man either.”

Mr. Schneiderman said the town had been hoping to build the bathroom with grant money that didn’t materialize, and eventually bit the bullet and paid for it themselves.

Mr. Gregor was also quick to criticize Mr. Schneiderman because the town is charging the highway department, which has a separate budget, for bringing brush and leaves to the town’s transfer stations. He also said he thinks the town should have single-stream recycling, without having to separate out recyclables, and should look into creating garbage pickup districts.

“Our compost yards are swelling out of capacity. If it was private industry, the DEC would be after them,” said Mr. Gregor. “They don’t know how to market it.”

He added that he sometimes sees as many as three different private garbage carters picking up curbside garbage on his street.

Mr. Robins said he isn’t a math wizard, but he doesn’t understand why the highway department has to pay to bring brush to the transfer station.

Mr. Schneiderman said the town does need to rethink its recycling plans in light of a nationwide problem that arose when China stopped buying American recyclables. He added that he is open to the idea of creating garbage districts.

Mr. Gregor summed up his candidacy as an extension of his “fight for dollars to make improvements” as highway superintendent.

Mr. Robins said he would like to see the town enforce its codes.

“It’s disrespectful to let kids live in basement apartments where they could burn to death and look the other way,” he said.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman (left) reacts to being called “a wizard when it comes to money” by  challenger Greg Robins (right)

Throughout the debate, Mr. Robins, attempting a folksy charm, said he wasn’t as smart a man as Mr. Schneiderman, and at one point near his closing remarks attacked Mr. Schneiderman over his salary, saying “he’s a wizard when it comes to money, especially for himself.”

Mr. Schneiderman countered that even the highway superintendent makes more than the town supervisor, and he doesn’t take the town’s health insurance plan because he already receives health insurance from his time as a Suffolk County legislator.

“I’m not the highest paid department head in town,” he said.

Mr. Schneiderman closed by saying that his father was a veteran of two wars, “who instilled values to me about community…. I work hard every single day for you and I would like to keep doing that.”

Five for Two on Town Board

The Town Council race is filled with fresh faces, due to Republican Councilwoman Christine Scalera’s decision not to run for re-election. Democratic Councilman John Bouvier, a former mechanical engineer who worked for the federal government, is seeking reelection, and he is joined on the Democratic Ticket by Craig Catalonatto of Speonk, who serves as a co-chair of the Town’s Citizens Advisory Committee—West and was instrumental in working with the town on the Speonk Commons workforce housing project.

Lifelong Hampton Bays resident Richard Martel, who is very involved with business and community organizations in Southampton and Hampton Bays, is running on the Republican Party line, along with retired Southampton Town Police Detective Charles McArdle, who served as the town’s PBA president for three years.

Hannah Pell, who was born in Southampton but now, at 24 years old, is commuting to work in Manhattan, is looking to find her way to a job back home, where she pledged to bring “a fresh young spirit who knows all about tech” to the town board. She’s running on the Independence and Libertarian party lines.

Clockwise from top left: Councilman John Bouvier, Hannah Pell, Richard Martel, Craig Catalanotto and Charles McArdle are running for town board.

Despite their differing political stripes, the candidates shared similar views on many of the local issues addressed — they all supported a separate budget line for the Town Trustees, who oversee the town’s water access areas.

Most supported a traffic study of the Montauk Highway corridor during the summer months, with some nuances. Mr. Catalonatto said he hopes a study would embrace mass transit. Mr. Martel said there are many unknowns about future development in Hampton Bays that could change the results of a traffic study. Ms. Pell said the traffic study should also be done in the winter months and the shoulder seasons. Mr. McArdle, the lone hold-out said “you can study everything to death.”

“If you live in Hampton Bays, you know exactly when the traffic started — when the light went up at Canoe Place Road,” he said. 

Mr. McArdle was critical of the town’s affordable housing lottery system — he said he enters his kids’ names in the lotteries, but when he shows up, “they spin the thing like it’s Bing and somebody form Vermont wins, or somebody from up the island wins.”

Mr. Catalonatto acknowledged that, because of fair housing laws, the town can not keep people who don’t live here from applying for the town’s affordable housing list. But, he said, the “vast majority” of the 1,000 people on the town’s affordable housing registry are from Southampton.

“I have two children,” he said. “If it stays on this course, they’ll be priced out. I couldn’t rebuy my house today if I wanted to.”

The candidates also had varying views on a new pilot bikeshare program, and on how to get bike lanes striped when many Hampton Bays roads are repaved in 2021.

“Who wouldn’t want bike lanes?” said Mr. Bouvier, adding that he’s “looking forward to what [bikeshare company] Zagster does. The bikes are up and running.”

Mr. Martel said he hopes to see bikeshare bikes and bike paths all over Hampton Bays.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing. People don’t always come out here with an extra car, and I hope people will use it,’ he said. 

Mr. McArdle disagreed.

“It’s dangerous to ride in Hampton Bays,” he said. “I think the program is the cart before the horse. We should have had the lanes in place before we got the bikes. People are not going to get a bike at the train station and ride over the bridge to the beach… Maybe on Sunday we will have people riding west to go to one of our favorite places,” he said, as the audience chuckled at the in joke — a reference to the raucous Sunday drinking destination The Boardy Barn at the west end of Hampton Bays.

Election Day is November 5. Stay tuned to eastendbeacon.com for coverage of upcoming debates throughout October.

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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