If you live in Southampton, you’ve probably had some notion of who both Richard Yastrzemski and Jay Schneiderman are for quite some time now — Mr. Yastrzemski, who has served on the Southampton Village Board for eight years, was born in Southampton and has lived there his whole life, while Mr. Schneiderman, originally from Montauk, has been serving the South Fork in the Suffolk County Legislature for 12 years.
Both men are now seeking the office of Southampton Town Supervisor because incumbent Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst plans to leave office at the end of the year to pursue Lee Zeldin’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The two candidates’ widely varying views on Southampton’s issues were on full display at the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons’ debate at Rogers Memorial Library Oct. 22.
Mr. Yastrzemski spoke often about his ties to the local community and his hands-on experience in village government, while Mr. Schneiderman pointed out the work he’s done as county legislator to benefit Southampton: from widening County Road 39 to increasing East End police departments’ share of county police revenue to getting rid of a trailer for homeless sex offenders in Riverside to providing medical care for veterans.
“I was born in Southampton, I live in Southampton and I own a home in Southampton,” said Mr. Schneiderman, whose opponent has often made reference to Mr. Schneiderman’s ties to East Hampton.
“From traffic to water pollution to housing issues and overdevelopment, I would like to help find community-based solutions to those problems,” he said.
Mr. Schneiderman, originally a science teacher, served as East Hampton Town Supervisor from 2000 to 2003, after which he was elected to the county legislature. He has lived in Southampton for the past nine years, where his two children go to school, and is building a new house for his family on David White’s Lane in Southampton Village.
Mr. Yastrzemski, a financial advisor with Ameriprise Financial, has served as deputy village mayor for four years and is also raising two children in Southampton.
When asked by moderator Judy Samuelson if Southampton should have its own complaint line for aircraft noise from the East Hampton Airport, Mr. Yastrzemski said he supports “any decision going forward to improve that situation.”
Mr. Schneiderman said he believes it’s important to work with East Hampton on the documentation.
“East Hampton has been incredibly courageous. They decided to go it on their own, and not take money from the FAA,” he said. “Even with some of those curfews in place, we’re still seeing a problem with airport noise.”
Moderator Joe Shaw, the executive editor of The Press News Group, asked the candidates what they think of the town’s current planned development district law, which is currently under a great deal of scrutiny due to a proposed golf course in East Quogue that is being pitched as a PDD.
“The current PDD law is too open for development,” said Mr. Schneiderman. “Our zoning grew out of a comprehensive planning process, and suddenly it changes. There’s a nebulous community benefit component to the PDD law. Affordable housing or a hospital is clearly a community benefit, but instead you can come in with a private golf club, for example, and say you’re going to provide money to a local school district or fire department. To me that’s a terrible situation. That law either has to be repealed or fixed.”
“When I was first walking around campaigning, PDDs certainly are the phrase that came out of a lot of people’s’ mouths as an evil thing,” said Mr. Yastrzemski. “The one in East Quogue is the most controversial and is certainly on the forefront of everybody’s minds.”
But, said Mr. Yastrzemski, he then spoke with many people in Bridgehampton and Water Mill who didn’t seem to mind PDDs.
“Throwing it out as a campaign piece really isn’t the appropriate time,” he said.
Ms. Samuelson asked the candidates for their perspective on whether the town should have a professional manager, an issue that the local LWV has intensely researched.
Mr. Yastrzemski said that, on a village level, where the elected officials work part-time, a village administrator is essential to keep the village running, but he said the town supervisor should take on those duties in town government.
“Assigning a town manager position is a little duplicitous and unnecessary,” he said. “You’re creating another salary. Creating a position is like a marriage. Twenty to 30 years down the road it can be very costly.”
Mr. Schneiderman said Southampton Town already has a general services administrator, whose job is to manage payroll and human resources, but whose duties can be expanded to take on more of a town manager’s role.
“I would look to take that position and expand it a little bit,” he said.
Neither candidate was in favor of a proposed zone change to allow a new supermarket to be built on County Road 39 in Tuckahoe.
Mr. Schneiderman said much of the initial support for that project had come from people who didn’t like the Waldbaums grocery store in Southampton Village, which went out of business last week and was replaced by a Stop & Shop.
“I’m pleased to say the Stop & Shop is doing great,” he said, adding that he would support Stop & Shop if they plan to expand or relocate the store. He added that he believes King Kullen no longer has an option on the property in Tuckahoe.
“We only need one supermarket,” he said.
Mr. Yastrzemski said the village board is opposed to the Tuckahoe project due to the possible increased volume of traffic it would bring to village back roads, and he plans to maintain that position now.
Ms. Samuelson asked if the candidates would like to see Community Preservation Fund money used for water quality projects, as a current amendment proposes to do.
Mr. Yastrzemski said using the money for water quality projects “is long overdue.”
Mr. Schneiderman said he would ask voters to support a referendum next year to allow the money to be used for water quality projects, and he’d like to make some money available as matching funds for homeowners who want to do septic system upgrades in areas like Bay View Pines in Flanders, where aging cesspools are not far from groundwater or from neighboring Reeves Bay.
“It could do for water quality what the CPF has done for land preservation,” he said, adding that the CPF fund “is probably the single most important piece of legislation in terms of protecting the character of the community.”
When asked what they think is the most important issue to address first, Mr. Schneiderman said the town has to do something significant to address affordable housing. He pointed out a 2008 needs assessment study that showed that Southampton would need to create 600 more units of affordable housing each year just to keep things from getting worse. In the time since the study, he added, the town needed nearly 5,000 more housing units, but only created a couple dozen.
He said he hopes as supervisor to run an accessory apartment program that pairs homeowners with extra space with people who need a small place to live.
“We can pair up professionals with underutilized houses near where they’re working. Put a schoolteacher into an apartment and then they can go to school ballgames at night. That helps build a sense of community,” he said.
Mr. Yastrzemski didn’t like that idea.
“I don’t know too many senior citizens who want the town to come in and mandate who they can rent to. Implementation a very hard thing,” he said, adding that he’d like to see the town’s affordable housing plans for Riverside come to fruition.
“That community is screaming for the project, to have the housing there,” he said.
When asked what they would do for the minority community, Mr. Yastrzemski said the village has done a good job with hiring through affirmative action programs and he’d like the town’s hiring practices to mirror the village.
“A good percentage of our workforce is minority and women,” he said. “Our record is very good.”
“We are certainly a culturally diverse community,” said Mr. Schneiderman, who added that many people who may have at one time been seen as “minorities” are now in the majority in local school districts.
He said that he has tried to focus on providing service for economically disadvantaged people, many of whom also are minorities.
He pointed out that the county had spend $1 million on sidewalks on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike, had brought Hudson River Health Care in to run a clinic near Southampton Hospital, and had expanded bus service on the S-92 line throughout the East End.
Mr. Yastrzemski said he’s heard there are a lot of issues with the volume of patients who want to use the Hudson River clinic.
“Before Hudson River came along, you had to make appointments weeks in advance. You couldn’t just walk in,” said Mr. Schneiderman of the then-nearest county health clinic in Riverhead. “They lacked doctors, and a lot of the minority community and others were just using the hospital.”
He added that the hospital often wasn’t paid by people who came in through its emergency room, while the clinic has been actively enrolling patients in Medicaid.
“The clinic created a lot of relief for Southampton Hospital,” he said. “I think it’s been a great success.”
“Alls it did was push the issue around the corner,” said Mr. Yastrzemski. “People who have to respond and implement health care are the ones being burdened. It’s part of a wide-scale and repeated offense by the county of dumping issues onto local government. The Department of Social Services was a huge offender, dumping people into the community in the Hampton Bays hotel and motel system.”
Mr. Schneiderman said the county had moved families who had been living in emergency housing in Hampton Bays to shelters near where they had originally been living, so their children could continue going to the schools they’d already been attending.
Mr. Shaw asked the candidates to talk about their biggest successes and their biggest failures.
Mr. Schneiderman said his biggest successes were trying to listen and respond to constituents, but he wished some projects hadn’t taken as long as they had.
“I have a reputation for being tenacious,” he said. “When the legislature is 16 to 2, west to east, the deck is stacked against you. You have to work hard to deliver.”
“I live in my community that I represent. I live amongst them,” said Mr. Yastrzemski in response to the question. “Residents are screaming about large houses on small lots, and one of them is right next to me,” he said, nodding to Mr. Schneiderman. “Our constituents screamed about that.”
“I’m glad my opponent is acknowledging that I’m a homeowner in Southampton,” said Mr. Schneiderman, adding that his new house complies to all zoning laws, including the stricter area laws the village board recently enacted.
“My kids are really excited. They’re painting and the house is almost finished,” said Mr. Schneiderman.
“It’s not whether you could build it but whether you should build it,” said Mr. Yastrzemski. “Your back door is 15 feet from the hedge.”
“You’re not welcome to my ribbon cutting,” said Mr. Schneiderman.
Mr. Schneiderman said, in closing, that when he asks people in Southampton what they want for the future, they talk about the past and about many things that have already been lost.
“They want to be able to go clamming and be able to eat the clam,” he said. “They want to be able to get from place to place in a reasonable amount of time. We’ve lost a lot of that already.”
Mr. Schneiderman said he believes he’s a good problem solver.
“I want to try to restore some of what we’ve lost,” he said.
Mr. Yastrzemski said that, while both he and Mr. Schneiderman have experience in government, “mine is face-to-face.”
“He’s term limiting at the end of this year and he’s looking for a job. I’m looking for this job,” he said. “I’ve earned it. The time is now for me to move up the ladder to this next position.”