The two candidates for Suffolk County’s 2nd Legislative District took shots at each other’s public service records when they went head-to-head Monday night during a debate hosted by the Hampton Bays Civic Association.
Southampton Town Board member Chris Nuzzi, the Republican candidate, sharply criticized Independent incumbent Jay Schneiderman, who is seeking his sixth two-year term in office, for poor leadership on certain projects while also tying him to the county’s recent financial woes.
“The question you all have to ask yourselves is: ‘Is the county in better or worse shape than it was 10 years ago, when my opponent took office?’” said Mr. Nuzzi, who lives in Westhampton Beach, during his opening remarks.
Mr. Schneiderman stood by his record, touting the fact that county property taxes have not increased during his tenure and listing several public works projects he stewarded in the town, including the widening of County Road 39, and pointed to the removal of trailers housing sex offenders from Riverside and Westhampton earlier this year.
Although Mr. Schneiderman, a Montauk resident, was on the defensive for the early stretches, the tone shifted as audience members raised questions about development density in Hampton Bays—a topic that was alluded to on three separate occasions.
“I didn’t approve any of those developments,” Mr. Schneiderman said sharply, referring to various condominium and co-op projects that have come before the town in recent years. “My opponent has, so you can ask him.”
Backtracking, Mr. Nuzzi said the issue of density is nothing new in Hampton Bays, adding that the Town Board has curbed it during his two terms in office. But Mr. Schneiderman was skeptical of that argument.
“[Mr. Nuzzi] say can say it’s someone else’s responsibility, but he’s been in the majority for eight years now,” he said. “He says they’ve done a good job, but you have to ask yourself if you agree with that.”
Mr. Nuzzi flipped the issue of housing and density around, pointing to the Hidden Cove Motel, a complex overlooking Tiana Bay that was converted into a homeless shelter by the Suffolk County Department of Social Services over the objection of town officials. Mr. Nuzzi said Mr. Schneiderman allowed the shelter, which closed this past summer, to enter the community, despite the best interests of the residents.
Both candidates agreed that beaches, water quality and bay maintenance should be top priorities over the next two years, but Mr. Nuzzi pointed the finger at the county for not having its finances in order and, in turn, not providing adequate funding to the towns. He also said that, if elected in November, he would do what it takes to ensure that Southampton Town gets its fair share of funding, a slight dig at his opponent.
Mr. Schneiderman countered by saying the difficulties the county is facing are a result of the recessed national economy, something that towns were sheltered from, in part, because of funds provided to them by the county to compensate for lost revenue from home foreclosures. But Mr. Nuzzi countered his opponent’s explanation by saying budgetary limitations were felt by all levels of government.
“I certainly respect having to work through difficult times. We’ve had to do that for the past few years in the town,” Mr. Nuzzi said, bringing up a hiring freeze implemented by the board, as well as tightening up staffing through attrition.
The meeting, which took place at the Hampton Bays Community Center on Ponquogue Avenue, also featured Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer and Town Justice Court judicial candidates Deborah Kooperstein and Barbara Wilson. All three are incumbents and up for election in November.
Seven of the eight Town Trustee candidates also introduced themselves to the community and gave their pitch as to how they could help protect the bays. John Bouvier, Scott Horowitz, Ray Overton, Bill Pell, Howard Pickerell Jr., Eric Shultz and Ed Warner attended the event. William Brauninger was absent.