The Southampton Town supervisor candidates verbally sparred over the municipality’s code enforcement practices, citing specifically a much-debated and popular restaurant in Hampton Bays, during a debate Monday night hosted by the hamlet’s civic association.
Linda Kabot, a former town supervisor and Town Board member who is running on the Republican and Conservative party lines in next month’s election, accused incumbent Anna Throne-Holst of “favoritism,” “selective enforcement” and partaking in “pay-to-play” practices when it comes to dealing with Rumba Rum Bar on Canoe Place Road, which has drawn copious complaints from a handful of neighbors since it opened in 2011.
With limited occupancy, parking and septic capacities, Rumba has drawn complaints of noise, traffic obstruction and foul odors resulting from the restaurant’s septic system being pumped weekly. The building was shielded from prosecution for much of the past year thanks to an active appeal before the town’s zoning board, but some, including Ms. Kabot, were critical of the town, and Ms. Throne-Holst in particular, for not taking further steps to stop Rumba owner David Hersh from operating out of compliance.
Ms. Kabot also noted that Mr. Hersh has contributed money to Ms. Throne-Holst’s reelection campaign.
“Rumba has dominated some of the headlines, and many, many, many people perceive that there’s been some favoritism going on in Town Hall, that there has been selective enforcement—pay-to-play,” Ms. Kabot said in front of a packed house during Monday night’s Hampton Bays Civic Association debate, held in the Southampton Town Community Center on Ponquogue Avenue. “We know that the Throne-Holst campaign has over a thousand dollars from the Rumba owners and, certainly, in-kind hospitality has been granted. And this is wrong.”
Ms. Throne-Holst defended the town’s decision not to seek punitive action against Mr. Hersh or the property owner, Bradley’s Fishing Station LLC, by saying that Mr. Hersh has done everything possible to get in compliance while running a successful and popular business that employs 50 people.
The incumbent on the Democratic and Independence party lines also said the property was out of compliance during Ms. Kabot’s tenure on the Town Board, and as supervisor, before Rumba became the tenant.
However, Ms. Throne-Holst also acknowledged that the town did not enforce the code with Rumba, attempting to justify that oversight by stating that many other restaurants in the municipality were spared as well.
“[Mr. Hersh] has brought a form of economic development, and if we started to enforce it on him—I gotta tell you, there are about a hundred restaurants in this town that would need to be treated the very same way, and we don’t,” she said.
“So, that is called selective enforcement,” she acknowledged. “That’s what it is—it’s selective enforcement. It’s a dilemma. I realize that we need more economic development like that, so there are places that [will] bring people to this town.”
The two candidates also butted heads on the topic of water quality protection. Ms. Kabot, again playing the role of aggressor, criticized the current Town Board for not working well with the Southampton Town Trustees, the board that oversees and protects the town’s beaches and bay bottoms.
“I was at a recent Newsday endorsement interview with my opponent, and she told the editors there that she would like to ‘professionalize’ the Trustees,” Ms. Kabot said. “I took that to mean no longer having an elected Board of Trustees. I took that to mean something a little different.”
Along with stressing the importance of respecting and cooperating with the Town Trustees, Ms. Kabot also expressed a desire to push for increased septic regulations by Suffolk County.
Ms. Throne-Holst did not back down, maintaining that the publicly elected Town Trustees are not adequately equipped to handle the bevy of issues affecting the bays, such as nitrogen-loading and the subsequent brown and red algal blooms.
“With all due respect to the Trustees, I think they’re the first to recognize that they have neither the scientific knowledge, or the experience, or the training, or the background and technical expertise to address this issue,” the supervisor said.
Ms. Throne-Holst also proposed that water quality issues, which she called the biggest threat to the economy of the East End, be handled regionally. “They would be the first to recognize that having the ability to deal with a nitrogen-loading problem that affects the waterways of this entire area, all the way down to Chesapeake and up, is simply not within their purview,” Ms. Throne-Holst continued, “and that would be saddling them with a responsibility that they simply could not live up to. And I would think they would be as aware of that as I am.”
Town Board candidates Brad Bender and Frank Zappone, who are running on the Democratic and Independence party lines, and Jeff Mansfield and Stan Glinka, the Republican and Conservative party candidates, attended the same debate and discussed code enforcement issues and the proposed Canoe Place Inn maritime planned development district. Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor and his Republican challenger, David Betts, the head of the town’s code enforcement department, attended the event as well.