At Final Debate Council Candidates Discuss Policy, Legislation

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In the last of the major candidate forums before Tuesday’s election, candidates for Southampton Town Supervisor, Town Council and Suffolk Legislator attempted to tip the scales in their favor just a bit at Rogers Memorial Library last week.

For the Town Council, contested by four would-be political newcomers, the debate focused on how each of the four men might vote on likely issues to come before the Town Board during the coming term.

For the candidates in the other two races, contested by four of the most veteran elected officials in the region, the sparring was mostly about their histories in elective office and the records each have racked up.

County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi sparred over the county’s response to the deepening deficits that shrouded the county in the years after the recession. Mr. Nuzzi pointed to projections of deficits as much as $200 million as a sign that Mr. Schneiderman, seeking election to a sixth and final two-year term in the office, was falling down on the job. Mr. Schneiderman, in response, noted that the county had to absorb a $100 million drop in revenues at the same time it saw nearly $100 million in additional costs due to rising demand for services from residents hit hard by the recession. He added that much of those additional costs were due to state mandates. Mr. Nuzzi said that, as legislator, he would push for the state to loosen the mandates.

“You have to have the political will to do it,” he said.

“Our discretionary spending, the things we can choose to spend on, has gone down,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “The things we have to spend on has gone up by $200 million. But if that’s your plan, good luck.”

Mr. Schneiderman touted his shepherding of the years-long traffic relief project on County Road 39 and the closing of two sex-offender-housing trailers in the town and expanding the county’s dredging budget for East End harbors from $1 million to $6 million. Mr. Nuzzi then criticized Mr. Schneiderman’s legislative performance on a range of issues.

“In Southampton we’ve maintained our priorities of land preservation…cut taxes and spending,” he said. “My opponent has been in office 10 years. [County] Bond ratings are down, there’s deficits, open space preservation monies are no more, there is a lack of commitment to road and drainage and dredging. I believe it’s time for a new vision that comes with more than a party label.”

Mr. Nuzzi is a Republican and is also endorsed by the Conservative Party. Mr. Schneiderman is an Independence Party member, cross-endorsed by the Democrats.

The four Town Board candidates were asked to explain the first legislative measures they would focus on.

Mr. Bender, as he has done throughout the campaign, leaped the opportunity to describe some of the detailed ideas he has for possible water quality improvement measures.

“Water quality—we have drug [sic] our feet for way too long,” Mr. Bender, a gardener from Northampton who narrowly lost election to the Town Board in 2011, said. “We need to immediately look to develop systems to aerate cesspools. There are things that are being used up in Cape Cod, we are way behind in technology.”

Mr. Mansfield said he would support immediately expanding the town’s septic rebate program, which has not been funded since an initial $50,000 contribution from the $4 million 2012 surplus, to help residents upgrade aging and failing septic systems.

Mr. Zappone said his first focus would be on continued re-organization of the town’s code enforcement departments, bringing the fire marshal’s office into better coordination with the Town Attorney’s office and Code Enforcement divisions to create a single public safety unit. Second, he said, he would press for more revisions to the town’s Planned Development District guidelines, which were overhauled in 2011 to address additional problems that have arisen during the town’s review of some recent controversial projects.

Mr. Glinka said his focus would be on streamlining the town’s building permit approval process, particularly for businesses to make it less onerous on small business owners to get a new business up and running.

“I hear that we’re anti-business out here,” Mr. Glinka, a banker from Hampton Bays, said. “Permits that have to go through the building department, we should streamline the process, make it more attractive for people to come out here.”

Mr. Zappone said he was firmly in favor of having a professional manager in charge of the day-to-day business of the town, someone with training and experience in managing multi-million-dollar budgets and large staffs, leaving the members of the Town Board to steer policy.

“Council people are elected by design to implement policy,” he said. “The school board model is a good one, you have an elected board and a professional manager. Policy can be left to the policy makers and business decision-making can be left to the trained managers. I think the model is exciting.”

Mr. Mansfield and Mr. Glinka both said they would be willing to discuss the issue but were both hesitant.

“I would not be averse to vetting a town manager position,” Mr. Mansfield said. “But I’m a small government guy. Less is more, and I would be wary of adding another layer and adding more personnel.”

In the debate between Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and her challenger, former Supervisor Linda Kabot, there was a strong focus on addressing nitrogen loading in local bays.

“What we propose in our platform is working in partnership with the Town Trustees to advocate that the county…update their archaic system,” Ms. Kabot said of the Republican slate’s agenda. “It has to be addressed locally.”

Ms. Throne-Holst agreed and pointed to steps her administration has already taken toward promoting technology and regulation that will address nitrogen levels.

“Legislating isn’t enough,” she said. “To that end we have put in a proposal to the governor’s regional development council that would bring…the research and development that is needed to find solutions from a technological standpoint. It takes a large regional approach to do this, and a funding source. It does include the Trustees but it goes well beyond what can be done on a local level.”

The supervisor candidates also turned to some of the inter-personal fighting that has marked the campaign. At a Hampton Bays debate, Ms. Kabot implied that as a married mother of three and a homeowner she was a better representative for residents than Ms. Throne-Holst, who is divorced and rents her house.

Ms. Kabot denied she had been implying any such thing and pressed that she was goaded into saying something that could be twisted by a Democratic Party committee member and, to a certain extent, denied that she had even said what she was accused of.

“Someone’s marital status has nothing to do with it,” she said, citing a number of letters that followed accusing her of taking a shot at single mothers. All I meant, she said, was that “My husband and I receive a tax bill and know what the impact of that is.”

The supervisor picked at the comment, nonetheless.

“I’m a single mother, I raised my children as a single mother and, no, as a result of a very painful divorce, I’m not a homeowner. I’ve invested in my children, I put four kids through college and one in law school. 60-percent of our residents live in single families and 40-percent do not own homes. And I kept a lid on your taxes.”

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