Despite having no political experience, a Westhampton Beach lawyer believes she has what it takes to change the culture of village government and make it more business friendly.
Maria Moore, 54, is challenging Mayor Conrad Teller in Friday’s election in Westhampton Beach, hoping to unseat Mr. Teller after eight years at the helm of the municipality. She touts the need for a fresh perspective at Village Hall.
“I believe I can make a contribution to the village,” she said during a recent interview. “I think people in the community are ready for a change of leadership.”
Ms. Moore, who is running on the Progress For Westhampton Beach party line, along with incumbent Trustee Charlie Palmer—who is running unopposed—has been a practicing attorney for 27 years. She graduated from the Syracuse University College of Law in 1987, after attending the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to earn a bachelor’s degree in legal studies.
Most of her career has been within the corporate sector, as she spent 20 years working for Emigrant Bank in New York City, primarily handling employment-based litigation, drafting contracts and working as a human resources liaison. She started her own practice four years ago after growing weary of the daily commute into Manhattan from her home on Lilac Road, where she and her husband, Thomas Moore, have lived since 1996. They have two daughters, Elizabeth, 19, and Jackie, 15.
Ms. Moore, who has been involved with the Westhampton Free Library Board of Trustees for the past six years, as well as other charitable organizations, including Maureen’s Haven, said she views the position of mayor as an opportunity to further her involvement in the community, so she made the decision to run at the beginning of the year.
“It’s something that I’ve thought about for the last year or so, thinking I could actually do a good job and I would like to do it,” she said. “Then, in speaking with people, I was encouraged that I would have their support.”
If elected, Ms. Moore said she would make it a priority to repair streets and sidewalks in the village, saying she wants to make a more concerted effort to apply for grants in order to finance such projects. She said she also would like to change the village sign ordinance, particularly by reducing misdemeanor offenses to violations, eliminating the potential for a jury trial, as well as the possibility of a six-month jail sentence.
Ms. Moore envisions a more vibrant Main Street—namely, one with more restaurants—and said she wouldn’t hesitate to personally seek out new businesses, something Mr. Teller has shied away from during his time in office in favor of allowing property owners to take the reins in terms of finding their own tenants. She also would like to streamline application processes by having Westhampton Beach’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals meet on the same day to expedite the transfer of applications from one board to the next.
Although making the village more business-friendly has been the focal point of her campaign, Ms. Moore said she’s not sure how she will go about doing so, explaining that one of her first priorities upon entering office would be to meet with not only business owners but the owners of vacant buildings, to help identify their needs and wants.
“There’s a lot of vacancies in the village, and I’d like to meet with the owners and find out why—just talk to them and listen to what they say about why they haven’t rented their shops or sold their buildings,” she said.
Additionally, Ms. Moore plans on consulting government officials elsewhere to see how they have been able to improve business, citing Patchogue Village as place that people have mentioned to her on the campaign trail. Unlike Westhampton Beach, that village has benefited from the installation of sewers, an initiative that has made little headway here since plans to connect downtown Main Street with the sewage treatment facility at nearby Francis S. Gabreski Airport failed to get off the ground a few years back.
Another priority for Ms. Moore is sorting out the village’s finances and cutting the fat in order to allocate money toward new programs, although by her own admission she has not yet closely examined the village budget. In April, the Village Board approved a $9.76 million budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, a plan that increases overall spending by just under 1 percent, or a little more than $94,000.
“Well, having a background in litigation, I would really like to look at the litigation budget and the expenses,” she said. “Charlie Palmer’s, you know, been an accountant for a lot of years, and I think it would be great to sit down with him and go through the budget and see where things can be adjusted to free up money for other projects.”
Along with her work with the library, Ms. Moore is actively involved in Maureen’s Haven, a charitable organization that partners with houses of worship across the East End to help shelter and feed the area’s homeless. Ms. Moore has been active with the cause at her home parish, the Westhampton Presbyterian Church on Quiogue, for the past decade. She also has been involved in fundraising efforts over at the Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead for the past four years.
Although this is her first time venturing into local governance, Ms. Moore’s husband spent several years on the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Mr. Moore, law clerk who specializes in criminal law, resigned mid-term in 2010 after taking heat for helping Village Trustee Hank Tucker—the person who challenged Mr. Teller later the same year—draft a handful of controversial resolutions, including one that barred then-Village Attorney Hermon Bishop from sharing his legal opinions publicly.
Ms. Moore said while he was merely helping Mr. Tucker, a close friend of theirs, she said her husband did share the opinions expressed in the resolutions. However, she noted that her husband’s actions should not be ascribed to her, and she does not anticipate that relationship causing any problems for her in Village Hall.
“We’re different people—my husband’s not the running for mayor,” she said. “It happened a long time ago, and I have relationships with people on the different boards already, and I’ve appeared before the ZBA on different matters.”