ELECTIONS: Shades of Green at Candidate Forum

October 19, 2006

Kevin McDonald of the Nature Conservancy was first up to the podium at the 36th Concerned Citizens of Montauk's Meet the Candidates political forum on Sunday. Although he isn't running for office, he was on hand to urge the audience to vote yes to Proposition 3, which will extend the Community Preservation Fund tax through 2030.

Mr. McDonald said he is worried that complacent voters will fail to see the importance of voting to maintain the 2-percent real estate transfer tax, which was created in 1998 to buy land for preservation.

In fact, the environment - in one form or another - turned out to be a focus for all the candidates who spoke after Mr. McDonald.

Representative Tim Bishop, a Democrat, promised to continue to focus on programs that make the East End special. He said he supports the offshore windmills that are proposed near Plum Island and Babylon. "I think we need this program. We will not be able to drill our way out of the problem," he said.

Mr. Bishop also said that the East End must find a way to reduce our dependence on automobiles. "We cannot pave our way out of this," he said of traffic woes on eastern Long Island. "We have to come up with an alternative plan and get cars off the road."

If the Democrats win a majority of Congressional seats in November, one audience member asked, is it possible that some energy bills rejected earlier will be introduced again? "Actually, they will not only be introduced, they will attract a majority of support," Mr. Bishop replied.

As a nation, Mr. Bishop said, we appear to be prosperous until one looks beneath the surface. "I hope to return to Washington to focus on the broader prosperities," he said. He said he would continue to support initiatives that would benefit the middle class, including firefighters, fishermen, and educators - "families such as my own."

Republican State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle talked about what he hopes will be his "legacy" after decades in office: his work with the environment, preserving open space, education, tax reform, and health care in particular. "I have a great partner" in Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., he said, adding that as he drove to Montauk he was proud to know that he had helped preserve many of the parks he passed.

"I would like to build what I envision is a wheel, with Stony Brook [University Hospital] as the hub and local community hospitals, the spokes," Mr. LaValle said. He explained that he is working on linking Southampton Hospital, Peconic Bay Hospital, Eastern Long Island Hospital, and Brookhaven Hospital into a network to ensure that quality is maintained.

"In terms of health care I think things are looking good on the East End," he said.

In response to a question from the audience about a surcharge on the bills of Long Island Power Authority customers, Mr. LaValle said the utility needs more oversight and that is should have board of directors elected by Long Island residents. He also said it is "imperative" to consider alternative energy sources.

Next up was Michael Comando, Senator LaValle's Democratic opponent, who said that he intends to control development, cut taxes, and provide jobs. "We need to reform the entire legislative process; it's not working in our favor," he said, adding that spending in Albany is out of control.

"The plans in Albany don't make sense. I believe in the promise of America, but this is not the America we were promised. There are too many broken promises," he said.

He too said he supported turning to alternative sources of energy. "We can no longer rely on sheiks in Saudi Arabia or a half-cocked dictator in Venezuela," he said.

Treewolf West is the Democratic contender running against Mr. Thiele for a seat in the State Assembly. A union carpenter who does not make much money, he said, he is running for office because younger members of the work force are fading away. Mr. West said he is going to get married, and that he fears he and his wife will not be able to afford to stay on the East End. "We aren't seeing the American dream," he said. "We are being overtaxed and forced out."

He has a five-point program to lower taxes, create a task force of business leaders, teachers, and other community members, reduce traffic, reduce dependency on foreign oil, and provide affordable health care. He would like to see a state-funded incentive offered to those who purchase hybrid cars. "You may lose a bit of pep but that should not concern us," he said.

The final candidate, Mr. Thiele, started out by acknowledging the deaths of Lillian and Dorothy Diskin, sisters who died four weeks apart and had been founding members of the Concerned Citizens and "great advocates for Montauk."

Mr. Thiele said that he, too, was worried about apathy where the Community Preservation Fund proposition is concerned. The fund has channeled $102 million into preserving 7,000 acres in East Hampton Town, he said TK, and Montauk has benefited in particular from the fund.

"Whatever else you do on Election Day, remember to vote yes on Proposition 3," he said.

Mr. Thiele said he is "deeply opposed to nuclear energy and to an increased gas tax, which he said would have a "serious impact." He also said he wants to be able to return to Albany to continue to work on issues relating to the East End.

"I need your vote to continue the kind of work I have done for you," he said in closing.