Vilar Campaigns on Pragmatism

G.O.P. supervisor candidate says law enforcement experience gives him edge
Manny Vilar, the Republican candidate for East Hampton Town supervisor, campaigned last week outside the East Hampton I.G.A. Carissa Katz

“I’m very passionate about what I do, and whatever I do, I put my all into it. If you want things to happen, you’ve got to make them happen,” Manny Vilar, the Republican candidate for East Hampton Town supervisor, said last week while standing in front of the East Hampton I.G.A., passing out campaign materials and waving or calling out greetings as passers-by honked and said hi. 

“My mom and dad,” he said after one honk, watching their car head north toward Springs, where they live down the street from him on the road where Mr. Vilar grew up. 

He and Jerry Larsen, who is running for a seat on the town board, had just come from taping their show on the public-access channel LTV, “Hear It From Your Neighbor,” and had a few minutes together to greet shoppers coming and going from the I.G.A. before Mr. Larsen was off to another obligation.

“The campaign trail is exceptionally busier for us, not being the incumbents,” Mr. Vilar said. His opponent, Peter Van Scoyoc, has been a town councilman since 2012, and Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, also on the Democratic ticket, is seeking a second four-year term. (The third Democrat, Jeffrey Bragman, a lawyer, is running for the first time.) “We have full-time jobs. I’m taking vacation time, then going on duty and working until 2 in the morning.” 

Mr. Vilar is a first sergeant with the New York State Parks police and president of Police Benevolent Association of New York State. Mr. Larsen, who retired last winter as East Hampton Village police chief, runs a private security company.

While they are both first-time candidates, they believe that their combined experience, coupled with that of their running mate, Paul Giardina, who retired last year from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, makes them uniquely qualified to take over the reins of town government. “Everybody who’s running, we’re all good people. Everybody means well,” Mr. Larsen said, “but we feel that Manny and myself and Paul have more experience.”

Mr. Vilar pointed to his own three decades in law enforcement, his emergency management know-how, and his boots-on-the ground environmental protection efforts as a member of the parks police. “Everybody can talk a good game about environmental protection and sleep soundly at night,” he said. “Myself and the people I represent, we’re the ones out there in the middle of the night in inclement weather making sure it actually happens.” With the P.B.A. — the fifth largest police union in the state outside of New York City — he has experience in labor relations and contract negotiations and has worked closely with the New York State Legislature “on any legislation that either directly or indirectly impacts our members.” 

Campaigning has been an eye-opener on several fronts for Mr. Vilar and Mr. Larsen, who have, until now, interacted with the community on very different fronts — as coaches, in law enforcement, as parents, but never as the faces of one political party or another. Mr. Vilar has six children; his eldest are grown and out of the house and his youngest is in eighth grade at the Springs School. 

“Some people are willing to engage you in conversation, and some won’t even acknowledge you,” said Mr. Larsen, who is registered with the Independence Party but was unsuccessful in his efforts to force a primary on that line. People ask them whether they are with the Democrats or Republicans, and some, after hearing they are on the Republican ticket, simply hand their literature back to them without another word. Mr. Larsen lamented that fact that even on the local level it seems that people frustrated by President Trump will not give a Republican candidate the time of day. “It’s sad that people are that narrow-minded that they hold people to a national standard,” he said.

On the local level, Mr. Vilar said, “we shouldn’t have Republican and Democratic Parties; we should have This Party and That Party.” Concerns in East Hampton cut across party lines, he said: “leaf pickup, whether the street light works or doesn’t work . . . from simple things like that to the difficult things like protecting our water quality.”

“Government has one function first and foremost: public safety,” Mr. Vilar said. In his mind, everything else, including environmental protections and zoning regulations, flows from that main responsibility. 

Standing on the corner last week, both Mr. Vilar and Mr. Larsen faulted the current town board and the ones that came before it for what they see as a lack of action on a number of issues, among them transportation and water quality. At the same time, they believe the current town board has been too quick to support Deepwater Wind’s plan for 15 offshore turbines about 30 miles from Montauk. “The town board, I believe, did the community a disservice because it jumped in with both feet without having . . . all the facts,” Mr. Vilar said. “Renewable energy is where we need to go, but you have to have all the facts. . . . We don’t have all the facts to know that you’re not going to create a greater environmental impact to our underwater ecosystem and not going to economically impede your ability to seek other alternative energies.” 

“I’m a big fan of solar and micro-generation,” he said. “There are other sources of renewable energy that still need to be vetted out and that project, itself, still needs to be vetted out.” At the same time, he said, he would “absolutely oppose” offshore drilling in the Atlantic. 

On the campaign trail, town residents tell him they are frustrated with the lack of public transportation, both in the town and regionally. “The East End should take over the assets of the M.T.A. and create a regional transportation authority,” he said. People also talk to him about the need for affordable workspaces. More of those could cut down on the number of vehicles commuting to and from points west each day, he said. 

A lot of problems that the town board tries to fix through new legislation could be fixed through better enforcement, Mr. Vilar said. He pointed for example to the summer party scene in Montauk, which he said is far less hectic than the scene that state parks police deal with on any given summer weekend at Jones Beach. “We have terrific town employees and we need to let them do their jobs.” 

He said people talk to him a lot about “the constant fluctuation in how policy is determined and implemented” and that they feel “a lot of it is left to subjective criteria.” Among his proposals is one that would stipulate that all appointed boards be made up of two members named by the majority party, two by the minority party, and a chairman agreed to be both parties, so that bodies like the planning board or zoning board of appeals are “no longer subject to political whims.” 

He also proposes internal committees that would review resolutions before they are submitted to the town board for approval “to vet out the unintended consequences.”

He described himself as a pragmatic thinker who can make split-second decisions but always looks at the big picture before “drill[ing] down the facts.” He loves to work, he said. “I’m in a great position. I love what I do. . . . I don’t need a job; I’m doing this because I love my community.”