The two Republicans running for East Hampton Town Board took pains to differentiate themselves from their Democratic opponents and warned against one-party rule at the League of Women Voters debate on Monday night.
As he did at a debate earlier this month sponsored by the Group for Good Government, incumbent Republican Councilman Dominick Stanzione sought to paint himself as the candidate with the most experience with current issues facing the town including erosion control in Montauk, the town airport, and even controlling the deer population.
Mr. Stanzione, who was elected with the Republican majority in 2009, when the town teetered on the brink of financial disaster, but then broke with his G.O.P. colleagues on a number of issues midway through his first term, appeared to be taking pains to appeal to the Republican base. Several times, he made it a point to praise Supervisor Bill Wilkinson for his handling of the fiscal crisis and other initiatives.
Of his role in helping devise the financial plan for coping with a $26 million deficit, Mr. Stanzione, who is a bond trader with a background in municipal finance, said, “If I had done nothing else for this community, I think I would deserve re-election.”
Fred Overton, a Republican who, like Mr. Stanzione, has Independence and Conservative backing, warned against the kind of one-party rule that led to the fiscal crisis during the last Democratic administration. Conceding that the Democrats are guaranteed a majority because their supervisor candidate, Larry Cantwell, is running unopposed, Mr. Overton said, “I’d like to be your eyes and ears. We have two sitting Democrats and we don’t need two more as far as I’m concerned.”
Mr. Overton, the outgoing town clerk, also used the occasion to announce changes in his own thinking on two key issues. At the Group for Good Government debate, Mr. Overton was the only candidate to voice support for the construction of a rock revetment by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect downtown Montauk from erosion. He softened his stance on Monday, saying that a recent forum in Montauk on options for protecting the vulnerable oceanfront area had opened his eyes to the possibility that Geotubes, sand-filled geotextile tubes, or other options might be viable.
Similarly, Mr. Overton, who had expressed skepticism about the need for a town manager, a proposal the other candidates all support, said he had discussed the issue at length with a representative of the Group for Good Government. He said he was now open to the idea. “Compromise is one of my better traits,” he said of his change of heart.
Job Potter and Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, who are running on the Democratic and Working Families lines, also sought to better define themselves against their Republican opponents.
Mr. Potter, who previously served two terms as a councilman, urged voters “to pick the best two” candidates, regardless of party affiliation. If elected, he promised a return to civility at Town Hall, which has been lacking as partisan issues have split the board. He said his priorities, if elected, would be to “reenergize the C.P.F. fund, ditto for affordable housing,” noting that there are no projects “in the pipeline at this point for working families.”
While acknowledging that time was of the essence, Mr. Potter said he opposes any shore hardening at Montauk and added that the town needs to revisit the issue as a long-term planning problem. As to the approach the current board is taking to its dealings with the Army Corps, he said, “I think it’s a shame the town has not hired a coastal engineer” to help in that process.
Ms. Burke-Gonzalez also said she wanted to see a soft solution to rebuild the sand beach at Montauk, pointing out that the “expansive beach” is what draws families to the East End.
The Democrats also reiterated their opposition to accepting federal funding — at least for now — for East Hampton Airport, although both said they did not want to see the airport closed.
“We should have as much control as we possibly can,” said Mr. Potter in explaining why he opposed accepting more federal funding now. He said he was disappointed that the town board approved a resolution last week to pay $80,000 to hire an engineer to advise the town on the installation of a deer fence around the airport.
“I’m looking to let the grant assurances expire,” said Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, who said the town must complete the needed studies so it can prove to the Federal Aviation Administration that it is a “quiet community” and take meaningful steps to restrict the hours, numbers of flights, and types of aircraft that use the airport.
Both Mr. Overton and Mr. Stanzione said federal funding was the lifeblood of the airport. “Not taking F.A.A. funding makes it more likely that the airport will not survive,” said Mr. Stanzione.
The candidates also discussed quality-of-life issues, with Ms. Burke-Gonzalez saying they were the “hottest topic” when Democrats held a series of “listen-ins” across town earlier in the campaign. She called for an inter-agency task force to address the various problems. Mr. Potter said Montauk has borne the brunt of the assault. “It’s out of control out there,” he said, adding that the current town board has been lax in demanding code enforcement as well as proper site plans and other planning steps.
Mr. Overton said Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett would be a top priority and that the time had come for the town to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy toward alcohol use there. Mr. Stanzione, pointing to the growing problem of overcrowded housing, said he had proposed a rental registry, so the town could get a better handle on housing issues.
As he did on a number of issues, Mr. Stanzione touted his own work on the town’s deer management plan. “I’m proud to say I’m the author of the comprehensive plan,” he said. The plan has been controversial in part because it calls for reducing the number of deer. But there was no opposition to hiring professional hunters to cull the herd, he said.
The candidates also touched on the topic of so-called walk-on resolutions added to the town board’s agenda without advance notice. Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said the board’s agenda should be posted on the town’s Web site well in advance of the meeting. Mr. Potter said that the current Republican majority does not always share its resolutions with the Democratic minority.
The problem, said Mr. Overton, who oversees the compilation of the board’s agenda as town clerk, is that board members do not get their resolutions into his office on time. “I’ll tell you what happens,” he said, “the councilpeople don’t do their job.”