Local politicians and some from farther west played to a packed house at the Montauk Fire Department on Sunday at the Concerned Citizens of Montauk’s meet-the-candidates forum.
Angie Carpenter, the Republican running for Suffolk County executive, and incumbent County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and his Republican opponent, Cornelius Kelly, each spoke but the focus that day was on town issues.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, a Republican who lives in Montauk, started his speech by touting his administration’s successes, including on that list the promotions of two Montaukers in the Police Department, Town Police Chief Edward V. Ecker Jr. and Lt. Thomas Grenci.
From the audience, Edward Porco of Montauk asked Mr. Wilkinson if he was sincere in his effort to preserve the quality of life in Montauk. “Are you really concerned about the people in Montauk? How far are you willing to go?” he asked.
In the last two years, Montauk has seen an influx of new nightclubs such as the Surf Lodge, Ruschmeyer’s, the Crow’s Nest, Solé East, and Sloppy Tuna that many have complained are creating an out-of-control party scene. During this year’s political campaigns, the current town board and town supervisor have been accused of turning their backs on the hamlet and refusing to enforce the laws.
The supervisor said he has instructed the town’s Ordinance Enforcement Department to issue tickets daily for code violations. The affluent, young, and out-of-town crowd that patronized the Surf Lodge is at least a peaceful one, he said, “It’s hard for people to get into fights when you’re drinking mojitos.” Of the violations, he said, “I’m not happy with it. I’m working my tail off on it. I want Montauk to be as sweet as it has been since 1949.”
The Surf Lodge was cited 640 times between June and September of this year for zoning violations related to a boutique, an outdoor awning, and a food truck that is parked on its premises. Mr. Wilkinson told the crowd that the town had recently reduced 400 tickets to 200 and levied a fine of $100,000. In a follow-up on Monday, he stressed that the deal was not final and must still be agreed to by the attorney for the Surf Lodge and an East Hampton Town justice.
Pat Gunn, an assistant town attorney and head of the town’s division of public safety, said that the numbers Mr. Wilkinson cited were not accurate. “The case is still pending, no reductions have been made, no plea has been taken, and no fines have been levied,” he wrote in an e-mail message on Monday.
Mr. Wilkinson said he would like more time to get the town’s finances in order, as it’s taken up most of his first term to right the ship. “Albeit, the ship is still listing,” he added, noting that he treats the town finances similar to his own. “If I can keep residents here, I can keep generations to come here,” he said.
Cost-benefit analysis is his game, he said, and noted that when the television show “Royal Pains” filmed around Montauk several weeks ago it was a royal pain, but one that poured $266,000 into the local economy. “The town needs to create low-density, high-tech areas in the community. We have to reach out to the film industry,” he said.
Zach Cohen, his Democratic opponent, started by saying that he’s noticed that Montauk is very different. “It has a lot more character and is a lot more fun,” he said. He added that he once owned a successful restaurant that employed 180 people. “Our success came from listening to what the client wants, which is different from a corporate background,” he said, alluding to Mr. Wilkinson’s career at Disney.
He pointed out that Mr. Wilkinson said he would try to do more with less. “But I don’t see much more,” he said. He also doesn’t buy the excuse that nothing can be done about certain things. His management style, he said, would be more open. He would not be in favor of hiring a town manager but might look into someone who would act as a general manager, he said.
Steven Gaines, who is running on the Republican ticket for town board, seemed to draw favor with those members of the crowd who serve on the Montauk and Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committees when he said he would not banish such committees. He would like to rework the community preservation fund so that the money in it would targeted toward environmentally sensitive sites.
“This is a group that nobody fools around with,” he said, remarking on the size of Sunday’s crowd. Montauk is often considered the step-child of East Hampton, he said, “but not anymore.”
Sylvia Overby, who is running for town board, said if elected she would be an advocate for the people of East Hampton Town and for local businesses. She said sometimes the public interest is neglected and projects are pushed through too quickly. “The more local our business, the more money stays in the area,” she said.
When she was asked later what she thought about changes to the town’s dark skies lighting legislation, she said that the 2006 law is working just fine and that she sees no reason to change it. She will work to preserve the community’s character, she said.
Peter Van Scoyoc, a Democratic town board candidate, said that it does not make sense to try to right the town’s finances by selling off public property. “The environment is our biggest commodity; it’s why people come out here. A bad day in Bonac is still better than a good day in Levittown. If you elect me I will serve team East Hampton,” he said, making a reference to the “Team Wilkinson” advertisements that Republicans have been running.
Richard Haeg, a Republican running for town board, praised Mr. Wilkinson for the job he’s done and said he would like to follow him into the game.
Marilyn Behan of Montauk, running against him on the Independence ticket, told the crowd that she would work vigilantly on the housing code, and work to create jobs, keep skies dark at night, provide affordable housing, and protect the environment.
“We need a town board that can work together,” she said, and added “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.”
During a question-and-answer period later, Ms. Behan was asked if she would be in favor of accepting money from the Federal Aviation Administration for East Hampton Airport. She said that after studying all the information on it she thought it would be foolish not to.
Her running mate, Bill Mott, pointed out how important second homeowners and tourists are for generating revenue in this seasonal community.
From the audience, Beverly Bond asked the Democratic town board candidates if any of them had been in Fort Pond house, which the current administration has put up for sale. Democrats have decried the decision in campaign literature and advertisements.
Mr. Cohen had said earlier that he would remove the for sale sign from it, but he admitted that he had not been inside Fort Pond House, which the town condemned not long after deciding to sell it. “I didn’t say I was going to open it. I said I would take the for sale sign off.”
Ms. Overby said she had been inside it when it was first purchased and Mr. Van Scoyoc said he had not.
Incumbent Highway Superintendent Scott King and his opponent, Stephen Lynch, both said they would try to reinstate the leaf-pickup program, which Mr. Lynch noted should have been put to a vote by the people rather than being decided by a few on the town board. Mr. King said he would like to be reelected so he could continue the service he has been providing.
Mr. Lynch said the town’s roads are falling apart, and that the current practice of micropaving over badly damaged roads is not a good one. “If we keep going like this we’ll end up with a big deficit,” he said.
In the county races, Ms. Carpenter was the first to speak. A Suffolk County treasurer and a former county legislator, she told the crowd that her experience owning a business makes her more suited to the position than her Democratic opponent, Steve Bellone, the Babylon Town supervisor. Mr. Bellone was unable to attend Sunday’s event.
Government, she said, needs to run more like a business. She said the county meets a bi-monthly $3.3 million payroll, something she said is tough to comprehend until someone actually sits with the checkbook. Her experience as a businesswoman and treasurer makes it easier for her, she said, adding that “It brings understanding and expertise to a whole new level.”
Ms. Carpenter spoke with dismay about companies that are relocating off Long Island. “Small businesses need to be nurtured. Small businesses need to be protected,” she said.
“I’m hoping to do for Montauk what Montauk deserves,” said Mr. Schneiderman, who lives in the hamlet. He told the crowd that he is running on his past record, and said he hoped he had earned people’s continued support despite the fact that at the county level the deck is often stacked against him.
His opponent, Cornelius Kelly, who lives in East Quogue, said he jumped into the race because things need to be changed. He said the county’s finances are in disarray and tax increases are starting to appear as a horror show. “We need to get spending under control,” Mr. Kelly said.
He also spoke, as Mr. Schneiderman often does, of getting the East End its fair share of tax revenue. He said the area generates more revenue than others on Long Island and receives less. He was asked by an audience member what he will do to close the county debt, and said he would initiate strong negotiations with the unions, and look into health care and pension costs that, he said, were out of control. “It’s a tough fight. My loyalty will be with the taxpayers,” he said.