By Ellen Frankman
In the face of approaching November elections, the Democratic Party candidates for East Hampton Town Supervisor and Town Board put forth a comprehensive issues statement earlier this week. In it, the Dems outline the challenges and goals their party candidates hope to address in the coming year.
“We wanted to begin this campaign by addressing many of the big issues that East Hampton may be facing in the future,” said Larry Cantwell, candidate for supervisor. Cantwell stepped down from his position as East Hampton Village Administrator in July and is now looking to fill the shoes of the town’s current Republican supervisor, Bill Wilkinson, who is not seeking re-election.
Cantwell will not face a Republican opponent since former supervisor and current Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman turned down that party’s nomination earlier this year, deciding to seek another term with the legislature instead. Cantwell, who has also been endorsed by the Independent and Working Families parties, said in a statement last week that he would decline a Republican endorsement following efforts by some to encourage Republican voters to pencil in his name in during a Republican primary on Tuesday, September 10.
The town’s Republican party failed to secure a supervisor candidate in time to make the board of elections deadline this summer, and instead chose to file a petition to be allowed to hold a write-in primary to gain a supervisor candidate.
Cantwell has said he would like voters in the town to have the benefit of a contested election.
According to Cantwell, the issues statement released last week, which was authored by himself and Democratic town council candidates Job Potter and Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, is a reflection of the needs and voices of the community. The three have already held three “Listen In” forums, in Montauk, Springs and Amagansett where voters were encouraged to ask questions and raise concerns. More forums are scheduled for September.
“We look forward to continued input from every hamlet in East Hampton,” said Cantwell who views balancing the budget and continuing to rebuild the town’s finances as a major goal for East Hampton.
“For too long, the town has found itself mired in destructive political disputes which have undermined any progress which may have been made in improving its financial healthy,” reads the candidates’ issues statement which notes that employee health benefits represent 24 percent of the town’s total budget, and were singled out by the Democratic candidates as a place to look for savings.
“The Town of East Hampton provides health benefits and I support that, but because it is growing to be such a large portion of their total compensation package, it is an area that through union negotiations the town has to be concerned with,” said Cantwell. “The town employees have the right to negotiate and I will negotiate with them in good faith.”
The issues statement recommended offering incentives to town employees who seek health care coverage through spouses covered by an employer other than the town. It also recommended that new employees be required to contribute to their health insurance expenses.
The candidates also placed an emphasis on quality of life and affordable housing in their statement.
“The cost of living in East Hampton is very high for working families and for seniors living on a fixed income, and I believe that town has a responsibility to provide affordable housing whenever it can,” said Cantwell. “If we want people to live out their lives with dignity and we want working class families to be able to afford to provide for their families here than we need to do something about it.”
Cantwell emphasized that with a lack of affordable housing, the workforce is lost.
“These people are the backbone of the community,” he said. “They are the volunteer firemen and the volunteer ambulance workers and we need to support them as much as we possibly can.”
Cantwell stressed that quality of life, though largely the reason individuals chose to live on the East End in the first place, is also tied to code enforcement.
“The town needs to do a much more effective job of code enforcement so that everyone lives by the same local laws and rules and everyone who abuses that should be dealt with in a fair and appropriate way,” said Cantwell, with specific references to noise ordnances, illegal housing and overcrowding and public intoxication laws, which all impact residential neighborhoods.
“I think there needs to be much better coordination between the town attorney’s office, the police department the fire marshal’s office, the building department, and the code enforcement department so they do a more effective job enforcing the laws,” he added.
Cantwell, Potter and Burke-Gonzalez also addressed coastal policy in the issues statement, writing, “the natural protection of waterfront property is our best insurance policy.”
“Climate change, sea level rise and the devastating impacts of more frequent and more dangerous storms are upon us now and the community needs to be better prepared both in terms of protecting itself and how to best recover from a catastrophic event,” said Cantwell.
Cantwell emphasized that a costal mitigation and recovery plan would be necessary and that the town must reexamine how it is developing along the coastline.
Finally, the issues statement called for a return to more open government, in which public participation and transparency are of the utmost importance.
And as a pledge to their constituents, the Democratic Party nominees for supervisor and town board promised to “protect and increase that sense of community and well-being.”