By Amanda Wyatt; Photography by Michael Heller
State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming – both vying to represent New York’s First District in the race for State Senate – locked horns in a debate on Monday night in East Hampton.
Approximately 50 people turned up at the Emergency Services Building to hear the candidates spar over a variety of issues. Bryan Boyhan, publisher of The Sag Harbor Express; David Rattray, editor of The East Hampton Star and League of Women Voters of the Hamptons member Judy Samuelson served as panelists.
Fleming, a Democrat from Noyac, opened the debate by suggesting it was time for a change of leadership, pointing out that LaValle has served in the state senate for 36 years. She also noted that if she wins the election, she would be the first woman senator from Suffolk County.
“I’m running because business as usual has failed us in Albany,” she said.
LaValle, a Republican from Port Jefferson, cited his long record in the state senate as reason to keep him in his position.
“My motto is, First District first,” he said. “…I want to talk about my record, because it’s a distinguished record and one that has served the people of this district.”
LaValle brought up his past efforts in environmental conservation, education and health care, specifically highlighting his role in the recent partnership between Stony Brook University Medical Center and Southampton Hospital.
While much attention was paid to hot-button issues like campaign finance reform and government spending during Monday’s debate, issues particular to the East End were also in focus. The ongoing dispute over the perceived increase in noise from The East Hampton Airport came up, with candidates asked whether it was time to take legal action against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Fleming said she had approached the Southampton Town attorney about the possibility of initiating a lawsuit against the FAA, and that the town council had “met ad nauseum,” she said, with other government leaders over the issue of aircraft noise.
Additionally, said Fleming, she believes enforcing flying curfews and implementing altitude requirements for aircraft could be key components in reducing noise.
LaValle, on the other hand, believed he had “a good disposition to get people to find common ground.”
He suggested the use of a proposed Atlantic Ocean route, which would bring helicopters over the Georgica section of East Hampton, as a way to alleviate residents in Noyac, North Haven and Sag Harbor, as well as the North Fork, of incessant helicopter noise.
“I believe that that is a viable alternative that has to be pursued with all of our vigor,” he said.
Earlier this month, LaValle was joined by a cadre of government officials in signing a letter to the FAA demanding it implement that southern flight path.
The candidates were also asked whether the state should play a role in controlling Lyme disease, as well as managing the deer population.
Calling deer “very formidable,” LaValle said he helped fund the 4-Poster program that has been implemented in Shelter Island as well as other communities like Fire Island to stop the spread of ticks.
The 4-Poster Program, licensed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), is a feeding station for deer equipped with a strong tickicide.
Implementing a 4-Poster program has most recently been debated in North Haven Village, although it appears that village board is looking towards culling the herd as a means of relief.
“Yes, there are times when I’ve used leadership to steer things in a particular direction, but local people have to be in favor of whatever you want to do,” said LaValle.
Fleming also mentioned using the 4-Poster program, as well as the need to find ways of “humanely reducing” the deer population.
The two-percent property tax levy cap was another topic of debate. While LaValle voted for the cap, he said he had “pushed for the maximum state aid that we were able to generate.”
He added, “sharing services is probably the first step that needs to be taken. I think all levels of government need to share the taxing resources that they have.”
LaValle mentioned he had already supported the consolidation of two school districts on the North Fork and supported the reorganization of schools on the South Fork.
Like LaValle, Fleming expressed the need for mandate relief.
“We’ve got to look at the places where our budgets are leaking, and the state, as sort of the bully pulpit, can induce local municipalities and school districts to lower their costs,” she said. “And that is what the point of the two-percent tax cap really should be, if it stays in place.”
The ever-present issue of jobs was also touched on.
“I don’t think anyone has worked harder to deal with introducing jobs here,” said LaValle, noting that protecting the environment was key to creating jobs and sustaining tourism.
For Fleming, the loss of local jobs is due to the fact many companies cannot afford to stay in the area. She pointed out that Long Island has the highest electric rates in the continental United States, which was a turnoff to corporations.
In her closing statement, Fleming noted that the election has gained national attention.
“If I win, I’ll be the first senator who is a female from eastern Long Island, and the first from all of Long Island since 1984,” she said.
“We can’t let this moment pass,” she added. “We have the opportunity to break into the boys’ club.”
In his closing statement, LaValle brought up his accomplishments in health care, among other things.
“This area will no longer be medically underserved,” he said, speaking to the potential in the partnership between Stony Brook Southampton and Southampton Hospital. “This area will receive the best health care and specialists, so that you don’t have to travel long distances.”
“I believe that over the years in my career that I have been a leader in many, many different areas,” LaValle added. “And I think that’s why the people of the first district have returned me to office.”