By Stephen J. Kotz
New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and state Senator Kenneth P. LaValle made rare appearances in this year’s campaign when the Concerned Citizens of Montauk held their annual candidates forum at the Montauk Firehouse on Sunday.
Neither Brian DeSesa, a member of the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals and a Sag Harbor attorney who is challenging Mr. Thiele on the Conservative ticket, nor Heather Collins, a Suffolk County Board of Elections official, who is running on the Republican line, attended the forum. Mr. LaValle’s opponent, Michael Conroy, a member of both the Suffolk County and Brookhaven Town Democratic committees, was also a no-show.
U.S. Representative Tim Bishop and his Republican challenger, Lee Zeldin, also spoke at the forum, with their debate largely mirroring one that took place in Westhampton Beach last week.
In asking for voters’ continued support, Mr. Thiele told the audience he was the only independent assemblyman in the legislature, and touted his work on behalf of the East End.
He cited his roles in helping East Hampton Town dig its way out of a $30 million budget deficit left by former Supervisor Bill McGintee in 2009 as well as in passing special legislation that waived fines when due to a computer glitch the town failed to send out a third of its property tax bills in a timely fashion.
Mr. Thiele said the state had submitted on-time budgets for the past four years, lowered income taxes and turned a $10 billion deficit into a $4.5 billion surplus.
“That’s not to say all our work is done, but we’ve made progress,” Mr. Thiele said.
Mr. Thiele said he was most proud of his sponsorship of the Community Preservation Fund, which, he said, has raised nearly $1 billion during its lifetime, including some $265 million this year.
Mr. LaValle said both he and Mr. Thiele are highly rated by New York Public Interest Research Group. “We are creative and aggressive in our action,” he said. “We go to Albany for you and we try do the best possible job.”
Mr. LaValle said the state’s 2-percent tax cap was helping to hold down property taxes and that the state was increasing school aid. He also pointed to his work on behalf of the Stony Brook Southampton campus, which he said would help create jobs, as well as his efforts to help shepherd through the affiliation of Southampton Hospital with Stony Brook University Hospital.
The candidates’ discussion was largely cordial, although Amos Goodman provoked the ire of Mr. Thiele when he accused him of taking part in “a sleazy bait and switch” by being a member of the Independence Party while caucusing with the Democrats, led by Assemblyman Sheldon Silver.
“I don’t want to carry the baggage of one major party or another,” replied Mr. Thiele. “I get support from Democrats, Republicans and Independents because I represent the people in my district.”
CCOM executive director Jeremy Samuelson asked the candidates what they thought about a proposal that would allow CPF money to be used to help protect water quality.
Mr. Thiele stressed that discussions were at the early stages and would require voter approval to extend the CPF for another 20 years before the fund’s focus could be expanded to include water protection. But he added that protecting water quality would fit the CPF’s mandate of protecting the East End’s character.
“We are seeing water quality problems everywhere,” he said. “We can’t buy enough land to solve this problem.”
“Many of you know I have been an open space hawk,” Mr. LaValle said of his support of efforts to protect land, which he said helps protect the quality of life and the environment. He said he would support efforts to make water protection a higher priority.
Steps are already afoot to do so, he said, including the formation of a water institute at Stony Brook University to work on new technologies for dealing with nitrates and septic systems.
Audience members also asked about the elected officials’ efforts to intercede on behalf of East Hampton in its dispute with PSEG Long Island, which installed hundreds of 60-foot-tall poles from East Hampton Village to Amagansett earlier this year.
Mr. Thiele complained that the utility was as bad as the former Long Island Lighting Company in ignoring local concerns. “That’s because they have no oversight from the Public Service Commission,” he said. Mr. LaValle agreed that PSEG talked a good game when it took over the maintenance of the electricity from National Grid last year but soon showed another face.
Another audience member asked about Mr. Thiele’s long-term effort to eliminate zone pricing of petroleum products, which results in higher gas prices on the East End. Mr. Thiele said he hoped that with Mr. LaValle’s help, a measure that has passed in the Assembly outlawing the practice, could be passed in the Senate.
Both officials also said they were happy that the state is approaching the end of a long-needed Route 27 paving project, with Mr. Thiele adding that it now needs to turn its attention to Route 114, where there is a need for repaving in some places as well as an effort to address safety issues.