By Tessa Raebeck
In front of a packed room Thursday night, candidates for Southampton Town Board debated experience, integrity and economics. Democrats Brad Bender and Frank Zappone faced Republicans Stan Glinka and Jeff Mansfield in a debate hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons at Rogers Memorial Library.
Moderated by Carol Mellor, voter service co-chair for the league, the debate included questions asked by members of the audience, as well as by Bryan Boyhan, editor and publisher of The Sag Harbor Express, Joe Shaw, executive editor for the Press News Group, and Judy Samuelson of the league.
Noting that all the candidates would be first time town board members, Shaw asked what issue their first piece of legislation would address.
“Water quality is going to be my number one issue,” replied Bender, mentioning his endorsement from the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum. “The first thing I want to do is really take a look at how we’re going to start saving our town — how do we work regionally with state, local, federal governments to make a difference for our waterways.”
“We have dragged our feet for way too long,” he continued. “We are so far behind in the technology in this community that we should be ashamed.”
Mansfield answered that his top three issues are fiscal responsibility, code enforcement and water quality. He said he fully supports Councilwoman Christine Scalera’s septic rebate program, but that “we need to do more.”
He advocates working with the schools to plant more eelgrass and seed the bays with shellfish.
“That’s nature’s way to filter the bays,” he said. “There’s a lot of nitrogen-reducing technology available in states like Rhode Island and Maryland that have a lot of tributaries and waterways. We don’t have it approved by the county yet — we need to lobby hard.”
Glinka pointed to three things that he would “have to tackle all at once evenly,” economic redevelopment, public safety and the environment. He said it is “vitally important” to have a good relationship with town trustees.
“Many of the small businesses in this town are struggling, making it economically feasible to stay here but also to attract new businesses,” he said, adding that he would also look at further staffing the police force and code enforcement office to increase public safety.
“Although these problems are very important problems for the town, they’re not going to be impacted by a single piece of legislation,” responded Zappone, who serves as deputy supervisor for the town. He said that he and the current administration moved code enforcement into the town attorney’s office, effectively quadrupling the number of enforcement actions due to improved communication.
“My first piece of legislation,” he said, “would be to bring fire marshal and code enforcement into one public safety unit so they could work closely with the town attorney and our court system so that we can effectively prosecute and proceed to getting some compliance issues addressed throughout the town.”
Shaw posed a question from the audience asking the candidates to state their position on the proposed Tuckahoe Center supermarket and retail complex on County Road 39.
“I believe firmly in representative government,” answered Mansfield. “So my job is not to tell you what I think is best, my job is to do what you think is best and my job is to find out what that is by vetting the issue, going out to the community, finding out the pulse of the community then taking action in a cost-effective and timely manner and that’s exactly what I will do.”
Glinka referred to his experience as president of the Hampton Bays Chamber of Commerce.
“I think communication and education are the two foremost important factors in here and making sure that we make the best decision as a group,” he said. “It’s very important to hear what you as a community wants and what the people in the town want, not what I want as town council.”
“We need updated traffic studies,” replied Zappone. “We need updated analysis of the changing demographics of the community and we also need to look at the potential merger of these two school districts [Tuckahoe and Southampton] and how that might impact the community. So there’s a lot of information to gather before we go out communicating and educating the community, which is important to do but we need the information and we need the facts collected as best we possibly can.”
Bender pointed to the numerous vacant lots that are on County Road 39 adjacent to the proposal property.
“We don’t need to build new things when we have things sitting empty,” he said. “We’ve got empty stores up and down County Road 39, we’ve got blight up and down County Road 39 and until we address these issues we have no business then building anything else in that spot.”
Acknowledging Bender’s comment, Boyhan asked the candidates what pressures the town can bring to bear on property owners who have had unsuccessful businesses or let their buildings deteriorate and what can be done to force the repurpose of those buildings.
Glinka advocated streamlining the process by which new businesses can come into Southampton.
“Sometimes we’re anti-business,” he said. “It makes it very difficult for people to come in here and set up businesses. If we could make it attractive for developers to come out here and revitalize those [old motels that have been turned into section eight housing] and make it certain that that’s what they’re going to do and bring the tourism back out here and make it affordable for people to come out here with families, I think that would start a domino effect in attracting businesses,” he maintained.
Zappone said it’s important to take advantage of the business advisory council that resides at the Stony Brook Southampton campus, as well as initiating tax relief elements.
“If businesses are going to be viable on that road,” he said of County Road 39, “something has to be done about the way traffic flows on that road.”
He advocates bringing in low volume businesses such as law offices and consulting firms and called for a regional approach to addressing blighted properties.
Bender referenced his involvement in the Riverside Economic Development Committee and spoke of working together with the International Development Association (IDA) and the Regional Economic Development Council to help small businesses and also ensure they can help themselves.
“The last thing that small business owners need is senseless regulation from the government,” replied Mansfield. “I’m a capitalist. I believe in free markets, I believe in competition. I think if government isn’t helping small business it needs to step aside.”
Mansfield called for the small business office to return to town hall and emphasized listening to small business owners.
Referencing the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Boyhan asked the candidates whether the town is prepared for another major storm and what can be done to improve the town’s response to such an event. All of the candidates applauded the work of the town employees and officials in response to Sandy.
Referring to the fatal traffic accident that stopped traffic on County Road 39 for nine hours July 25, Mansfield said, “There’s still work to be done and we’re vulnerable to a big evacuation. I think we can do a better job of warning our citizens and making sure they can get out if they need to get out.”
Glinka said he would definitely work on “ensuring if we did have to evacuate the area, how would we do this in a timely, safe manner.”
“Our demographic area — it’s very unique and I think we have to approach it in such a way,” he continued. “I think just enhancing and working with what the current administration has in place already, I think we can only improve upon it. And also working with community members and civic organizations and public safety areas and getting their input as well.”
Zappone thanked the other candidates for the recognition of a job well done.
“Yes, we are better prepared,” he said, adding that, with the help of consultants, the chief of police, fire marshals and the fire chief, the administration has completely revised and rewritten its emergency operational procedures and is in the final stages of preparing a hazard mitigation plan that “will give us a better opportunity to be resilient in the case of a storm.”
Bender called for the completion of the Flanders Nutrition Site, which he said is supposed to be a command center.
“If we do have one of these major storms that’s going to make us move off our shore, where are we going to go?” he asked. “What are we going to do? We have a command center that’s not complete, we could finish that.”
Residents of Southampton Town will be able to vote for two of the four town board candidates in the general election November 5.