Tag Archive | "Zach Cohen"

Democrats Take Town Board Election in East Hampton While Supervisor’s Race Remains Uncertain

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web EH Election Night_4366

There were no concession speeches offered in the race for East Hampton Town Supervisor on Tuesday night, with a small margin of votes separating the incumbent Republican supervisor and the Democratic Party challenger.

According to the Suffolk County Board of Election’s (BOE) unofficial results, Republican Supervisor Bill Wilkinson has narrowly defeated Democratic Party candidate Zach Cohen by just 177 votes.

However, with at least 700 absentee ballots yet to be counted by the BOE, Cohen has not conceded defeat, on Wednesday saying it would likely be a week, if not two, before a final victor is named in the contest.

As of early Wednesday morning, unofficial results out of the BOE showed Wilkinson earning 3,066 votes, about 51 percent of the vote with Cohen trailing, carrying 48 percent of the vote with 2,889 ballots cast in his favor.

“To tell you the truth, I am a little disappointed because of the amount of work we have accomplished in a short 22 months,” said Wilkinson on Wednesday morning. “To see the race this tight means that the priorities of the community are different than just providing straight tax reductions, cutting the budget, trying to save the middle class and other things.”

Wilkinson said at the same time, he will be “reflective” about how close the race is and what kind of changes he will need to make at the helm if he is re-elected.

“You have to ask yourself why it was so close,” he said. “Improvement has to be made as a result of that.”

“I remain very positive,” said Cohen on Wednesday morning, although he said in every analysis he has completed on how the absentee ballots could fall, it really is anyone’s race for the supervisor’s seat.

According to Cohen, East Hampton Town residents had applied for 1,050 absentee ballots. A total of 766 had been handed in as of Monday, including close to 400 from Democratic Party members, 213 from Republican Party members, and the remainder split between third and unlisted party members.

“It is not so far fetched an idea that I could come out the winner,” said Cohen. “My odds are better than the New York State Lottery.”

What was certain by 10 p.m. on Tuesday night was that Democratic candidates for town board — Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc — comfortably won the two open seats on the East Hampton Town Board. Independence Party candidates Marilyn Behan and Bill Mott offered their concessions on Tuesday night, along with Republican town board hopefuls Steven Gaines and Richard Haeg.

According to the BOE, Van Scoyoc was the top vote getter, earning 2,689 or 23 percent of the vote. He was followed by Overby, who had 21 percent of the vote with 2,475 ballots cast in her favor. Haeg earned 1,738 votes, followed by Gaines who brought in 1,702 votes, with Independence Party candidates Mott and Behan earning 1,610 and 1,331, respectively.

On Wednesday, Van Scoyoc said support for the Democratic candidates, he believed, came from their platform on addressing quality of life issues in the town, and preserving the very reasons so many residents love to call East Hampton home.

“People want us to be careful with planning and proceed in government in a way that preserves all that we have,” said Van Scoyoc.

He added that he hopes to work with Republican members of the town board in a bi-partisan effort to do what is best for East Hampton.

“I will be looking for ways to bring people together and deal with issues in an open and effective manner,” he said.

“I really think our message was about the quality of life people have enjoyed and expected in living out here,” agreed Overby. “And it has really gone off the rails, which is why I think we saw things turn around so quickly.”

Overby said she plans to focus on ensuring the Community Preservation Fund continues to operate, and that she would like to look into chain store legislation in East Hampton that could protect the community character of downtown areas. Aiding farmers and creating legislation to allow that industry to thrive is another top priority, as is pushing the town board to use the professional expertise found within the town’s planning department — a department she feels has been overlooked in the last two years.

Where Republicans did rally was in the town highway superintendent, town justice and town trustee races where Democratic candidates were handily defeated.

In the highway superintendent race, Republican Party candidate Stephen Lynch routed incumbent Democratic Scott King, earning 3,567 votes to King’s 2,387. Lynch was one of the first winners declared on Tuesday night at Indian Wells Tavern in Amagansett — the Republican Party headquarters for the evening.

Similarly, incumbent Republican town justice, and acting Sag Harbor Village Justice, Lisa Rana was re-elected to her seat, earning 3,701 or 63-percent of the vote, over her Democratic challenger Stephen Grossman, who brought in 2,178 votes.

In the town trustee race, Republicans Stephanie Talmage-Forsberg, Timothy Bock, Diane McNally, Sean McCaffery Joseph Bloecker, Lynn Mendelman and Nathaniel Miller were elected to that board, along with Democrats Stephen Lester and Deborah Klughers.

Unopposed in their elections, the town’s assessors — Jeanne Nielsen and Jill Massa also kept their positions within the town.

East Hampton Town Supervisors Debate Finances, Experience & the Future of the East Hampton Airport

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web LWV East Hampton super Debate 10-17-11_3646

On Monday night during the first televised debate between candidates vying for the East Hampton Town Supervisors seat, a brief sparring match erupted between incumbent Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Democratic candidate Zach Cohen over which candidate has the financial experience to shepherd the town through a multi-million deficit.

Outside of that interchange, while having largely differing views on the future of the town, the League of Women Voters-sponsored debate at LTV Studios in Wainscott remained largely civil between the opposing candidates.

Wilkinson, a Republican also running on the Independence Party line for his second term, couched the November 8 election as one that is just as critical as the previous two as the town faces a close to $30 million deficit left by the prior administration.

During his term in office,Wilkinson noted the town board has cut spending, offered now two years of property tax decreases for its residents and restored the $17 million pilfered from the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) to cover general expenses within town prior to his election.

“But much work still has to be done,” said Wilkinson. “We are at a critical time and the town cannot afford to slip back.”

Cohen has been involved with the town since 2002, when he joined the Nature Preserve Committee, which he has chaired since 2008. Cohen has served on the budget and finance advisory committee.

“My opponent came into office with a promise to do more with less,” said Cohen “I don’t see the more. In fact, we have far less then we did two years ago.”

Cohen noted the town no longer has leaf pick-up services, and the town’s recycling center in Springs is now closed on Wednesday. He also lamented the sale of the Poxabogue Golf Center to Southampton Town. What the town does have more of, said Cohen, is airport noise and crowded nightclubs.

Despite differing on several issues, Cohen and Wilkinson only really sparred towards the end of the evening when Wilkinson questioned Cohen’s resume when compared to his own.

“Sooner or later, this campaign will come down to resumes,” said Wilkinson. “We will make a selection on whose resume or body of knowledge is better.”

He pointed to the 30 years he served with the Walt Disney Corporation, leading its human resources department and said that has given him the kind of experience and insight to make good decisions of behalf of the town.

“We took a $27 million deficit and when the opinion of the world was East Hampton was near bankruptcy, turned that around in 22 months,” said Wilkinson.

“If he wants to get into resumes, I would be happy to go there,” said Cohen.

Cohen began reading emails sent to him by Wilkinson, auditors looking into the town’s finances and the New York State Comptroller’s Office, asking for his advice, as well as information Cohen had gathered in his own research as a volunteer working on the budget and finance committee.

Wilkinson responded by asking to see the emails, and later said Cohen was sent a cease and desist letter by the state comptroller asking him to refrain from referring to himself as a financial analyst for the department.

The debate was ended before Cohen could defend himself.

Earlier in the evening, the panel, which included The East Hampton Star editor David Rattray, The East Hampton Press editor Stephen J. Kotz and Susan Wilson from the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, asked the supervisor candidates beach access.

Preserving beach access, particularly in light of a recent lawsuit by a group of Napeague homeowners who have litigated to stop trucks from driving onto a stretch of beach historically kept open to beach driving, has been one of the most debated issues in East Hampton over the last year.

When asked about the town board’s commitment to fighting the lawsuit, Wilkinson announced the board would pass a symbolic resolution at its Tuesday meeting asserting its pledge to fight any attempts to take ownership of beaches in East Hampton away from residents. It was in fact adopted on Tuesday morning.

“This wasn’t about public access,” said Wilkinson of the lawsuit. “My God, the opposition has people that have campaigned for two years to keep people off that beach. This is all about jurisdiction.

Wilkinson noted the town trustees, not the town board, have jurisdiction over the beach and the board has been reluctant to violate that.

“Supervisor Wilkinson is rather late to the party,” said Cohen, noting the issue has been waging for the last year.

“One important difference is we have stated that is condemnation is necessary, we will do that,” said Cohen. “It is a strong strategic point because it tells other people, don’t even get started because all you will do is cause more lawsuits.”

Easily the most debated issue in this political season has been whether or not the town should accept funding from the FAA for the East Hampton Airport.

Cohen said he believes the town should have three goals in regards to the airport. First it needs to ensure there is minimal to zero tax burden places on residents to run the facility. Second, it needs to address the noise concerns plaguing residents of not just East Hampton, but Southampton, but thirdly must balance that with the understanding that people who use the airport must also be considered.

“One thing everyone has agreed on is a control tower would provide an increase in safe operations,” said Cohen. He added he would not take money from the FAA, which would extend federal controls over the airport past 2015, without first studying the effectiveness of the control tower, as well as completing a financial analysis of the airport.

Wilkinson said there is a legal debate that is ongoing on whether not taking FAA money would even have an impact over federal control, adding he believes the grant assurances through the FAA actually run through 2020.

Wilkinson added the board, through airport liaison Dominick Stanzione, have formed a noise abatement committee with the five East End towns, and have explored implementing a southern route into the airport over Georgica Pond

“The seasonal control tower has been put in the budget for next year, so hopefully that will have some impact on the 10-miles of airspace around the airport,” he said.

“The airport to me is something that is a precious asset we have in our community,” he added, noting it brings in 12 million into the local economy, and creates 90 jobs. It also provides a venue for Medivac services and would aid the town during an emergency, he said.

“I believe in taking FAA money,” Wilkinson added, noting it would cover basic maintenance at the airport and save taxpayers locally.

Cohen did counter that while some grant assurances do extend beyond 2015, the town could implement a curfew after that period if it did not take FAA money, and could prohibit plans that emit noise over a certain decibel level from landing in East Hampton.

“Part of the idea of a financial study is you can fund the airport without having taxpayer pay for it,” said Cohen.

The League of Women Voters has long pushed for both Southampton and East Hampton towns to create a town manager position, similar to East Hampton Village, in an effort to ensure continuity despite changes in power on town board. The creation of a town manager would have to be voted on by residents before the town could adopt that style of government.

Both Cohen and Wilkinson said they liked the concept, but were unsure given the financial crisis the town has been mired in that this was the right time to make such a big change in the way town government is run.

“People have said to me, you need a town manager when you leave and the person doesn’t have the same obsession you do,” said Wilkinson. “It is something worth considering.”

Cohen said that while he did question whether a town manager was the right step at this point, he has proposed replacing the town budget officer with a Certified Public Accountant, who would not be appointed politically as the budget officer is.