June 14, 2006

In Westhampton Beach Mayoral Candidates Face Off

There may have been no public debate in this year's Westhampton Beach Village election, but days before the voters hit the polls, the two mayoral candidates had a say about the race thus far.

"lt's gotten nasty," said former Fox-5 newsman John Roland, who's running for public office for the first time in this year's village election.

Roland charges that rumors have been swirling, including one "untruth" that has Roland set to fire "everyone in the Department of Public Works."

Roland, running on the Hurricane Party slate, said that campaign signs have "mysteriously disappeared."

Conrad Teller, vying against Roland for the mayor's seat, said that his signs have disappeared, too, and that according to sources, an equal number have been counted tossed unceremoniously in the village trash.

And then there was the debate. Or, the non-debate: Roland said that his opponent, a lifetime Westhampton Beach resident and former village police chief, refused to debate him in an event scheduled recently.

"If they choose not to debate us, we don't have the chance to answer," said Roland. "If you're going to hire someone, you interview them. How can you ask the voters to hire someone they haven't had the chance to interview?"

For his part, Teller said that he and his First Hampton Party running mates refused to debate because "my perception is that the debates set up should be moderated by an impartial group such as the League of Women Voters," not a publication, as was the most recent Southampton Press-moderated event, where publishers could ultimately write endorsements. "Sometime no endorsement is full endorsement," he said.

The pair are as polar opposite as their campaign platforms. Roland, sitting relaxed in his beautifully appointed living room, and taking in the waves tumbling outside the Dune Road "beach shack" he's owned for 25 years talked about the change integral to breathing new life into the village.

Key to the future of Westhampton Beach, maintained Roland, is creation of a sewer district that will pump new lifeblood into the heart of the village. A sewer district would mean new restaurants and businesses, affordable housing in the form of apartments above stores, and the chance for the revitalization of Main Street, something residents "desperately need," said Roland. "We have the perfect opportunity to pump the poison out of Main Street and pump new life" into the area by following a proper plan with vision and hard work.

Teller, who has spent years in police enforcement, believes the decision of such magnitude belongs in the hands of the public "before we get too deep into the project. Everyone says it's at no cost to the public — that's a pipe dream."

Perhaps the hottest issue in this year's campaign has been the Town of Southampton's recent reassessment of properties in the village. Roland and his running mate, Trustee Tim Laube, have filed a class-action suit against the town. They have joined with local homeowners in raising the question of whether Westhampton Beach should conduct its own assessment.

Teller believes that the suit is "political pandering for the public vote" and "will be stopped on June 16."

Roland also foresees a future filled with children and families. To that end, he has developed a plan for a village reflecting pool that would serve as an ice rink during the winter months.

Teller scoffs at the notion, questioning when the weather has been cold enough in recent years for a pool to freeze over and where the pond would be located.

Roland says his first campaign "has been a real eye-opener" and said the best part has been going door-to-door and meeting residents. "They've been so warm and so gracious," he said. "Just like old friends who've let me into their bedrooms for 40 years when I was an anchor."

Teller said the emphasis is on doing housekeeping associated with the new village roundabout, sidewalks, and town hall. "I want to get back to basics," he said.

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