Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and challenger Linda Kabot met with Indy editorial staff Friday for a debate, less than two weeks before they face each other at the polls on November 5.
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Their long political rivalry makes their latest race a highly publicized contest.
Kabot, a Republican Quogue resident, served as Southampton supervisor in 2008 and 2009 as well as a town councilwoman from 2002 to 2007. Throne-Holst, an Independent who lives in Sag Harbor, has held the supervisor seat for the past four years and was a town councilwoman in 2008.
At Friday's debate, issues of code enforcement practices, policing, the environment, and the town trustees were all hot topics. And each candidate has her own strategy for improvements.
Throne-Holst, who is seeking reelection on the Democratic, Independence and Working Families party lines, said the town has made strides to improve code enforcement during her tenure as supervisor. She relocated its headquarters from Hampton Bays to town hall in Southampton Village.
Throne-Holst charged it was better to reorganize code enforcement under the town attorney's office and that it ensures the town's ability to "oversee activity."
Kabot, whose name is on the Republican and Conservative ticket, said code enforcement is the top priority in the town of Southampton, with most of the activity "mostly west of the canal."
"I don't believe the town has gone far enough," she said. "A complete organizational change needs to happen."
As far as the town's police department is concerned, Throne-Holst believes there hasn't been "an erosion of confidence" with the public's perception of the department.
The supervisor stood by her decision to appoint former Southampton Village police chief William Wilson to helm STPD in 2011, noting he was "anything but an absentee chief," and mentioning the town board did deal with some disciplinary issues in the wake of his resignation, where a now-disgraced officer made faulty arrests. Kabot said she would have endorsed Captain Anthony Tenaglia (who was favored to fill the position at the time). Kabot also noted the town's biggest spending in the budget is on the police force, opining the department is understaffed.
"We need to work on rebuilding the public's trust," she said.
The town board's relationship with the town trustees was another hot button issue during the debate.
Kabot said she would support the trustees' call for a separate tax line within the annual budget, saying it's "critical we support the elected board of trustees."
Kabot charged the current supervisor feels the trustees "need to be managed." That's causing concern for Kabot.
"There needs to be a partnership, since they feel a disconnect," Kabot said.
Throne-Holst said cooperation on issues concerning the town's waterways, beaches and other environmental matters has to come from both sides. The supervisor opined it was not possible for five trustees to deal with cleaning up local waters alone.
"That's not fair to them," she said, noting the reasons she started the clean water coalition was to give the trustees the tools to fix the problem.
"This is the technical assistance that they need," she added. "I don't have an adversarial relationship with them."
Kabot chastised the incumbent for alienating the trustees; Throne-Holst said they need to "be brought into compliance."
In closing, Kabot said there were some good things happening and some not so good things happening with Southampton Town.
"I'm offering the people a choice," she said. "There's lots of not done stuff. I think the community is frustrated. I love my community, but I feel there are too many things that are at a standstill."
Throne-Holst noted the town's stable and rebalanced financial position were a direct result of her work.
"We have a very different and functional town board today," she said. "We're working together and getting people to the table that wouldn't normally come to the table."
Kabot countered that Throne-Holst, who took office in 2010, was claiming financial reforms she put in place the previous year as her own.