June 28, 2006

In Southampton Trustee Shatters Barriers

By Lisa Finn

If anyone told Bonnie Cannon a few years ago that she'd be the first black woman in the history of Southampton Village to be elected as a trustee, she wouldn't have believed the dream could come true. "I thank God," she said. "There's nobody except for God who could do something like this."

Cannon, who ran on the Citizens With Integrity ticket this month, won the race for village trustee along with incumbent William Bates.

Cannon, who is a single mom to her son, Spencer, 11, works at Verizon and was born and raised in the village. After leaving to attend college, Cannon returned home and noticed a drastic change in the small-town feel of the area as second homeowners converged.

"There's a lack of a sense of community," she said. "There used to be a time where you could just walk down the street and people would say hello to you. Now, everyone's in their own world, doing their own thing. There's a lack of friendliness, and no sense of belonging."

Rather than sit back mired in complaints and complacency, Cannon got motivated. "Somebody has to do it. Everyone has something to offer. You can't just do nothing. It's not right to complain and have issues but not contribute to solutions."

Now that she's won the race, Cannon is not one to rest on her proverbial laurels. The new trustee has goals, one of which is to initiate a number of programs for area youth.

Second homeowners, increased traffic, and a hike in taxes have caused problems Cannon seeks to address. "You have families being broken up because young people can't afford to live here."

A significant campaign goal, said Cannon, was managing the long-term growth of the village. A more professional approach needs to be taken to managing village finances, she said.

"We just had an audit but we need to take it even further and control our operational costs by bringing in more revenue." Control over revenue and expenses are key to keeping taxes at bay.

Another important issue, said Cannon, is ensuring that village residents emerge as a more "visible entity" in regard to school board and Southampton Town tax concerns. "Even though we don't have full control over these things, these two entities are impacting our taxes. We need to increase or improve the relationship between the two so we are making sure we're getting fair and equitable taxes put upon us, and we're holding these boards accountable."

Another hot-button issue Cannon seeks to address is the day laborer dilemma. Cannon favors instituting a career center for all Southampton Village residents. "I don't like the term 'hiring hall,'" she said. Instead, she's looking to establish a resource benefiting all village residents, from teens seeking summer jobs to retired individuals eager for part-time work.

Cannon believes that such an endeavor would benefit businesses and provide economic opportunities for residents. "I see it as win-win."

The center would be available only to legal day laborers and immigrants and they would be required to pay taxes.

As for being the first black woman to hold a trustee position, Cannon is grateful. "Hopefully, it's a start so we can have more of a collective body involved in the makeup of our community, and people will have an appreciation for, and value, diversity, and what it brings to the table."

Lucius Ware, president of the Eastern Long Island branch of the NAACP, said Cannon's win is "a very notable achievement. It's certainly a step in the right direction, and shows that diversity can take place in Southampton Village."

Cannon seeks to be a trailblazer. "Hopefully, someone will come behind me who will keep the trend going."

About her win, Cannon is "happy but humble" and looks forward working with the board. "I don't see myself as a Lone Ranger." Cannon hopes to join forces on a strategic plan with short and long-term goals for the village.

She also plans to urge residents to get involved. "We can't do it all by ourselves," and, when it's time to make decisions, she advises residents to be informed. "Don't just make decisions based on the party line," she said.

Cannon, who will be sworn into office at Southampton Village Hall on Monday at 4 p.m. said none of her success would be possible without the support of her mother, Gloria, with whom she and her son live.

As for Cannon's son, Spencer is proud of his mother's accomplishment. "He's feeling good. I told him, 'See what you can do? You can be the first!'"

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