October 18, 2006
The Second District State Assembly Race
Fred Thiele vs. Treewolf West
In the race for the Second Assembly District seat, the match-up is a familiar one: incumbent Fred Thiele (Republican, Sag Harbor) vs. second-time challenger Treewolf West (Democrat, Hampton Bays). Thiele bested West in the 2004 election, garnering 61% of the vote to West's 36%.
In interviews last week, the candidates listed affordable housing, transportation issues and environmental matters as among their chief concerns. West sought to broaden his focus beyond local issues, saying Medicaid and energy reform were things he will focus on if elected, while Thiele concentrated on his record and achievements as a six-time state assembly member.
Both Thiele and West said they would like to see property taxes linked to income. "I believe we're being overtaxed, and we're not getting enough funding for our school districts on the East End of Long Island," West said. He said he'd work to revamp the school funding formula, basing it on income rather than linking it to property values, which he described as "over-assessed."
Thiele pointed to changes in the STAR property tax rebate system — a state program that exempts part of the value of an owner-occupied home from property taxes — as a sign of progress towards property tax relief. But, he said, "to me that's just a first step," and has introduced a bill that would cap property taxes on the basis of income. "If your property taxes exceeded a certain percentage of your income, you would get, in essence, a rebate back from the state in the form of an income tax credit," he explained.
On this issue of affordable housing, Thiele said he and Assemblyman Marc Alessi are working to create a fund for affordable housing "that's kind of a counterbalance to the Community Preservation Fund." The bill, which passed the state assembly but has not yet been considered in the senate, would be funded by a "McMansion tax." Additionally, a workforce housing bill co-sponsored by Thiele would give local governments the authority to require that any development over four lots set a portion aside for affordable housing.
"There does need to be a balance between development and preservation," West said, adding more affordable housing must be created to stem the tide of younger workers leaving for more affordable environs such as Virginia and North Carolina. He suggested creating more apartments over shops and buildings in cleaned-up Brownfield zones and said "every major development needs to set aside a percentage — 15 to 20% — to be offered at below market value."
With regard to the gridlock du jour, the traffic problems on County Road 39, Thiele described the "cops and cones" program currently in place on CR 39 as a successful but "temporary" measure. "I see a broader aspect of this and that has been to improve rail and bus service on the East End," he said.
He added, "It has to be an integrated and coordinated system and it has to provide real service," noting that the county bus system should be integrated with the LIRR schedule.
West advocated creating a county and state-funded regional transportation cooperative with a system of buses, hybrid taxis and light rail to help alleviate congestion. "If the transportation methods are made accessible and affordable and comfortable people would like to use them," he said. "Clean" transportation would also be a way to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil, West said. "I would like to lead New York into a new era of renewable energy so that New York can be a leader for the rest of the country."
As for the matter of electability, it's the age-old debate of experience versus a fresh perspective. West, a union carpenter who is also a certified teacher, said his working-class background makes him representative of his constituents. "I'm not part of a good old boy system. I'm not beholden to any special interest or party. My only concern is representing the people of my district fairly and improving the lives of the people in my district," he explained.
He called Thiele disconnected from the needs of the constituents, and said, "I also believe I will be much more effective working with the Democratic majority in the assembly."
Thiele, who served in the county legislature and as Southampton Town Supervisor before being elected to the assembly in 1995, said he has "great enthusiasm for the job." He said his experience stood in contrast to West's lack of governmental experience. "I think I've been able to express and provide specific solutions to the problems facing the East End," he noted.
Thiele and West will meet in a debate sponsored by The League of Women Voters, scheduled for next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton.