October 31, 2007
ENDOURSEMENTS FOR SOUTHAMPTON TOWN
Skip Heaney (C)
Six months ago it would've seemed implausible that there would even be a competitive race for the supervisor's seat. Patrick "Skip" Skip Heaney (C), the incumbent, has by our measure been one of the most effective town supervisors in East End history, a brilliant money manager who kept the line on taxes year in and year out.
A perfect storm of seemingly unrelated events transpired to bring him down; a botched reassessment that left many residents angry, a snarled highway that tested the patience of thousands of drivers, and a political decision to replace town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski on the Republican ticket.
There is little doubt Heaney could have weathered one or two of the events, but together enough unrest surfaced to nearly sink his ship. As it is, he has lost the Republican nomination and now runs as a Conservative.
The reassessment was a freak. Coming at the tail end of a wild, unprecedented rise in property value, the figures used were way out of whack by the time they were released, when the market was correcting. Worse, a mathematical glitch resulted in some ridiculous numbers in Sag Harbor and a few other places, undermining the credibility of the entire process.
Heaney acted quickly to address the concerns of the people, and we think he is getting too much of the blame and not enough credit for keeping property taxes down to begin with.
The decision to replace Graboski was a mistake. The people voted her in, and the people deserve to decide if she stays. Heaney allowed politics to cloud his judgment and we hope he learned from that decision. We also believe his plan to tap into CPF funds for use as a Pilot Program to help ease the tax burden in the Hampton Bays school district is a big mistake because the school district has wasted a fortune by hiring retired administrators at huge per diem rates and should not be rewarded with more dollars to waste.
Those criticisms aside, for Heaney, power is about serving the people, and he demonstrates his ability to do so every day, putting personal objectives beneath the greater goal of acting as a public servant.
Skip Heaney is the Joe Torre of East End politics. Maybe he didn't have his best season last time out, but he's delivered a lot of championships for us. The Independent wants him back. We heartily endorse Patrick "Skip" Heaney.
Linda Kabot (R)
Kabot has deep local roots, she's feisty, and she's a fighter who is to be admired. Kabot has been around town hall long enough to know where the skeletons are hidden; we wish she had more substantive reforms in her platform. Her persistent bickering with Heaney has been a distraction and we suspect, has taken its toll on their job performance.
We must weigh what a town board led by Linda Kabot will mean.
Kabot is to be commended for her dedication and dogged persistence in all town-related matters – she does her homework and is always extremely well-prepared for every town board meeting, spending lengthy time on memos that outline her position in great detail. But there are a number of reasons why The Independent has chosen not to endorse her in the upcoming election.
It is true that Kabot appears to care deeply about town matters. But one ends up wondering whether it is true concern for constituents or a personal quest for power that motivates her impassioned zeal. Although her platform rallies against political bickering and in-fighting, many town board work sessions are spent watching Kabot seize control of the reins and refuse to let go, allowing no chance for a discussion welcoming the views of all board members. The question remains whether Kabot is a true team player, eager to seek consensus, or working toward her own political agenda.
Alex Gregor (I)
Gregor is a free thinker who thinks outside the box. If he had more funding, his charm and wit would likely draw a fair amount of voters to his ballot line. Make no mistake about it, he could probably step right into the job. As it is though, a vote for him might siphon away one from the potential winner.
Jim Henry (D)
Henry is a Harvard graduate with little background in municipal affairs. His complaints that there are too many town employees driving around town cars is something the winner should address, especially since the assumption can be made they are using town gas as well.
He is also dead-on about members of the various municipal boards who have been given health insurance, some for life. It is an outrage and the practice should be stopped.
Henry wants to freeze senior taxes and build affordable houses. These are familiar mantras that sound good on paper except for the fact that for every property tax that is frozen, the middle class must take on the burden. For every affordable unit built with town money, taxes go up. Most of the people in Southampton are middle class families struggling to cope with ever-rising school taxes. Usually both spouses are forced to work full-time jobs. To tell them they have to shoulder more taxes so someone else gets a break is an insult.
Henry believes strongly that a hiring hall should be provided for the Latino community in Southampton. We are of the mind that most of the immigrants who gather in front of 7-Eleven aren't even local residents, but simply come here from the North Fork and points west because there is so much work available here. Building a hall will encourage more, but in the end it is a Southampton Village problem, not the town's.
Henry has also worn thin his tactic of calling a press conference with the promise of some sensational headline only to release nothing but unsubstantiated charges. It's obviously a ploy to get free press and frankly, we've seen it a million times and it's a cheesy stunt.
In the final analysis Henry suffers from a Robin Hood complex, thinking he can take from the rich and help the poor. But this isn't Sherwood Forest, and in the real world it is the middle class that carries the burden of social reform.
Sandra Dunn (D)
No, we don't like some of her liberal ideas, at least those that would legitimize illegal immigrants. But she has won us over with her passion, and the fact is the Latino community, the fastest growing segment of our population, needs representation.
Dunn is familiar to many in the community because of her work with Organizacion Latino Americana (OLA) and for her advocacy of an organized hiring site in the village of Southampton. We disagree strongly about that, but it is one of many issues more pertinent to the village than the town.
Dunn is the first to acknowledge that the Democratic slate this year is comprised of individuals who may not have collective political experience, but who share a desire to promote change in a town they feel has too long left the voices of all residents, from all walks of life, unheard.
We think Dunn is one of those rare candidates who will keep the best interests of the people in her heart at all times – and we mean all the people. The Independent endorses Sandra Dunn for the Southampton Town Board with the proviso that she doesn't forget it's not us against them, the rich against poor. It's about the middle class trying to make a go of it in a very expensive resort community. If she can champion their cause we will have ourselves a top-notch board member. She gets our vote.
Nancy Graboski (R)
The bottom line is having an East End farmer on the board keeps town government rooted in our past; having a lady who carries herself with dignity at all times is icing on the cake. Grabroksi is a strong advocate of the farming community. A farmer's wife and mother, she makes no claims to be anything more than a real woman, wanting to make real strides toward protecting the values the East End cherishes, so that our community, and the values it espouses, will remain intact for future generations. Her experience on the Southampton Town Planning Board, the board of Cornell Cooperative Extension, and as a member of the Suffolk County Planning Commission and the agricultural committee of the Peconic Land Trust gives her the experience and tools to do what it takes to save the character of our community. The Independent endorses Nancy Graboski.
Anna Throne Holst (D)
Throne-Holst certainly has an impressive academic record, holding a masters degree in International Affairs and Public Administration from Columbia University and a B.A. from American University. She has served as executive director for the Bridgehampton Child Care Center but frankly, it doesn't appear she held down too many jobs.
Her issue is affordable housing, and we like her idea of encouraging builders and developers to produce units in return for some kind of credit.
Overall, though, her pie-in-the-sky approach would cost the middle class a fortune. She wants to look for land to build affordable houses: since the town has preserved all its vacant parcels for preservation, that means buying land or condemning it and paying market value. Either way, the taxpayer takes a hit. Her idea to divide larger dwellings into multiple apartments also misses the mark; people didn't move here so they could suddenly find themselves next door to screaming kids and eight vehicles parked outside. And once again, the taxpayer would have to foot the bill for the conversions.
She also speaks of "smart assessments" as if the data can be manipulated: it can't. Houses are worth what they are on the open market, and the taxes paid reflect that figure. To allow some to pay less than their fair share means the rest of us will have to pay more. Nevertheless, Throne-Holst is a serious contender – if she is serious. She took over a meeting about the Tuckahoe traffic as if she has been a crusader for the cause for years, yet some of the residents were put of because they had never seen her before. She gives the appearance of someone who is wealthy and bored and looks to the town board as some kind of grand adventure to help the masses. Sadly, most of the work is of the roll-up-the-sleeves mundane variety, and we fear Throne-Holst might quickly lose interest.
Dan Russo (R)
Russo is clearly a committed individual who cares about the future of residents. A strong proponent of affordable housing, this former Assistant District Attorney espouses common sense. He echoes the voice of many residents when he promises to fight against an organized hiring site and casinos in Southampton. He vows to work toward capping property taxes to retain the young people and seniors who comprise our communities.
But the bottom line is that Russo isn't ready. With experience in the East Quogue Civic Association and the East Quogue Historical Society, we'd like to see Russo spend some time at another Town Board post – the planning board, perhaps – where he can get his feet wet before jumping into the pool of town board politics and swimming with the big fish.
James Drew (I)
Drew has had years of experience in town affairs, as a former town board member and as former chairman of the town ethics board, as well as years spent as a member of the school board. No one is questioning his commitment, or his valid suggestions for addressing the town's affordable housing crisis and town taxes. However, we believe there is a need for a new Democratic voice on the town board. For too long, the Republican machine that is Southampton Town politics has left many demanding answers and asking for real solutions. Drew has had his chance; it's time to give someone else a turn and see what they can bring to the table.
We've been writing for years that the town needs to break up this old boys club: Towards that end, The Independent endorses Janet Beck (D). Among the other candidates, we know and like Jon Semlear (R), who has excellent first hand knowledge of our waterways. Fred Havemeyer (R) is also a favorite of ours, along with Ed Warner Jr. (R).
For the fifth spot, we are torn between Eric Shultz (R) and Bill Pell (I). Both deserve consideration.
Southampton Town Justice
Ed Burke Sr. has been around forever and he has made a lot of friends. Andrea Schiavoni, an exciting newcomer with deep local roots, is a new face and will make an excellent judge. We'd like to see both of them on the bench.