Candidate Debates Begin in East Hampton

Panel Moderator Arthur Malman makes opening remarks during an East Hampton Town Board Meet the Candidates meeting at the East Hampton emergency services building on Saturday, 9/19/15
Moderator Arthur Malman introduces the candidates for Supervisor and Town Board, from left to right, Larry Cantwell, Tom Knobel, Lisa Mulhern-Larsen, Sylvia Overby, Margaret Turner and Peter Van Scoyoc. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Mara Certic

The local debate season kicked off on Saturday when candidates for East Hampton Town Board and Supervisor offered their opinions and solutions on various local issues at a forum sponsored by the Group for Good Government and the East Hampton Star.

This year, voters in East Hampton will elect supervisor to a two-year term and two other members of the five-member town board to four-year terms.

On the stage were Supervisor Larry Cantwell, who is running for re-election on the Democratic ticket; as well as two incumbent Democrats on the town board, Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc. They faced off against the Republican challenger for supervisor, Tom Knobel, who is a former town board member and town Trustee, and the GOP candidates for town board, Lisa Mulhern-Larsen, the founder and president of a private security company, and Margaret Turner, the executive director of the East Hampton Business Alliance.

The two-hour-long debate ran like clockwork, and had each candidate answer questions, written by moderators and members of the public, in one minute.

The candidates discussed topics ranging from cell phone service to code enforcement, the airport and deer management.

When asked what to do about jumpstarting deer management, the Republican candidates all said they would support increased and intensified hunting by local hunters. The incumbents spoke of their experience in the past few years, with Councilwoman Overby saying she opposes sterilization, and Supervisor Cantwell saying he would support a large 4-poster program, which involves setting up feeding stations that administer insecticides to deer, to deal with the tick problem, and Councilman Van Scoyoc saying that increased hunting has and should be included in a management program.

When it came to the airport, the incumbents on the stage spoke about what they have learned about the noise problem and steps to solve it in their time in office. Ms. Overby and Mr. Van Scoyoc spoke about the importance of keeping the airport local, rather than a larger, regional operation, while Mr. Cantwell explained again that property taxes do not pay for airport expenses, and the town will continue to defend restrictions it has put in place earlier this year “to provide the relief for the people who are being negatively impacted.”

The Republican candidates each mentioned they see the airport as an asset to the community, and the need for it to be safely maintained. Ms. Turner said she supports the curfews, and would support any decision the court made, but added that in times of emergency the airport is critically important.

Mr. Knobel mentioned that the town board is on its way to spending more than $1 million on airport litigation, and suggested aviators and the board work together to find a better solution. Ms. Larsen said she sympathized with those who live near the airport the same way she sympathizes with those who live near a train station, or busy parts of Montauk Highway, and also suggested pilots and the board try to reach a compromise.

When the candidates were asked what changes they would make to improve code enforcement, and how they would pay for it, Ms. Mulhern-Larsen, whose husband is East Hampton Village Police Chief Jerry Larsen, said she would increase both full- and part-time personnel in all agencies. To pay for it, she suggested proposing legislation that would take a portion of the healthy Community Preservation Fund to go toward programs for the community.

Ms. Overby said the CPF was “a pretty sacred place,” and that it wouldn’t be wise to attempt to use it for such purposes. She said that adding personnel is something best done one at a time, as the current town board has been doing. Mr. Van Scoyoc mentioned that code enforcement personnel has increased from four to seven people in the past few years.

Mr. Cantwell said the town needed to make better use of technology, adding that officers now have field computers. “Protecting the quality of life and the laws has got to be a priority and we’ll do that,” he said.

Mr. Knobel said the major need when it comes to code enforcement is consistency, but also said he opposed the use of police for checking up on code violations within the community. He also criticized some CPF purchases, saying that “spending an enormous amount of money is not necessarily an achievement,” adding that the town shouldn’t be looking to spend millions of CPF money on “well upholstered barns.”

Mr. Cantwell countered that enforcement of laws will continue to be a priority, but added that preserving open space has to be the number-one priority in order to combat the continuing problems of overcrowding and overdevelopment.

“That fund should not be raided and used for something like code enforcement,” he said.