The two candidates vying for a spot on the Suffolk County Legislature debated important issues at the Hampton Bays Community Center Monday night.
Democratic incumbent Bridget Fleming is seeking reelection for her third term and her opponent Linda Kabot is looking to make a return to office. Ms. Kabot has 14 years of political experience that includes two years as Southampton Town supervisor, six years as a Town Board member and six years as the executive assistant to the late Town Supervisor Vincent Cannuscio.
They are running to become the county legislator for District 2, which covers the South Fork from Moriches to Montauk and includes Shelter Island.
The debate, co-hosted by the Hampton Bays Civic Association and the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, had a modest turnout from local residents. Questions to the candidates came from Maria Hults, president of the civic association, Bill Sutton, managing editor of the Express News Group, and Judy Samuelson, co-president of the LWV of the Hamptons.
Major topics that were addressed included the county’s fiscal condition, septic system upgrades and the county’s septic rebate program, affordable housing, public transportation, the consequences of global warming and the ban on the release of balloons.
Moderators made sure to keep the debate to an hour, as the candidates had to participate in another debate in Flanders immediately after, hosted by the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association.
Ms. Kabot is running on a platform centered around restoring fiscal solvency for the county. She made her stance very clear during the debate, mentioning it in her opening and closing statements as well as repeating it in her responses to several questions.
“Suffolk County government is at a crossroads and the situation is dire. We have never been closer to the margin than we are now. We are at junk bond status,” she said in her opening remarks. “It’s time for the people to regain control of the county and force the county to live within its means. Fiscal responsibility is the number one issue.”
She referenced a recent report from New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office, which revealed that Suffolk County is the most fiscally stressed county in the state for the second consecutive year.
As for Ms. Fleming, who has served the legislative district since 2016, she focused on her work and accomplishments during her career, including combating tick-borne illness and opioid fatalities, allowing for the installation of nitrogen-removing septic systems, and public transportation solutions.
Prior to being county legislator, she served on the Southampton Town board for six years and worked as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan for nearly a decade before that.
She talked about her push for more affordable housing on the East End and how her efforts helped develop the Sandy Hollow Cove Apartments and Speonk Commons affordable housing complexes in Southampton Town, the former of which had a ribbon-cutting ceremony that morning that she attended.
Mr. Sutton asked the candidates, starting with Ms. Fleming, about what measures the county could take on issues related to global warming. Ms. Fleming spoke about a new capital program for coastal resiliency management on a regional scale that she got passed last week. It was initially financed by $200,000 in legislative funding, she added.
“We are facing very real infrastructure costs that we have to get in front of,” the legislator said on the effects of rising sea levels.
Ms. Kabot then shot back and said, “We need to stop spending and doing capital program work until we get control of the finances of the county … Yes, we do need to look at climate change we do need to study and take a look at different things but first we must take the next year, year and a half, and fix the county’s fiscal house.”
Candidates were also asked about the county’s septic grant program, which has caused an issue in which both septic system vendors and homeowners were taxed on the purchase and installation of new nitrogen-reducing systems. The question was if the candidates believe that residents who take advantage of the county grants should be subject to increased federal taxes.
The two women were in agreement that residents should not be taxed for participating in such a program, but they began to disagree on who was to blame for the taxing screw-up. Ms. Fleming blamed Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy, who is currently running for county executive, but Ms. Kabot defended the comptroller and instead blamed Ms. Fleming for undermining the program by “politicizing it.”
Ms. Fleming will appear on the ticket on the Democratic, Independence and Working Families lines, and Ms. Kabot will be on the Republican, Conservative and Libertarian lines. The vote will take place on Tuesday, November 5.