In East Hampton, Four Candidates Seek Two Seats on Town Board

Clockwise from top left, the candidates for East Hampton Town Board are Gerard "Jerry" Larsen, Jeffrey Bragman, Paul Giardina and Kathee Burke Gonzalez. Michael Heller photos
Clockwise from top left, the candidates for East Hampton Town Board are Gerard “Jerry” Larsen, Jeffrey Bragman, Paul Giardina and Kathee Burke Gonzalez. Michael Heller photos

Republican Councilman Fred Overton has decided not to seek another term, making Democratic candidate Kathee Burke-Gonzalez the lone incumbent among four candidates running for two seats on the town board. She is joined on the Democratic party line by attorney Jeffrey Bragman. Republicans Paul Giardina and Gerard Larsen, a former East Hampton Village police officer who was chief of that department for 14 years, are also running campaigns for town board.

Jeffrey Bragman

Jeffrey Bragman, an East Hampton attorney, may be new to politics, but he says his professional experience, often representing neighbors and non-profits fighting development and quality-of-life issues during his 30-year career, has made him well versed on many of the issues challenging residents of East Hampton Town. Mr. Bragman is running with the support of the Democratic, Working Families and Independence parties.

“Part of the issue out there is a concern that candidates are not really listening to them,” said Mr. Bragman of the sentiment on the campaign trail. “What I have found in my business is we would all do a lot better if we listen to each other more, and shout at each other a lot less.”

Like all the candidates, Mr. Bragman said water quality has been an issue most concerning residents, with affordable housing being another key issue he has been discussing with residents on the campaign trail. Mr. Bragman said he wants to see more affordable housing projects in East Hampton.

“I feel strongly we need to have a real community that remains in the town, and it is hard because I don’t want us to turn East Hampton into a land of condominiums,” he said. “Somehow we have to balance what makes East Hampton so desirable with the needs of people of an ordinary income.”

Working to offer children, teens and young adults more services is another priority for Mr. Bragman, who noted many young adults in East Hampton do not become involved in local government. He said he would like to see the town explore educational initiatives with local school districts to engage students in civics on the local level at a young age. For young adults, Mr. Bragman said the town should explore ways to create satellite offices, where young entrepreneurs could rent office space affordably, and simultaneously find themselves surrounded by their peer group.

Increasing renewable energy options should also be a top priority for the town, said Mr. Bragman.

“My overall message is, East Hampton is my home and I want to protect it,” he said.

Kathee Burke Gonzalez

The lone incumbent, Kathee Burke Gonzalez has campaigned on a record established by the current board. Ms. Burke Gonzalez, who has more than 30 years of experience as a marketing and advertising executive, is seeking her second four-year term on the town board. Prior to being elected, the Springs resident served nine years on the Springs School Board, two years as its president and two years as its vice president. Ms. Burke Gonzalez is running with the support of the Democratic, Working Families and Independence parties.

While Ms. Burke Gonzalez serves as the liaison to the town’s Human Services Department, Information Technology Department, and the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee, she is most well-known for serving as the town board representative to the East Hampton Airport. With the backing of the town board, Mr. Burke Gonzalez led efforts to impose restrictions and curfews at the airport. While those restrictions were lifted by a federal appeals court, during the campaign Ms. Burke Gonzalez has noted it was not the restrictions, but the process, the appeals court blocked — demanding the town proceed with a costly and lengthy part 161 process with the Federal Aviation Administration. The town was able to document a successful curfew program, and has also shown the airport can be self-sustaining without the grant funding from the FAA, she has argued.

Affordable housing is another issue Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said needs to be addressed on a greater scale. “The lack of affordable housing, make no mistake, hurts our community,” she said during a League of Women Voters of the Hamptons debate in October. “The tentative budget calls for $2 million in funding that will help develop and build affordable housing. We have to work with public-private partnerships.”

During the same debate, Ms. Burke Gonzalez also discussed the need to provide greater resources for a growing senior population, many whom want to retire in East Hampton but will need healthcare and other services in order to accomplish that. Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, as the town’s representative to the Human Services Department, is overseeing plans for a new senior center on Springs Fireplace Road.

Paul Giardina

Paul Giardina has over three decades of experience working as an environmental professional and engineer for the federal Environmental Protection Agency. While his career may have been focused on the environment, Mr. Giardina said he and his fellow Republican candidates decided to go to voters and ask them their concerns before hitting the campaign trail. In addition to the Republican Party line, Mr. Giardina is also running on the Conservative and Reform party lines.

In that survey, Mr. Giardina said it was abundantly clear that water quality and septic runoff topped the list of issues residents wanted addressed. He said the town’s current plan to use Community Preservation Funds to fund a septic rebate program paired with strict septic regulations for new or significantly renovated homes will not tackle this problem quick enough to have a meaningful impact. He has suggested instead tapping federal funds through an environmental loan as a way the town could explore replacing a significant number of septic systems town-wide rather than waiting years for properties to install the low-nitrogen systems.

Mr. Giardina has also released his own plan to tackle affordable housing, calling for the creation of a special committee of those in the housing sector and business community. That committee would be tasked with identifying potential housing projects. Similarly, he has released a plan to counter the opioid crisis facing Suffolk County, and East Hampton, calling for widespread Narcan training, and the expansion of addiction-related services.

“We have had tremendous feedback for that and for our housing policy,” said Mr. Giardina. “We are finding we invested to find out what was really bothering people and that there is hope we will be able to act on our plans.”

Creating a strong relationship between the Latino community and town hall is another top priority for Mr. Giardina.

“I want it very clear and I hope when I am on the town board that the Hispanic community will look to me as someone who will be their voice, and I will treat them with the respect they have given me.”

Gerard Larsen

Gerard “Jerry” Larsen is relatively new to the political arena, but as the former East Hampton Village Police chief for 14 years, he said this week that he felt an urgency to run after seeing a number of projects wane over several years’ time. Mr. Larsen is running on the Republican and Conservative party lines.

One example, said Mr. Larsen, is the creation of a municipal sewer system for downtown Montauk, which the former chief charged the town has been sitting on since 2014. “I would like to see that get going immediately,” he said. Mr. Larsen said he would like to see the town be more aggressive in tackling that issue, and that it should look at state funding to make that a reality.

Mr. Larsen was also critical of the town’s approach to establishing restrictions at the East Hampton Airport, stating the board should instead pursue more earnest negotiations with airport operators to bring relief to area residents plagued by noise. He also supported reinstating the leaf pickup program, and was critical of the current town board’s efforts toward affordable housing. Affordable housing needs to be dealt with more aggressively he said.

“I have been involved in this community my whole life — from Little League to my work on the police department. I want to stay involved and I am not afraid to make decisions,” he said. “I want to stand up to people who abuse their positions — with my experience, I think that is right up my alley.”