Ethics Versus Accomplishments At Issue In East Hampton Supervisor Contest

East Hampton Town Hall.

For the two candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for East Hampton town supervisor in the party primary this month — incumbent Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and challenger Councilman Jeff Bragman — the last three years as colleagues have been rocky ones as the pair frequently butted heads and at times traded acrimonious personal barbs.

Mr. Bragman has anchored his bid to unseat Mr. Van Scoyoc on questions of ethics and transparency in town business. He’s accused Mr. Van Scoyoc of bargaining behind the scenes with the owner of Duryea’s Lobster Deck in Montauk, of and of being too eager to embrace the South Fork Wind Farm proposals and of imperious management that too often fails to consider the intricacies of proposals.

Peter Van Scoyoc

Mr. Van Scoyoc, who is running for his third term as supervisor, has said Mr. Bragman’s claims about the Duryea’s negotiations and wind farm negotiations are misleading and exaggerated for political effect by a candidate who, he says, has little to show for his time in town government. In contrast, he points to the accomplishments the Town Board has racked up during his most recent term — from several future affordable housing projects to advancements in the use of renewable energy to the creation of a COVID-19 vaccination center in Wainscott.

The Democratic Primary vote will be held on June 22. Voting is only open to Democrats registered to vote in the town. Voters may also begin casting ballots at the town’s sole early voting site in Windmill Village, at 219 Accabonac Road, on June 12, and continuing daily through June 20. Early voting polls will be open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on June 12, 13, 19 and 20; from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on June 14; from noon to 8 p.m. on June 15 and 18; and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 16 and 17.

If Mr. Bragman loses the primary, he will still be on the November ballot with Mr. Van Scoyoc and Republican nominee Ken Walles, by virtue of his endorsement by the East Hampton Independence Party, which will have a minor party line down the ballot.

The two candidates met Zoom-to-Zoom in a pair of forums hosted by the League of Women Voters and the East Hampton Group for Good Government this past week, where they addressed some of the matters they have sparred so bitterly over as well as handful of looming issues.

Mr. Van Scoyoc has spent more than 20 years in town government. After stints on the town Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board, he was elected to the Town Board in 2011 and then to the supervisor’s chair in 2017. He holds up his long record of advocacy for land preservation, environmental sustainability, affordable housing and sound economic management as the basis for believing he deserves another term in office.

Jeff Bragman

Mr. Bragman, a land use attorney by trade who has specialized in opposition to development proposals, was elected to the Town Board in 2017 on the East Hampton Town Democratic Party ticket but was passed over for nomination to a second term by the party committee. His tenure on the board has been one defined by his efforts to impart a more measured, contemplative approach to town initiatives that relies on detailed analysis and a strict adherence to state environmental review guidelines.

He’s been critical of other Town Board members’ support of the South Fork Wind Farm application, a proposal to build a new shellfish hatchery in Springs, the board’s handling of the satellite hospital ER facility planned for Pantigo Road and the now-scrapped designs for a new senior center facility — all of which he said he supported in principle, but did not approve of the process by which the Town Board approached them.

“My messaging has been very consistent: all projects — wind farms, medical facilities — should go through a rigorous planning and zoning process,” he said during Saturday’s debate. “Not because it’s make-work … because it provides a framework for calm, deliberative decision making.”

Neither candidate has said that they are currently in favor of closing East Hampton Airport, but neither ruled it out either, and both were highly critical of the impacts it has had on residents.

Mr. Van Scoyoc said that the town faces a difficult “balancing test” between the benefits the airport brings to the town and the nuisances it creates for some residents, that will require much more gathering of data and discussion by the town, its experts and town residents.

“The airport has gotten out of hand in the past decade,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “We should try to move away from all commercial traffic. If we can’t get there, maybe closing the airport does become an option the community will support.”

Mr. Bragman said he would like to see a “smaller” East Hampton Airport that does not welcome helicopters, seaplanes and large jets because the noise from the airport is “ruining the tranquility” of some residents’ lives and the that the Town Board has “a moral obligation to take those complaints into consideration.”

“It used to be unthinkable that we would close the airport,” he said. “Today … it’s become a legitimate option.”

On the matter of cellular telephone service in the town — or the lack thereof — Mr. Bragman said the town has been “slow out of the gate” on improving cellular service and that it should have hired a consultant to help overhaul its cellular service policies long ago.

Mr. Van Scoyoc noted that the town has facilitated the erection of four new towers in the last year, including in Northwest and Montauk, with others in the pipeline. He also said that the town should take it upon itself to identify suitable sites for cellular towers in areas with poor service coverage and have them erected and then lease space on them to all of the cellular carriers, so that multiple cellular companies are not seeking to build towers specifically for their own antennas.

Both candidates touted their support for the growth of sustainable, renewable energy supplies. Mr. Bragman said the town is far behind Southampton Town in its pursuit of Community Choice Aggregation —a power supply program that will help spread access to renewable energy but is not yet available to Long Island communities — and should be partnering with its western neighbor to get up to speed. He has also been critical of the town agreeing to allow PeakSavers to use town generators last summer to compensate for the failure of other electrical load programs to lower demand on the South Fork.

His administration steered the construction of the first utility-scale solar farm in the town, Mr. Van Scoyoc noted, established the town’s Solarize East Hampton program that secured discount rates for residents to put solar panels on their homes, the addition of solar panels and soon battery storage at several town buildings, along with the town’s role in facilitating the South Fork Wind Farm.

Mr. Bragman was the lone board member to vote against signing the agreements with the wind farm’s developers — on the basis that the state had not concluded the environmental review and the town should have waited longer to agree to support the cable landing. More recently, he has said there are still grave environmental concerns about the siting of the wind farm near Cox Ledge and how it will affect important fishing grounds.

Both men said they were glad New York State had decriminalize the use and sale of marijuana — but differed on their initial stance on whether the town should allow the sale of pot or opt out when the new rule allowing pot sales goes into effect at the end of the year.

“I’d be open to allowing sales, but it’s really a planning and zoning problem,” Mr. Bragman said.

Mr. Van Scoyoc said that by opting out initially, the town could choose to hold a townwide referendum that would give town residents the chance to weigh in on whether to allow sales.

“The decriminalizing of marijuana was long overdue — the penalties never matched the crime,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said, comparing misguided pot laws to Prohibition. “My personal feeling is that we should probably opt out, because we need to make sure if pot shops are coming to East Hampton that they are in the right place.”