Five East Hamptonites are vying for the two council seats on the East Hampton Town Board that are on this year’s ballot for the November 2 election.
Democratic Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez is the only incumbent on the ballot this year, as her 2017 running mate, Councilman Jeff Bragman is contending for the supervisor’s seat instead. She is joined on the Democratic ticket by Cate Rogers, the party’s former chairwoman. The East Hampton Town Republican Party has endorsed two Amagansett men as its candidates, George Aman and Joe Karpinski, both political newcomers. John Whelan, a registered Democrat, is also running for one of the seats with the endorsement of the East Hampton Independence Party.
The top two vote-getters at the polls will win the seats for four-year terms.
Aman is a retired school teacher and administrator who taught math and was then the superintendent of the Amagansett School District for 10 years. He also served on the East Hampton School Board for three years.
Mr. Aman said he was spurred to run for Town Board after watching the physical deterioration of senior citizens in the town during the pandemic and himself, an avid runner, being told he could not use the track at East Hampton High School during the pandemic because of what he says he was told was a town edict.
As an octogenarian, Aman says that senior citizen services and issues of making housing in the town affordable would be his top priorities
He says he would like the town’s senior service program to do more outreach to seniors to inform them of programs available to them.
“I need to get on that board and help them start thinking more proactively for seniors,” he said recently.
Mr. Aman is critical of how long it has taken the town to get a long-planned construction of a new senior center off the ground.
Burke-Gonzalez, who lives in Springs, is seeking a third four-year term on the Town Board.
Burke-Gonzalez, who also served on the Springs School Board, said she is proud of the work she has done through her town office to expand adolescent mental health services, including expanding services at the Family Service League, helping found a task force that links school districts, police agencies and non-profits to work with youth and families on issues of suicide awareness, drug forums and Narcan training, and co-hosting the LTV program “Honest Conversations,” which looked a mental health and other problems facing youth in the town.
She also has helped shepherd the town’s gargantuan senior citizens services response during the pandemic, which prepared and delivered more than 80,000 meals to senior citizens, coordinated prescription deliveries and made thousands of in-person wellness checks. While others have criticized the long delay on the creation of a new senior center, Burke-Gonzalez says that having shepherded the initiative through a series of complicated and unavoidable hurdles and finding the 7-acre property the town is now purchasing to build the new facility, is a feather in her cap.
Going forward, she sees addressing cellular and emergency communications gaps and addressing noise impacts at East Hampton Airport as a top priority.
Burke-Gonzalez was the board’s liaison to the airport in 2014-15, when the town first tried to limit flights and she sees the chance for the town to soon impose restrictions on airport operations by closing it temporarily and reopening as a private airport as a chance to address long-standing grievances of residents who live under flight paths. She says she is in favor of carefully selected restrictions that will rein in traffic at HTO without spiking traffic at Montauk’s airport.
She says she supports the town adopting a “resort tax” that could help pay for the increasing costs of services needed to keep up with soaring numbers of summer visitors, especially in Montauk. She says she would consider supporting the town piercing the state tax cap, if the demands of residents called for it.
“As I’ve said for the last 15-plus years, the budget is an ‘accounting’ of our community’s priorities,” she said. “If the community is pressing for increased … services then piercing the tax cap may need to be considered in the years ahead.”
A political newcomer, Karpinski says that the Town Board is in need of a young — he’s 38 — blue-collar resident as a member.
Karpinski is an advocate for the Springs Fire Department being given permission to use the communications tower it erected in 2015 and erect a new one that could accommodate new town equipment as the most expedient and beneficial path to solving dangerously poor cellular and emergency communications in the hamlet.
He says he sees licensing out the naming of East Hampton Airport and setting up a bottle deposit-return program for containers collected at the town dumps could be avenues to offsetting taxes on residents. He is not in favor of a “resort tax” or of the town piercing the state tax cap to cover the costs of increasing services.
“I believe that taxation is theft,” he said. “We live in one of the most taxed areas and states. The town has an option to raise taxes every year. That doesn’t mean they should. A closer look at the budget would make one wonder do we need all the things we have and where we may need to cut costs.”
He is not in favor of closing East Hampton Airport, but does support the path the current board has said it will pursue to close the airport temporarily so that it can be reclassified and restrictions on flight imposed.
A resident of the Lazy Point region of Amagansett, he has said that dredging Napeague Harbor and the opening of the former eastern inlet needs to be a top priority to help with water quality in the harbor and reduce erosion.
He advocates for boosting affordable housing by rezoning to allow smaller building lots with smaller homes — something he says would be embraced by a “minimalist” millennial like him.
He also says that protecting beach access rights should be a top priority and faults how the town’s legal counsel handled the defense of the case brought by Amagansett homeowners over “Truck Beach” that resulted in a court finding the beach to be privately owned.
Karpinski is a volunteer with the Amagansett Fire Department and has lived locally for 16 years.
Rogers served as the chairwoman of the East Hampton Town Democratic Party from 2018 until earlier this year. She also served for nine years on the town Zoning Board of Appeals as well as on the town’s Energy Sustainability Commitee, Nature Preserve Committee, the Solarize East Hampton task force and is was a founding member of the offshore wind advocacy groups Win With Wind and Wind Works Long Island.
She is making her first run for elected office.
Rogers says she is an advocate of the town addressing affordable housing issues by purchasing existing multi-unit dwellings in the town that could be upgraded with low-nitrogen septics and used for housing, along with the town’s ongoing effort to construct rental apartments and subsidize single-family homes. She says she sees shepherding the Community Housing Fund initiative through an approval vote next year as a critical step to the helping the town boost the availability of affordable housing in the region.
While not in favor of closing East Hampton Airport, Rogers says that she believes the town should privatize the airport by closing it temporarily and then take steps like limiting commercial helicopter flights and eventually phasing them out entirely and shortening the length of the main runway to restrict the size of jets that can use the airport.
She also says she would propose legislation that would phase out all but electric-powered aircraft as technology permits and to eventually replace the fuel storage depot with solar-powered aircraft charging stations.
She said that the Maidstone Gun Club, which leases property at the airport from the town, should not be permitted to use lead ammunition.
The 2-percent tax cap mandated by the state is out dated and should be tied to the Consumer Price Index and Rogers said she would like to work on behalf of East Hampton and other towns on increasing the tax cap to help towns keep up with the rising costs of providing services to residents.
Rogers said that she would like to see the town find ways to improve communication with the public about issues at hand and exactly how it does business.
“For example, there should be a presentation at every work session explaining how the decision-making process works and at what step in that process a project is currently in,” she said. “This would give the public a clear understanding of the project, where it is in the process, the invitation and importance of public participation, and when there will be a final decision. The lack of information about the process leads to the spread of mistrust and misinformation.”
Whelan is currently the chairman of the town Zoning Board of Appeals and is a former member of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, which helped derail the “555” housing development plan in Amagansett during his tenure.
As a professional architectural project manager, Whelan says he would be valuable to the Town Board as it works on the final designs of the new senior center building that will be built on Abrahams Path in the next couple years.
He criticized the Town Board’s handling of the Duryea’s property, in which an attempt at addressing a number of zoning property rights questions through a court settlement devolved into what is now a package of lawsuits that has pitted the town in a costly fight against billionaire Marc Rowan. He said the matter should have been handled through the town’s zoning and planning boards in the first place.
Whelan says he will be an advocate for strict land use regulations and “green” building codes, to help balance development pressures and East Hampton’s unique community character.
He is also a supporter of the idea of shortening the main runway at East Hampton Airport to block large private jets and from using the airport and said he would support the ultimate elimination of all jets and helicopters and any sort of commercial flights from the airport.
He says the town should seek to use CPF funds to purchase Montauk Airport as a way to control how many of the flights displaced from HTO shift to the east.
Balancing the need for affordable housing with protection against overdevelopment will be a delicate task for the Town Board in the coming years, Whelan says.