Four candidates will compete for two openings on the Southampton Town Board in Tuesday’s election. Democratic Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni is the only incumbent in the race, with current Councilwoman Julie Lofstad deciding not to seek a second term. Democrat Robin Long and Republicans Cynthia McNamara and Ann Thomas are also seeking seats.
Robin Long, 69, of Hampton Bays, a lawyer with a Southampton real estate practice who has served on the Town Planning Board for five years, is seeking to maintain the Democrats’ 4-1 majority.
If elected, Long said one priority would be to overhaul the Building Department, where long lines are the norm, to make it more efficient. “The people who work there are fabulous, but the process is not good,” she said. “There’s no reason people need to be tortured for a permit to put up a deck.”
She said she would like to see a similar overhaul of the Planning Department, which, she said, needs more staff and an organizational overhaul to reduce backlogs. In addition, she said she would like to see the Town Board hire another town attorney to beef up enforcement of environmental regulations.
Long said she anticipated Southampton voters would pass a referendum next year to collect a half-percent tax on real estate sales to create an affordable housing fund, and said coming up with a plan that would spread that housing across the town was another priority.
Long has come under fire for failing to resign from the town’s Democratic Committee until July 27 of this year, seven months after the Town Board amended the law to not allow members of regulatory boards like the Planning Board to also serve on political committees.
Long said she did not resign because she thought she had been grandfathered in and nobody brought it to her attention, but did resign when she was informed that was not the case. “The Ethics Board is not a sword to hurt people, it’s looking for compliance,” she said.
Cynthia McNamara, 43, of East Quogue, who is also on the Conservative and Working Families lines, said she has “no agenda other than making sure people get heard” by town government.
A former vice president of the East Quogue School Board and the current chairwoman of the hamlet’s Citizens Advisory Committee, she said that too often, the Town Board makes decisions and then ignores the opinions brought to it at public hearings or by its advisory committees. “That was made evident by the Bridgehampton CAC,” she said, referring to the entire committee’s decision to resign last week, citing frustration that its input is often ignored by Town Hall.
If elected, besides working for open government, McNamara said she would focus on quality-of-life issues in the hamlets, the need for affordable housing, and the need for a townwide reassessment.
“The hamlets are now the relief valve for morning commuter traffic,” she said, adding that if the town took a serious look at the issue, it could spread that traffic around. When citizen organizations ask Town Hall for help, they are too often told nothing can be done, she added.
Similarly, she said requests for more of a police presence also fall on deaf ears. “I understand police is a huge dollar item, but in East Quogue, we have one car,” she said, adding that the Quogue Police Department is often called in for coverage.
While the lack of affordable housing has become widely accepted as a serious issue in the town, she said the town has ignored a growing homeless population. “There’s no plan for them,” McNamara said. “We’re just sitting here pretending they don’t exist or sending the police in to ferret them out.”
Like other candidates, McNamara has said the burden of affordable housing must be shared by all hamlets.
McNamara also said the Town Board must undertake “fair assessments for everybody, second homeowners as well as long-time year-round residents. The town, she said, froze assessments two years ago “so we could have a plan, but now the two years is up and we have no plan.”
Tommy John Schiavoni
Tommy John Schiavoni, 58, of North Haven is a retired high school social studies teacher and a former member of the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals and the Sag Harbor School Board.
Schiavoni, who is seeking his second four-year term, said finding a way to provide more affordable housing is his top priority.
With Governor Kathy Hochul having recently signed legislation enabling the five East End towns to collect a half-percent tax earmarked for affordable housing on top of the 2 percent Community Preservation Fund tax, Schiavoni said he anticipated Southampton voters would support that tax in a referendum next year.
“In preparation, we need to articulate the town’s policy and plans and get them out to the public,” he said.
Schiavoni said he would like to see the town focus on home ownership, and supports the creation of a fund that would help first-time homeowners buy their homes. When those homes are sold, the fund would be reimbursed with a percentage of the sale price equal to the percentage it financed. That would keep the fund viable for years to come, Schiavoni said.
The incumbent said he would also focus his attention on water-quality issues, citing the public-private partnership to monitor conditions in Sag Harbor Cove and provide funding for the village’s sewer district. He also said he would focus on the effort to bring a sewer district to the Flanders-Riverside community and the effort to provide capital upgrades to the Hampton Bays Water District.
Schiavoni said the Town Board must also focus on getting approximately 500 easements in place so when the federal government begins work on the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study, the Army Corps of Engineers will be able undertake the work. “It sounds a little wonky,” he said, “but it’s a once in a lifetime project.”
Ann Thomas, 67, a Noyac resident, is making her first bid for elective office on the Republican and Conservative lines.
She said, if elected, she would bring a fresh eye to the town’s finances and look for alternative funding sources, “rather than raising fees and taxes,” for town projects.
“I come from a financial background,” she said. “I’m not an attorney, I’m not a politician.”
Thomas said the effort to reassess “was such a failure from its inception that the Town Board froze assessments two years ago.”
She said it would be unfair if the town reassesses with prices at a pandemic peak.
She says the town should use a rolling average sales price of five to seven years to get a more accurate sense of the town’s total valuation. Thomas added that reassessments must be careful to not jack up the assessments of modest homes “relative to the behemoth that was just built across the street.”
Thomas said “it was painful this summer” hearing about the lack of attainable rentals for people in search of year-round housing. She said the town should “diversify its portfolio” of available housing by providing homes for sale and rental apartments. She said the town should consider developing a mobile home park to provide rental housing, saying such a project could be completed faster than a small development of houses and could provide the town with a stream of housing.
She also said the town needs to work with banks “to have access to distressed housing” such as foreclosures, so it could put those homes back on the market for residents.
Thomas also said the Town Board needs to work with the local businesses, including in the villages, to help them thrive. That could take the form of helping install a sewage system in Southampton Village to sponsoring weekend fairs, concerts and other activities on the shoulder seasons to give those businesses a boost.