The Republican and Democratic candidates seeking a one-year term on the East Hampton Town Board in the November 6 special election had the chance to put their personal and political values on display last Thursday.
Manny Vilar of Springs, who ran unsuccessfully for town supervisor on the Republican ticket in 2017, and David Lys of Springs, an incumbent candidate who was appointed to the town board in January, sat next to each other among a circle of seats and oftentimes agreed with each other at a forum about morality held by VoteHamptonNY, an interfaith effort to encourage political involvement launched by the East Hampton Clericus.
Among the central questions asked of the candidates was, “How does your personal moral compass inform your agenda?”
Mr. Vilar, who was asked to respond first to every question throughout the course of the debate, said he wants to promote legislation that uplifts the downtrodden and the financially disenfranchised and to fight against intolerance. He focused his response on economics, saying the town needs to “try to create an economic environment that will be good for our community. I’m a union guy, so this is near and dear to my heart.”
“The best way to raise a community is through economic initiatives and policy,” he said. “If everyone has a job, they can afford to live and spend more time with their families. All things considered, it gives them freedom to volunteer in their church, the civic organizations, to donate to their organizations and church.”
Mr. Lys said his moral compass has been molded collectively by everyone in the town from his teachers at East Hampton High School, to his faith, to his father, his friends in town and “through being active in my community.” He said he is not a “Johnny-come-lately,” but rather someone who has been active for the last decade in the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals and in efforts like the restoration of the Amagansett Life-Saving Station “because I thought it was right, the good thing to do for the town of East Hampton.”
“My moral compass — every single decision I make is based on that,” he said.
To a question about how he would “improve this town,” Mr. Vilar said he would support a “full disclosure of everyone who is doing business with the town” and support the creation of an East Hampton version of a joint commission on ethics. He also said the town needs to do a better job of outreach to the various constituents in the community and “bringing people back into the decision-making.”
Mr. Lys agreed with Mr. Vilar on his point about outreach and decision-making, and said “we can dive even deeper.” He specifically cited bringing a more diverse group of citizens into the fold, including a multigenerational and multiethnic approach. “I think town government also has to listen to its citizens in the way of forming committees,” he said. “… I think I can lead a group [and] fill a void that’s happening here.”
Asked how he deals with “legislative opposition,” Mr. Vilar cited “working across the aisle” during his 18 years as a lobbyist involved in the New York State legislature via his position with the New York State Police Benevolent Association. “We work on reaching a consensus,” he said. “We need to bring all sides together, and truth be told, the old adage is ‘a half a loaf is better than no loaf’ and sometimes, that’s what legislation is.”
Mr. Lys said his approach to legislative opposition is “doing your homework based on what legislation you might want to produce, and what legislation others might want to sign onto or say no to.” He said it’s about listening and building consensus. “As long as you really care about town or what you are trying to legislate, there’s a way to work it through,” he said. “You have to reach out, give some, take some.”
Asked whether the “current lack of partisan parity,” meaning an all-Democrat town board, is an issue, Mr. Vilar said yes and he feels that more diversity of thought is needed. “We need to bring in all corners of our community, politically, religiously, ethnically,” he said. He called for “an objective voice” on the town board — “something different with a little bit of spin and understanding that talks to different circles of people,” and something to show that a two-party system is “alive and well.”
Mr. Lys diverged from Mr. Vilar’s response, saying he thinks there’s already “great diversity” on the board and what’s needed is people who want to learn from each other. “We’ve got individuals coming from different walks of life, different ethnicities, different parishes, different hometowns,” he said. “…Is a supermajority board a bad thing? I disagree, because I think you’re looking more at politics than looking at five individuals who want to do it for the town.”
The candidates were asked their opinions about “the marriage of faith and governance.” Mr. Vilar quoted from the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and from President Theodore Roosevelt, and said, “I believe deeply in our Judeo-Christian values that played a role in the founding of this country … I think it’s important.”
Mr. Lys said there is a need to bring congregations together for the good of the community, saying they are places where people felt safe. “This community was founded on that. … We need to ask for that. The moral compass started in church,” he said. “Let’s continue it there.”
At the end of the formal questions, the candidates were given a chance to ask each other questions of their own. Mr. Vilar asked Mr. Lys to elaborate on his role in saving the Amagansett Life-Saving Station, and Mr. Lys made a comment rather than a question: “If I am not successful, would you please continue to call on me for help?”
The audience was also given the chance to ask a few questions, of which the most notable was an inquiry from one person who described himself as a the son of a mixed-race couple with Native American heritage. He asked Mr. Vilar why he allegedly voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
Mr. Vilar chose not to directly answer the question, but rather used it as a platform to say that as a society, “we must protect the weak, the infirm, the victimized and the downtrodden.”
“I would ask that our communities, regardless of who you vote for and what your political leanings are, to please end the partisan discourse,” he said, “give evil and hate no quarter, love your neighbor as if they were your own family, be respectful, compassionate, empathetic and understanding and be vigilant at all times.”
Mr. Vilar and Mr. Lys will meet again in a debate hosted by the East Hampton Group for Good Government on Tuesday, October 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the East Hampton Library, located at 159 Main Street in East Hampton.