By Tessa Raebeck; photography by Michael Heller
Southampton Town Supervisor candidates Anna Throne-Holst and Linda Kabot have faced off in numerous debate and forums throughout town in recent weeks. They sparred again on Thursday, with both parties making allegations that ranged from fiscal irresponsibility to political smear tactics and even deep-rooted corruption.
At the debate, hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons and moderated by Carol Mellor, the candidates were allowed 15 minutes of response time to use at their own discretion, either to answer questions or for rebuttals. Questions were posed by Joe Shaw, executive editor of the Press News Group, Sag Harbor Express editor and publisher Bryan Boyhan and Judy Samuelson of the league, as well as members of the audience, who filled the room at Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton beyond capacity.
Incumbent Throne-Holst, an Independence Party member cross endorsed by the Democratic and Working Families parties, was elected to the town board as a council member in 2007 and beat Kabot, a Republican also running on the Conservative Party line, in the supervisor’s race in 2009. In her opening statement, Kabot, who served as councilwoman from 2002 to 2007 and as Southampton supervisor from 2008 through 2009, alleged that Throne-Holst falsely claimed that Kabot caused the prior budgetary problems and mismanaged the town. Both candidates agreed that this election is about “the truth” and alleged that their opponent was taking credit for their own successful financial management.
Referring to a debate hosted by the Speonk-Remsenburg Civic Association October 9, Shaw asked Kabot, “you were asked what your qualifications were for supervisor and your answer was that you were married with children and were a homeowner, what did you mean by those remarks?”
Kabot said the phrasing was incorrect and untruthful and noted that no reporters were present at that debate. She referred to similar statements on her website, which states: “As a property owner, I can better represent the majority of taxpayers and voters in Southampton Town. As a married mother of three children, I can provide values-based leadership with deep roots in the community.”
“What I meant by that,” she explained, “was as a homeowner and a taxpayer, my husband and I receive a tax bill and we know what the impact is of increased taxes to our budget and a renter doesn’t receive a tax bill.”
Kabot maintained the person who posed the initial question was a member of the town Democratic Committee.
“They’re the ones writing the letters to the paper to indicate that this is about single mothers or something about somebody’s marital status,” she said. “It has nothing to do with that. That is political spin and it is wrong.”
Throne-Holst responded that the original question was submitted by an unknown member of the audience and asked by a moderator.
“I find it curious that you feel better able to protect people’s taxes as a homeowner,” she said to Kabot. “I will remind everyone that Linda Kabot raised everyone’s taxes by a full 15 percent as supervisor and I have raised them zero.”
“I know that I am a single mother,” continued Throne-Holst, who has four grown children. “I know that as a result of a very painful divorce, I am no longer a homeowner. Maybe someday I will be but now I am not. Sixty percent of our residents live in single households and 40 percent of our residents do not own property and you all have my assurance single mother or married, property owner or not, I represent you equally.”
“Again, someone’s marital status has nothing to do with it,” countered Kabot. “It’s political nonsense being stirred just like the statements are out there that I single-handedly raised taxes 15 percent — this is an untruth.”
Kabot said that corrective tax levies were put forward in 2008, 2009 and 2010 that Throne-Holst voted for as a councilwoman.
“These were the correct things to do,” Kabot said. “And it’s easy to spin it and twist it and distort it but I’m proud of my record as your supervisor of doing the brave and necessary things to do.”
The candidates used a significant portion of their allotted 15 minutes to continue back and forth on Shaw’s question.
“I don’t think you talk about value-based representation because you are married,” said Throne-Holst. “The clear implication is if you are not you do not espouse those values. All I can say is I’ve been your supervisor for four years; you don’t achieve these numbers based on someone else’s work.”
“It’s not about taking credit. It’s not about passing blame. It’s about moving forward,” concluded Kabot.
Boyhan asked the candidates to what degree their administration should prepare for the “continued dramatic and inevitable erosion of our ocean shoreline,” as well as their position on shore-hardening structures.
Throne-Holst said the issue has been at the forefront of her administration and voiced her opposition to shore-hardening structures, which she said help one property while adversely affecting those around it.
“We have taken a hard stance on them in the Town of Southampton, we will not permit them going forward,” she said.
Throne-Holst pointed to her creation of erosion control districts in Sagaponack and Bridgehampton, which allow for oceanfront homeowners to be taxed separately in order to fund a $26 million beach re-nourishment project that is expected to add 60 to 70 feet of beach, adding that she is working with other areas of the town interested in pursuing similar projects.
Kabot also opposes shore-hardening structures. She advocates improved relocation efforts in the event of major storms and said that although the nourishment project is beneficial, “there’s no guarantees that that sand is going to stay in place.”
Her criticisms of the project, she said, have to do with the use of park reserve funds, $1.7 million of which were used to fund the pavilion and public beach access areas of the erosion control districts.
“Those [erosion control district] homeowners are very grateful for the work that has been done in local government to see to it that the beach nourishment has been brought forward and they are contributing very heavily to the supervisor’s reelection campaign,” Kabot alleged.
Samuelson asked an audience member’s question about what obstacles the candidates would remove in order to allow more business and private sector jobs.
Throne-Holst pointed to her creation of an economic development task force in the Riverside/Flanders area, which she said secured a total of almost half a million dollars worth of grants.
“That will probably bring the most amount of jobs to this area when it comes to fruition,” she said.
The supervisor also spoke of the “major job creation possibilities” posed by the Clean Water Coalition, a regional task force she developed, and its “bringing the manufacturing and marketing of those technologies to this area.”
Kabot said she would enact the targeted redevelopment of blighted sites by “incentivizing certain sites so that there would be investment by private developers to allow for the creation of a tax base to create more jobs.”
She is committed to reestablishing a small business office in Town Hall in order to help local business officers get through the regulation process and aims to increase senior and affordable housing, rethink rental laws and review permit standards.
“We have to work at the government level to get out of the way so that businesses can create those jobs,” Kabot said. “We have to simulate business by allowing the government red tape to be lessened and in some cases we need to facilitate their ability to get through the board of health because that is one of the biggest things that holds up a number of businesses.”
“The business advisory group does exactly what Linda’s talking about,” replied Throne-Holst. “They help expedite, they help business owners through the process. So been there, done that already. As far as the Health Department goes, we cannot expedite that. It’s a nice thing to say but we can’t. It’s a county permitting authority, we have actually no control over that.”
“I’m proud of what I’ve done,” the supervisor said in her closing argument. “I love my job, I love serving all of you and I will bring the same level of commitment, enthusiasm and service to this job should I have your vote.”
Kabot concluded the debate, “Together we can take back our town from special interests, restore honesty and integrity and capability to that supervisor’s office and we can bring back the only true independent candidate who cannot be bought.”
The supervisor election will be held on November 5.