Three Vie For East Hampton Town Supervisor Seat

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Three men are contending for the post of East Hampton Town supervisor in this year’s election.

Incumbent Peter Van Scoyoc has held the seat since January 2018, and is seeking reelection to a third two-year term.

Van Scoyoc, a Democrat, is being challenged by Republican nominee Ken Walles of Montauk and current Councilman Jeff Bragman of East Hampton, a fellow Democrat who lost a primary for the seat in June to Van Scoyoc but earned the East Hampton Independence Party’s nomination.

The supervisor’s post is the top town job, responsible for overseeing all town operations and the supervisor is the town’s chief financial officer and sets the town budget.

Jeff Bragman, Independence

Bragman is approaching the end of his first four-year term on the Town Board. He was elected with the East Hampton Town Democratic Party’s endorsement in 2017. Rather than seeking reelection to a second term as a councilman, he has chosen to challenge Supervisor Van Scoyoc — with whom he has had a contentious, at times openly hostile, working relationship — on a third party line.

A former assistant town attorney for East Hampton Town, Bragman has specialized in private practice opposing major development projects on behalf of neighbors.

As supervisor, Bragman says his priorities would be advancing renewable energy usage by supporting the town’s embrace of community choice aggregation agreements, “responsible” solar and wind projects — as councilman he has been a critic of the town’s eager embrace of the South Fork Wind Farm project — and codifying more energy efficient construction practices; expanding housing affordability through first-time homebuyer grant programs and increased funding to the East Hampton Housing Authority; and hiring more police, code enforcement and traffic control officers to address growing numbers of quality of life issues.

Bragman has proposed a one-year suspension of all commercial flight activity at East Hampton Airport to address noise complaints. He says the town should not give in to threats from aviation groups like Blade that they would shift huge amounts of traffic to Montauk and that the town should see how a ban on commercial flights would shake out and then adjust the allowances at the airport to address any impacts on Montauk. He has also said the town should more aggressively pursue the purchase of Montauk Airport.

“A pause in commercial traffic is warranted after decades of escalating aircraft impacts,” Bragman said. “It gives priority to the peace and tranquility of the entire town, instead of to billionaire jet owners and ultra-luxury commuters. It will help us base our actions on facts not fears. It can be the structure for a thoughtful, fact-based decision.”

The councilman has been critical of his colleagues’ handling of a number of initiatives, including the effort to develop a new senior center, which he said should have been done with more open community engagement in the design of a new facility at the existing site; the purchase of a property on Gann Road and attendant proposal for a new shellfish hatchery that was unveiled with little prior discussion; and a proposal to put a new cell tower on town-owned land off Lincoln Avenue in Springs.

Additionally, the councilman says that as supervisor he would push for code amendments governing large gatherings to more strictly regulate noise, overcrowding and parking issues; and for town support of first-time homebuyer grants, to promote easier entry into the housing market for local residents.

Peter Van Scoyoc, Democrat (Incumbent)

Van Scoyoc has served in town government for nearly two decades. A builder by trade, he served on the town’s planning and zoning boards before being elected to serve on the Town Board as a councilman in 2012, a post he held for six years before being elected supervisor.

As supervisor, Van Scoyoc holds up three initiatives from his tenure leading the town that he is most proud of: the town’s negotiating of a lease agreement to connect the local electrical grid to the South Fork Wind Farm, and the $29 million in financial contributions to the town that will accompany it; the town’s response to the discovery of water contamination in Wainscott and the installation of Suffolk County Water Authority water mains to more than 500 homes, in “record time” he says; and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, most notably the town establishing the only locally-run vaccination center on Long Island, which distributed more than 7,000 shots before the state opened a mass vaccination center in the region.

In a third term, Van Scoyoc says his top priorities would be addressing the noise impacts of East Hampton Airport, expanding affordable housing and advancing energy sustainability in the town.

The supervisor says he is in favor of trying to tamp down noise and environmental impacts of East Hampton Airport, rather than closing it outright now that the town has the option. He has said he supports a temporary closure that would give the town the ability to reclassify the airport and impose restrictions on flights there.

In contrast to Bragman’s stated preference of “pausing” all commercial traffic to the airport, Van Scoyoc said he would prefer to take an incremental approach to dialing up restrictions at East Hampton Airport so as to avoid pushing unacceptable amounts of aircraft traffic to Montauk.

“I support trying to keep the airport open, but with significant reductions on volume, frequency, noise, hours of operation, and environmental impacts,” he said. “I am concerned about possible diversion of some traffic to Montauk Airport so I would first address aircraft that would not divert to Montauk; large jets for example, then continue from there.”

Recently, Van Scoyoc has begun discussing the need for a “resort tax” that would help the town fund the need for expanding town services that are being stretched thin by summer visitors, rather than increasing taxes on residents, though he has also floated the possibility of the town needing to pierce the state’s 2-percent tax cap.

Van Scoyoc says that during his tenure, the town has advanced a number of affordable housing projects that will enter critical phases in the next two years, including a cluster of properties the town has purchased with plans for building subsidized housing and rental apartments, and the development of an affordable housing master plan to accompany the anticipated approval of a new real estate sales tax to help boost housing affordability.

Ken Walles, Republican

Ken Walles is a newcomer to town politics, having recently partially retired from a career in the hotel industry.

After working for major hotel chains like Hilton, Mr. Walles purchased the Oceanside Resort hotel — the “smiley face motel” as it was commonly referred to, for the yellow smiling face he had painted on the side shortly after purchasing it — in Montauk in 1998. He sold the motel, now known as Hero Beach, in 2016.

Mr. Walles is a former president of the Long Island Hotel Association and president of Skal International, Long Island, a tourism industry network, a former vice-president of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce and a member of the board of directors of Discover Long Island, a tourism industry group.

Walles says that as supervisor he would like to jump-start an initiative to give each of the town’s hamlets more direct influence in town government and says he would propose possibly even expanding the Town Board by two members.

Along those lines, he says that the matter of dealing with the management of East Hampton Airport needs to be tackled in a way that takes into account the concerns of residents across the town.

“The airport issue needs to be solidified whereby the majority of all individuals and interest groups come together to agree on the directions considered,” he said.

He is opposed to closing the airport entirely, he said.

He is critical of the recent town ban on the use of gasoline powered leaf blowers in summertime, a regulation that he says the town adopted without consulting landscaping industry business owners who would be most affected by the rule. The restriction could have been phased in over time, he said.

Walles is also a skeptic of the South Fork Wind Farm and says the town should take a more careful approach to its support of the project, which he worries could have long-term impacts on the fishing industry and the environment that the town — and state and federal regulators — have not adequately considered.

He also says that he thinks the town should have imposed more restrictions on visitors coming to the South Fork in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hotel industry veteran says he is stridently opposed to the idea of a “resort tax” like the current supervisor has suggested as a way to offset rising costs of police, code enforcement and garbage and highway services that summer visitors are causing. He said the town should instead be demanding its fair share of the current hotel tax revenue collected by Suffolk County, which is driven heavily by the South Fork but not returned to the region at a commensurate level.

Rather than piercing the tax cap, Walles says the town should find “operational efficiencies” to cut cost and allow it to remain under the tax cap even as costs of providing services rise.

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