What’s Next? Schneiderman Looks Ahead at Final Term, Future Roles

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Supervisor Jay Schneiderman reviews his list of projects. KITTY MERRILL

When Jay Schneiderman unseated the incumbent and won the race for supervisor of East Hampton Town in 1999, one shocked and embittered political foe intoned on Election Night, “I hope Y2K happens and there’s a blizzard on New Year’s Day.”

The much feared millennium bug never surfaced. But in a political career that’s bearing down on a quarter century, Schneiderman says he’s lost track of how many blizzards he’s confronted, not to mention hurricanes and floods, plus a blackout — and a pandemic.

Term limited and heading into his last stanza at the helm in Southampton Town, this week the lawmaker reflected on over two decades in service, looked ahead to the next two years, and hinted at what might lie beyond the conclusion of his fourth term as Southampton Town supervisor.

In an office marked by surprisingly bare walls — Schneiderman never hung anything up; it would seem “too permanent,” he said — the desk offers no escape from the breadth of projects on his agenda. It faces a huge whiteboard covered in scrawl and check marks. The side with the check marks lists accomplishments, goals and projects underway. The flip side is crammed with a red inked list of dozens of projects yet to reach fruition.

“Those are some of the things I’m working on,” he explained. “It’s more like what I’m going to be working on in the next year or so. It’s more like the next term, not the last six years.”

The Hampton Bays Downtown Overlay District, the maritime park pavilion in the hamlet, sewers in Riverside and the future use of the Bel-Aire Cove Motel site topped the list. “The Hampton Bays Diner, we gotta figure out what’s going to happen there,” he said, continuing to tick off projects.

Mixed use zoning is a major recommendation of the housing plan, he said, and needs attention.

Marijuana-related measures may prove controversial. “We have to figure out the cannabis zoning. We didn’t opt out, so we have to figure out where that’s going to go,” he said.

So, too, will be decisions related to the affordable housing development on County Road 39 in Southampton. Also on the list is the need for more cell towers townwide. “We’re going to roll out body cameras for the police, that’s a big one,” Schneiderman continued, speaking of the coming months. Several historic houses and the Bridgehampton historic district are on the list.

“Reassessment is a big issue,” he offered. “We’re trying to figure that out.”

The supervisor anticipates working with the town’s newly elected highway superintendent, Charles McArdle. “We’re looking at traffic flow and we’ve got all kinds of ideas,” he said. “Fixes that should have happened years ago.”

He acknowledged a challenging relationship with Alex Gregor, McArdle’s predecessor. “I think we’re starting out with a good working relationship,” he said of McArdle.

“FIMP is enormous,” Schneiderman asserted, speaking of the Fire Island to Montauk Point coastal erosion project that’s been in the works for decades and is expected to mean major beach nourishment money from the federal government. “It’s going to take a lot of time and resources. A lot of it is on the town, a tremendous amount of work,” Schneiderman said.

Leaf blower legislation, streamlining the building department, Quiogue affordable housing, the aquatics center and traffic flow at Magee Street and building the solar array in North Sea are all on the whiteboard. “Burden Park — we just approved that last night,” he said during the December 29 interview. The park would provide a scenic gateway to Water Mill.

“I’ve got plenty of stuff to work on,” he said.

Looking back, Schneiderman noted that he’s run — at one time or another — on nearly every available party line from Conservative to Working Families. Twice he ran without opposition, one of those times with a cross endorsement from every party. He believes he may be the only person in the state to be elected supervisor of two different towns.

In 1999, Schneiderman was the chair of the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals when he clashed with the Democratic administration over coastal policy, he reminisced. “I felt very strongly and made an ethical decision. I resigned and put my name in to run for supervisor.” Town Republicans selected him as their candidate to run against incumbent Cathy Lester.

No sooner did he win than members of the GOP began to wonder whether the vote could be recalled. Rather than provide patronage appointments, he picked Democrats Eric Bregman and Eric Brown as his town attorney and chief of staff. Longstanding Democrats weren’t too fond of him, either, angry that he’d ousted their candidate. “I never had a honeymoon with the Democrats in East Hampton.”

He did, however, inherit an opportunity that changed the course of town development: the Community Preservation Fund. Approved by voters the year before, the CPF began amassing money for open space purchases and Schneiderman was one of the first East End supervisors to use it.

Across all five East End towns, the Community Preservation Fund reached $1 billion in revenue in January 2015. The CPF in Southampton Town alone topped $1 billion last September.

In East Hampton, Schneiderman was at the helm for some of the town’s biggest buys — the partnership purchase of 99 acres on the bluffs in Montauk that became Shadmoor State Park, the 165 acres in Springs known as Jacob’s Farm, and Rod’s Valley Park on Navy Road in Montauk, a 22.4-acre site known as Ed Ecker Park.

Schneiderman, again ousted an incumbent, besting Suffolk County Legislator George Guldi for a seat at the horseshoe in Hauppague in 2003. “He was considered unbeatable, but I knew I could beat him.”

Although he lived up-island as a child, spending summers in Montauk, Schneiderman was, he said, “a complete outsider” when he joined the legislature. “But I knew how to prove myself,” the lawmaker said. “Keep taxes low.”

Initiatives that stand out to him include improvement to the county bus service and the “brutal” battle over two trailers housing sex offenders in Southampton Town. He worked with then-Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi on the “Cops and Cones” program that eventually led to the construction of an extra lane to County Road 39.

After 12 years, he left, term limited and having attained the deputy presiding officer designation.

By then, he’d undergone a divorce, and his children — Magda and Reuben — lived in Southampton with their mother. Though he kept his house in Montauk, it made sense to build in Southampton to be near them.

And in 2015, he remembered, he was approached to run for Southampton Town supervisor. He was also approached to run for East Hampton Town supervisor.

“There were two towns, both interested in me,” Schneiderman recalled. “It really came down to being where my kids were. If I was going to make a difference, if I was going to make a community better, it would be the community where my kids live.”

Asked what he’s most proud of, Schneiderman quickly answers, “my kids.” Professionally, he takes pride in having presented 22 budgets, with only one featuring an increased tax rate. “That was the pandemic year.”

Certainly, when he looks back on his time holding the gavel in Southampton Town Board meetings, it will be to the era when meetings took place remotely. “We had to re-invent government,” he explained. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep for a long time.”

“I stood in that room,” he said, gesturing toward the Town Board meeting room, “and said we’re going to figure this out, and we’re going to do it quickly. …

“We literally had to do everything differently and we still are,” the supervisor said. “We were in a state of emergency for over a year, with no road map to follow.”

The lawmaker will turn 60 this year. Being a town supervisor, he said, is “the closest job to the people. You are always on call.” He claims he hasn’t taken a vacation in years. “I couldn’t, I would just be thinking of this,” he said, his hand a sweeping gesture.

“My kids know I love puzzles, brain teasers. There’s no shortage of problems to solve in government … what I love most about what I do is trying to solve complex problems.”

And to stay in elected office, after this term ends, where will he go? Reiterating his experience, as an administrator, and an “executive,” Schneiderman repeated the word:

“Executive.”

He says it several times, puts emphasis on the word.

“Executive” — as in “county executive”?

The supervisor responds with nothing but a toothy grin.

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