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Aug 29, 2017 1:44 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Democratic Hopefuls Offer Their Views At Forum

East Hampton Town Board Democratic candidates Jeff Bragman, Kathee Burke Gonzalez and Zach Cohen at the debate.  KYRIL BROMLEY
Aug 30, 2017 9:31 AM

Affordable housing, airport noise and the town bucking federal directives on immigration were key topics at Monday night’s debate at the East Hampton Library featuring the three candidates seeking to be the Democratic Party’s two nominees for Town Board in the November election.

The three candidates—incumbent Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, plus Jeff Bragman and Zach Cohen—also each said that the town needs to support and give voice to its Latino community, should pursue but be wary of renewable energy projects, needs to expand facilities for senior citizens, and should reject term limits or longer terms for some elected officials. The candidates split over whether the town should hire a town manager.

Two of the three candidates said that they thought the town’s dismissal of an affordable housing project in Wainscott last year was a mistake. Mr. Cohen said bringing the discussion back to the table would be one of his first priorities if elected.

“One of the first things I would do is reopen the possibility of putting that there,” Mr. Cohen said of the proposal by Windmill Village to build 48 middle-income rental units on town-owned land off Stephen Hands Path.

Mr. Cohen suggested that any new students that came from the development could be sent to the East Hampton schools, so as not to overwhelm Wainscott’s one-room schoolhouse—as long as the school taxes were paid by Wainscott residents.

Mr. Bragman, a political newcomer, also said that he thought the Democratically-controlled board had misfired when it let public pressure in the wealthy enclave derail the proposal.

“I love the little school … but I thought the plan was a good plan for Wainscott, and I would vote for it if it came up again,” he said. “The Democrats have made great strides, but I think the Wainscott thing was a swing and miss.”

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, the lone incumbent in the race this year, said that there had been a lot of resistance from the Wainscott community to the proposal because of concerns about over-populating the small school, as well as because of heightened sensitivity over septic pollution in Georgica Pond. She lamented that such push-back is a common obstacle for Town Board members despite repeated calls to address the high cost of housing.

“Everywhere I go, people tell me about the need for affordable housing, but when it gets proposed, people don’t want it in their neighborhood,” she said. “What I would ask is that people open their hearts.”

Each candidate also stood up for the need to strengthen the security and political voice of the Latino community in the town, in light of renewed pressures on immigration enforcement from the federal government. All three said that more needs to be done to make Latino immigrants comfortable in their adopted homes and bolster their political position in the town.

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez nodded to the successes of the East Hampton School District in creating a staff position purely as a liaison to immigrant families but also noted that the town’s own much-lauded Latino Advisory Committee has struggled to draw members of the community to meetings in public buildings since President Donald Trump took office.

Mr. Cohen, who serves on the Latino Advisory Committee, said that even people who are in the country legally are sometimes afraid to come to public meetings, despite their formidable portion of the town population. He said that about 11 percent of the Democratic Party’s registered voters are Latino.

Mr. Bragman said that immigration is one of the issues where local elected officials have to be ready to tangle with national issues in their own backyards.

“This is one of the times where we have to stand up to what’s going on,” he said. “It’s just not right, it’s not justice. We have to say these people are part of the community and we want them here, they make us stronger … just like my grandparents did, just like your grandparents did.”

Two years after commercial helicopter companies poured more than half a million dollars into the Republican challengers to the Democratic majority on the Town Board, which had imposed restrictions on helicopter flights, all three of the candidate hopefuls acknowledged the now emerging calls for closing the airport altogether, though none of them said they currently support the idea.

“The airport is not going to be closed in the next term,” Mr. Cohen reassured, though he echoed the thoughts of the others that if restrictions cannot be found that reduce noise impacts from the airport, it may only be a matter of time before the close-the-airport chants carry weight on election days. “The people who will come after us will very likely be saying you’ve cooked your own goose.”

“I’d like to think the pilots are going to see the writing on the wall,” Mr. Bragman said. “If we can’t control it, they may find that what used to be an extreme position in the community, may become a majority position in the community.”

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, who recounted how she became the Town Board’s current liaison to the airport and the spearhead of the laborious and costly efforts to rein in noisy aircraft flights, also warned that “reasonable restrictions” is the goal in the town’s ongoing fight with the FAA and aviation companies that use the airport.

As they have in recent elections, the issues of term limits and hiring a town administrator were also posed to this year’s potential Democratic slate. Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said she would support hiring a manager, particularly in the wake of the departure of Supervisor Larry Cantwell—who held a similar role in East Hampton Village for 30 years—and Executive Assistant Alex Walter at the end of the year. Mr. Bragman said he was opposed to the idea—preferring that elected officials continue to control the purse strings of the town, as long as they can hold the approval of voters.

All three said they would not want to see term limits or a change to the length of terms for the supervisor. Mr. Bragman said he would like to see some term limits imposed for members of regulatory boards.

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez expressed support for the proposed offshore wind energy farm, while Mr. Bragman said he supports the project in general but still harbors some reservations about the impact on the fishing industry—a concern he’d like to see vetted thoroughly and openly during the review process. Mr. Cohen also said he supports the project but wants to see other forms of renewable power sources advanced as well.

Monday’s debate was sponsored by the East Hampton Library and the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, with Estelle Gellman, co-president of the Hamptons League, and Arthur Malman, chairman of the Group for Good Government, acting as moderators.

The Democratic primary is scheduled for September 12.

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The East Hampton Democrats want to strengthen the "political voice" of illegal aliens. They want the citizens of foreign nations, who are here illegally, to have the same power as citizens.

Sounds like treason to me.
By MoronEliminator (215), Montauk on Aug 29, 17 3:11 PM
2 members liked this comment
OMG.... here we go already. You are the first to comment and you have to say something like that ? Where in this article does it say "illegal aliens". It says "Immigrants"... for crying out loud, do you know the difference ? We are a nation of immigrants. That's what makes American strong..... we are all immigrants.
By marybmary (54), east hampton on Aug 29, 17 3:30 PM
1 member liked this comment
When they refer to the strengthening the political voice of "latino immigrants" in an environment where immigration laws are once again being enforced, they are not referring to citizens, who are not subject to immigration controls.

As for the rest of your sentiment, you clearly believe illegal aliens and legal immigrants are the same. Apparently you have no use for our immigration laws and believe they must be ignored. Are you advocating for open borders? Does the US not have a right to ...more
By MoronEliminator (215), Montauk on Aug 29, 17 3:43 PM
2 members liked this comment
holy cow... you just continue..... why are you putting words in my mouth. I asked you if you knew the difference between "illegal aliens" and "immigrants" and now I'm advocating for open borders. wow...
By marybmary (54), east hampton on Aug 31, 17 11:17 AM
Soon the Press will start calling them "uninvited guests".
By fishy (92), East Hampton on Aug 29, 17 4:06 PM
Government has no business being involved in the housing market. Sorry to say one must live where one can afford to live.
By bigfresh (4590), north sea on Aug 29, 17 5:38 PM
1 member liked this comment
We need to help,the uninvited guests
By Draggerman (941), Southampton on Aug 31, 17 9:41 PM
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