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Jun 16, 2015 1:57 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Tucker, DiBenedetto Run On Record, Experience In Westhampton Beach Election

Incumbent Westhampton Beach Village trustees Hank Tucker and Patricia DiBenedetto. KYLE CAMPBELL
Jun 16, 2015 4:53 PM

The two incumbents on the Westhampton Beach Village Board are running on their respective records, citing their due diligence in keeping the municipality’s finances in order and Village Hall running smoothly, as they seek reelection this Friday, June 19.

Hank Tucker, 55, and Patricia DiBenedetto, 53, tout their experience on the five-member board and their proven ability at parsing difficult issues as merit for deserving their fifth and third terms, respectively. The two are running together on the Lightning Party ticket.

Trustees are elected to two-year terms, paid an annual stipend of $5,710 and given health benefits by the village.

While their challengers on the Our Village Party ticket, Rob Rubio and Brian Tymann, have based their campaign largely around unbridled support for a sewer district that they would like to see installed and serve Main Street, Mr. Tucker and Ms. DiBenedetto are approaching the topic more cautiously and perhaps more pragmatically, doing their “homework,” as Ms. DiBenedetto likes to put it.

Mr. Tucker said that based on discussions with other villages, including Patchogue and Bellport, as well as with Suffolk County officials, it is his understanding that Main Street could be the first place that a sewer district is installed. He explained that the long-term goal would need to be to one day hook up the entire village to such a system, a proposal that also brings a greater cost with it. Mr. Tucker said while he would like to create a sewer system to help protect the bays, he does not want to “burden any of our residents” in the process.

He also said he wants to make sure establishing a sewer district doesn’t open the flood gates for large-scale development, or cause the village to revert to its status as a hub for nightclubs, as was the case in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“There are those that want more vibrancy in the village and there are people who want things as they are in the village,” Mr. Tucker said. “There’s always got to be a balance between growth and maintaining our charm here, and sewers are an extremely expensive undertaking.”

Ms. DiBenedetto said the current board supports growth in the village, including through the installation of a sewer system, if the undertaking proves to be financially viable. She pointed out that they voted this past spring to authorize Mayor Maria Moore to request 50,000 gallons of capacity be reserved for future village use at the treatment plant located at the Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton.

She said she’d like to explore other ways of paying for the project to prevent raising taxes, adding that the village has been in touch with Southampton Town to see if Community Preservation Fund money could be spent on such an initiative even though the fund is traditional used for preserving open space.

“We’ve been meeting with all the parties that would be involved at the state and county levels and looking at the costs,” she said. “You have to weigh all the pros and cons.”

Ms. DiBenedetto, an 11-year village resident and a former Westhampton Beach Planning Board member, was first elected in 2011 and won reelection in 2013. Currently, she works as the business administrator at the Holbrook dental practice that’s owned by her husband, Mauro. Prior to entering public office, she worked as a computer-aided designer for a landscape architecture firm, which she said gave her a greater understanding of zoning regulations.

Ms. DiBenedetto’s husband is a captain in the Westhampton Beach Fire Department. They have two children, Lucy, 17, and Sal, 15.

Mr. Tucker, who has lived in the village for 19 years, and was first elected in 2007, ran an unsuccessful campaign to unseat then-Mayor Conrad Teller in 2010, and served a brief stint as deputy mayor in 2012-13. He has owned and operated Holey Moses Cheesecakes on the grounds of Gabreski Airport for the past 11 years.

He and his wife, Patty, have four children: Bret, 21, Molly, 19, Ben, 15, and Will, 14.

While serving the past four years together, the incumbents count keeping the budget balanced and taxes low among their biggest successes, along with upgrading the village’s procurement policy for purchases. Mr. Tucker also lists the creation of a stormwater management plan and working with the West Hampton Dunes-based Moriches Bay Project to establish an oyster farm in the village as top accomplishments. Ms. DiBenedetto has spearheaded efforts for the renovation of Glover Park—which she said is set to take place this fall—and has run the Tree City USA program in Westhampton Beach as part of the Arbor Day Foundation since taking office.

Both said they want to prioritize ridding the village’s three commercial districts—Main Street, Mill Road and Sunset Avenue, Montauk Highway, and Old Riverhead Road—of vacant buildings, or at least improve their aesthetics. They also touted the village’s recent application for a Suffolk County grant to help fund road improvements along Main Street.

Ms. DiBenedetto said the board is addressing the vacant commercial properties by having the village’s master plan reviewed to see if changes should be made so it is more accommodating to new businesses. She added that she’d like to speak to some of the property owners to see why they haven’t been able to find tenants. Mr. Tucker said he’s reached out to property owners and has proposed converting certain lots into small parks, at least temporarily, while they seek tenants.

Mr. Tymann and Mr. Rubio have criticized the sitting board, though not Mr. Tucker or Ms. DiBenedetto personally, for being inefficient and not making decisions on major issues in a timely fashion. The incumbents both feel their challengers don’t know how village government functions because they don’t attend board meetings.

“Things take time,” Ms. DiBenedetto said. “With the new administration, the new mayor, we’ve been more open to getting things done, but it’s a process.

“It would have been beneficial to them if they’d come to our meetings,” she said of her opponents. “It’s clear they don’t know what we’re doing.”

Mr. Tucker shared a similar sentiment. “Everyone has great ideas about things they want to get done when they come in,” he said. “Then they see that 80 to 85 percent of the budget is contractual, so there really isn’t all this money to do all these things.”

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Pat DiBenedetto is giving herself credit for doing a park on Glovers Lane. Where is it? Never planned, never started, after four years with her in charge.
Hank Tucker touts his involvement with Moriches Bay project, yet I have never seen him at any of their events. All this sounds good when you want to get re-elected, but how about doing something all these years in office?
By 313758 (8), westhampton on Jun 16, 15 3:06 PM
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