The old saying that no one pays attention to politics until after Labor Day is true — except for party leaders and candidates who have been busy defining issues and mapping strategies.
As the official election season opens for the race to Election Day 2019, we caught up with the Island politicos.
One of the significant developments politically this year was the GOP denying the party line to incumbent Councilman Paul Shepherd. Republican Party leader Gary Blados denied Mr. Shepherd was left to run only on the Conservative ticket because he had split from Supervisor Gary Gerth in voting in favor of the revised Short-Term Rental Law (STR).
Mr. Blados said the GOP wanted candidates who aren’t generally represented in town government — the younger generation. Noting that the last time Mr. Shepherd ran for his Town Board seat he won the most number of votes of any candidate who faced opposition, Mr. Blados said, “Mr. Shepherd has done well in elections and I suspect he will do well again.
Age aside, did any issues inform the decision not to endorse Mr. Shepherd?
The move to endorse Marcus Kaasik, who ran a close but losing race to Councilman Albert Dickson two years ago, and Julia Weisenberg, was “not completely policy driven,” Mr. Blados said.
“They represent a voice in our community that is not being represented on the current board,” he added, and make their livings on the Island and are raising their children here. Both grew up in town and “understand the economic hardships many Islanders endure,” he said.
During the nominating process, he said both presented innovative approaches to problems.
The Republican platform includes:
• Maintain responsibly low taxes while ensuring the town’s infrastructure isn’t neglected.
• Invest in human capital to attract talent at competitive salaries and compensation packages.
• Create affordable housing to “keep the heart of Shelter Island pumping.”
• Develop the Island’s economy by listening to small business owners and help them compete with businesses in neighboring municipalities.
• Continue to develop a more focused approach on water and septic issues.
• Increase culling of deer and introduction of controlled burns to kill ticks.
• Stabilize Reel Point to protect commercial and residential properties throughout Coecles Harbor and Ram Island.
• Continue to develop innovative ideas in cooperation with the Shelter Island Heights Property Owners Corporation to protect the bays and preserve the Shelter Island Country Club.
• Defend property rights using a “thoughtful, common sense approach” rather than “shotgun blanket regulations.”
The Republican Party’s standard bearer, the incumbent Mr. Gerth, expanded on a number of issues.
He described himself as “a moderate” on the STR law, but said since it passed without his vote, he will uphold it and ensure its enforcement.
But Mr. Gerth said he has concerns about property rights in relation to STR legislation and wants a “common sense” approach to the subject.
Seeking a solution before defining a problem was the case with the STR law, he added.
After the summer season ends, Mr. Gerth said the board should examine the revised law and determine where it may have been overkill and where it may need to be tightened up.
Democratic Chairwoman Heather Reylek and her vice chairman, Alex Hu, crafted a response to questions about strategy and issues.
“We spend a lot of time talking about our issues and problems [but] need to also spend time talking about our opportunities,” the statement said. Describing the Island as “small and nimble,” its approach to handling problems could set an example for the rest of Long Island because it should be able to act quickly and more efficiently than other municipalities.
Among the issues of prime concern, the party leaders cited:
• Water quality and quantity.
• Deer and tick problems.
• Affordable housing to bring younger individuals and families to the Island.
• Leading on energy sustainability.
• Trying new strategies to grow the local economy and create new job opportunities.
Some of the issues have faced town governments for years, but there’s been a lack of multi-year plans to address them, Ms. Reylek said.
“Governing is a matter of picking priorities and executing them and we need a Board who can think and plan holistically and [with] experience, executing and managing large initiatives,” she said.
Among them is the need to “honestly appraise the significant vulnerabilities we have to rapid climate change and to execute a plan to address them head on,” she added.
Pointing to the “toxic division” that has informed discussions of issues such as STRs, Ms. Reylek said the board should play “a key role in guiding conversation and providing leadership and confidence.”
Issues need to be discussed respectfully and without personal attacks, she said.
“Shelter Island discourse used to be polite, but vocal, and I know we can quickly return to that state,” she said. The STR conversations needed to be goal-focused instead of “bitterly personal,” she said.
“I empathize with both sides of the STR conversation,” Ms. Reylek said.
But the board could have done a stronger job keeping it focused on goals and talking about how the law could be evaluated with respect to effectiveness and adjusted according to that evaluation, she said.
The board needs to welcome new ideas, perspectives and methodologies and be strategic and “far less reactive,” Ms. Reylek said. It needs to clearly define goals and provide due diligence and engagement with experts in various subjects that can be presented to the public in clear, logical ways, she said, pointing to last year’s Deer & Tick survey, which drew participation from a large number of Islanders.
“Legislation is a process that requires leadership, structure, clear communication and empathy from the top,” she said.
She expressed confidence in the Democrats’ slate of candidates, saying they will represent all Islanders and push for progress in leveraging the town’s opportunities and make hard decisions.
At the head of the Democratic ticket is Gerry Siller, a former town supervisor who served two terms in the 1990s.
Mr. Siller said he believes he and Mr. Gerth have the best interests of Shelter Island at heart, but differ dramatically in management style. He sees Mr. Gerth as taking “a hands off approach, preferring to delegate the work to the board and especially the town attorney.
“My approach is to lead by example, being fully aware of the issues, informing the Town Board, discussing and implementing ways to address the issues,” he said.
With respect to the issues, he offered thoughts on water, deer and ticks, affordable housing, STRs and green options.
Mr. Siller offered the following:
• He recommends initiating discussions with the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA) and other sources of water, and consideration of establishing a local Island water authority. He suggests the SCWA be considered for a role in managing, advising or providing Shelter Island water while water from the Island would never be pumped off and a hook up to the system would not be mandatory.
• Mr. Siller calls for development of a plan to deal with nitrate problems in the Center and a targeted effort to install nitrogen-reducing septic systems in other sensitive areas.
• He would cut the 4-poster program by 50% with and eliminate it by 2021 and increase the culling of the deer herd.
• Mr. Siller wants the board to work closely with the Community Housing Board to identify parcels that could become part of a “land bank” for affordable housing, as well as investigate sites that are town-owned and privately owned. He wants incentives for landlords to provide affordable rentals and would like the town to explore creating a Housing Authority.
• Mr. Siller would enforce the STR law currently in place, but review it as circumstances merit.
• Shelter Island should become a model community for green technology, he said, and recommends the use of solar and wind power. He would also like to explore the relative efficiency of town-operated vehicles and wants the town to initiate an energy audit on all its facilities.
“I take nothing for granted. I have no idea how the vote will play out,” Councilman Paul Shepherd said in a conversation about his re-election chances after the Republican Party bypassed endorsing him again.
In his first run for town office, seeking to become supervisor in 2009, Mr. Shepherd ran on the Local Liberty Party ticket, losing to incumbent Jim Dougherty.
He ran a winning race for a board seat in 2011 on the Conservative and Local Liberty party lines, but still without the Republican endorsement. Then in 2015, the GOP gave him the nod and he ended up with the most number of votes of any contested candidate on the ballot, pulling in about 40% of the overall vote
The major issue he thinks that may have turned the GOP from endorsing him was his vote in favor of the revised STR law.
“It was not something I did lightly,” Mr. Shepherd said. He voted because he believed it was not an issue he could ignore, given similar legislation in surrounding towns and villages.
What most concerns him in the wake of the often angry exchanges at hearings on STRs was the tenor of the conversation. He has no problem with people voicing differing opinions, he said. But the anger and personal accusations that accompanied some of the exchanges were troubling, he added.
Other issues he is glad to see as focal points for the board are water quality and quantity and the availability of affordable housing.
The latter is essential to the Island’s economy, which is increasingly tourist driven rather than dominated by second homeowners, which it was in the past, Mr. Shepherd said.
Looking back on his two terms on the Town Board, he said, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Because the Conservative Party has no chairman or structure on Shelter Island, we have included Mr. Shepherd’s comments here. A follow up story will present the views of the other three board candidates, Republicans Marcus Kaasik and Julia Weisenberg and Democrats Michael Bebon and Councilman Jim Colligan.