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Five Democrats meet for candidate forum: All running in primary for party’s nomination

There were few, if any, surprises at the June 4 candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island & South Fork, and hosted by the library at a standing-room-only meeting room. Another 35 people attended via Zoom.

Gordon Gooding has challenged incumbent Supervisor Gerry Siller for the Democratic nomination for supervisor to take on Republican candidate Amber Brach-Williams in November. The forum also featured three men who are vying for two spots on the Democratic ticket in the general election for Town Council. Newcomers to politics, Bert Waife and Benjamin Dyett, were at the table with former town councilman Albert Dickson.

They were all Democrats, since the Republican ticket is set, with Councilwoman Brach-Williams topping the GOP ticket and Tom Cronin and Art Williams seeking council seats.

Moderated by Jo-Ann Robotti, who posed questions to the candidates, Mr. Gooding and Mr. Siller stayed relentlessly on message. Mr. Gooding, chairman of the Town’s Community Preservation Advisory Board, said he would restore “trust in town government” and get back to “a respectful exchange between people,” with “tolerance and compromise” and “every member of the community having their say.”

Mr. Siller’s theme throughout the discussion was that he has vigorously pursued an agenda of clean water and affordable housing, of “working hard,” getting results, and that his administration “listens to the public.”

At one point, Mr. Gooding accused the supervisor of “throwing things on the table at the last minute,” citing an example of the town’s plan to place a wastewater treatment plant under Klenawicus Airfield, which the administration withdrew after strong public condemnation.

“No one was aware of that before it came down,” Mr. Gooding said, which “is not a good way for consensus.”

Mr. Siller countered by saying, he would offer “a lesson in reality.” Leadership means first crafting plans and then presenting them to the public for discussion and debate, he said. “Nothing has been done without public approval,” he added. At another point, the supervisor said, “You have to earn respect, and give respect” and he wouldn’t “tolerate outright lies.”

One way to encourage communication and put a damper on divisive discussions, Mr. Gooding said, is to revoke the policy instituted by Supervisor Siller of only allowing speakers to address the Town Board for three minutes.

Speaking about the Comprehensive Plan, Mr. Gooding noted that some committees in town government are being “steered,” and there was pressure to speedily produce a Comprehensive Plan. “Why rush to complete this?” he asked. “Take the time and do it right.”

With a settlement announced just last week of a suit brought by the owner of the Ram’s Head Inn against the town and some town officials, Ms. Robotti asked if the town was prepared for more litigation.

Mr. Siller said he didn’t know if here were “remedies” against litigation, since bringing suits is a product of the times and “the way [for many people] to go now is litigation.” He said the town was “doing everything by the book,” but “you can’t prevent people from suing.”

On large infrastructure projects being considered, including a wastewater treatment system, building affordable housing, and new municipal water systems, Ms. Robotti asked what projects should be prioritized with limited funds available.

Mr. Siller said his administration has held the line on taxes by employing more “user fees whenever possible.” Grant money has come to the town for water projects and “we have zero debt service” so the town can also bond.

This was another point where Mr. Gooding voiced agreement, and urged again that “the community must be engaged from the beginning.” He also asked that those against large water projects not be characterized as being against affordable housing if they questioned water policy.

With the Suffolk County Water Authority taking a larger role in the Island’s water systems, including the West Neck Water District, the candidates were asked about SCWA implementation in other areas. Mr. Gooding said, first and foremost, there is a nitrate problem “and we have to take care of Center residences.” One solution could be community wells.

Mr. Siller noted that his administration had been part of a successful transfer of operations in West Neck to SCWA, but added that SCWA doesn’t need approval from the town; it can begin operations if it has a 40% approval from area residents.

On the issue of homeowners receiving grants for converting accessory dwelling units such as attics and garages into affordable rental apartments, Mr. Siller touted his administration receiving grants of $2 million for the conversion of units.

The opponents agreed, when asked if the town was “on the right path environmentally.” Mr. Siller, speaking about a unified wastewater system for the Center, said that planning wasn’t made in a vacuum but that the town has a its own professional engineer, and had hired a professional engineer and a hydrologist as consultants. “We have answered every single question scientifically,“ Mr. Siller said.

Mr. Gooding summed up his view of governing by saying that “good leaders don’t blame others.” There was a choice, he added, “of more of the same or looking for a different direction. We can do better.”

Three for two

Three men are vying for two spots on the Democratic ticket for Town Council in November. At the library Sunday were, from left, Benjamin Dyett, Bert Waife and Albert Dickson. (Credit: Ambrose Clancy

The three Democrats seeking two nominations for Town Council in a primary, followed the Democratic candidates for supervisor. Again, there was agreement on almost all issues, including the need for affordable housing and to step up procedures to make clean drinking water a priority.

Mr. Dyett, an attorney and entrepreneur, has been involved with Sylvester Manor for years, including serving as chairman of the Manor’s Board. He decided to run for the nomination after “reading the Reporter and talking to people around town and complaining a lot. I had to stop complaining and do something.”

Asked about the moratorium on large residential construction projects recently voted in by the Town Board, all agreed it was a good move. But Mr. Dyett said sometimes a moratorium is an excuse not to create a new policy, although this was a good start.

Mr. Waife, a bayman who also runs a small business, said he was in the race because he was concerned about “affordability for the Island.”

Mr. Waife also provided the only real moment of comic relief, when the candidates were asked about the importance of the school to the community, and all agreed it was an essential institution for Shelter Island. Mr. Waife said he had put two children through the school and would do everything he could to keep the school open and functioning — “Except have more kids.”

All agreed that to keep the school alive there had to be a serious effort to bring affordable housing to the Island.

Mr. Dickson, a retired environmental project manager and former Town Board member, said he “wanted to get back in the game” because he felt there was unfinished business, especially in capping the size of houses and ensuring clean surface and ground water.

Early voting in the Democratic primary starts Saturday, June 17.

In-person voting at the polls is Tuesday, June 27.