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Shelter Island candidates meet for debate — similar goals offered

At Sunday’s political debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island and the North Fork, along with the Shelter Island Association, residents packed the school auditorium.

It became obvious that many Islanders were already committed to candidates and unlikely to change their decisions based on anything the candidates could say. The truly undecided would likely find few differences in goals or policies among the candidates.

Republican Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams and Democrat Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board Chairman Gordon Gooding made their cases why voters should choose them to lead the next administration. Ms. Brach-Williams pointed to seven years of experience on the Town Board under both Republican and Democratic supervisors and touted her more than three decades of financial experience.

Pointing to what she described as a calm demeanor and ability to ensure all speakers have opportunities to speak at meetings involving controversial issues when  Supervisor Gerry Siller had to recuse himself, she reiterated what her backers have said: She’s a voice of reason and a good listener.

Mr. Gooding pointed out he doesn’t have a political background, but has brought experience in business and environmental leadership to his eight years as Community Preservation Fund chairman to the table. “I believe in consensus,” and the need to end the “us and them” attitude that he said has been a mark of the Siller administration.

Both candidates agreed potable water for those town residents whose water is tainted with contaminants is a high priority.

If there was a moment when the elephant in the room emerged, it came when Ms. Brach-Williams pronounced herself her own person and not an extension of Mr. Siller.

“Gerry, don’t jump out of your seat,” is something she said she told him on some occasions when he seemed aggressive with residents questioning his decisions. She said as the leader of an administration it would not be business as it has been done in the past four years.

For Mr. Gooding, the question he raised was why most decisions rendered by the administration passed by 5-0 votes. “It’s O.K. to disagree,” he said.

One major area of disagreement emerged about the 2024 budget, with Ms. Brach-Williams defending the spending plan and a decision to use $320,000 from the fund balance to offset the budget and bring it down from an original draft showing an 11.8% increase in spending to 6.2%.

Mr. Gooding said the Town Board should have been able to cut spending so it wouldn’t pierce the state-imposed 2% tax cap. He said taxpayers would see a 20% jump in their taxes.

Assessor Judith Lechmanski countered that estimate, and provided an estimate showing the expected tax hike on a spending plan would be 6.2% higher than the existing plan.

A property assessed at $1 million could expect to see an increase in taxes of  $148, Ms. Lechmanski said.

Mr. Gooding later clarified his statement made at the debate releasing a chart showing budget increases between 2021 and the projected spending plan for 2024 totaled 18.4%.


As for the candidates for Town Board, Republican Art Williams is undergoing cancer treatments and is at a stage where bed rest and the need to save his voice is critical to his full recovery. A statement was read on his behalf touting his experience as a former town supervisor and committing to support solutions to deal with seemingly insurmountable issues, including potable water, wastewater treatment and affordable housing. He has faced difficult issues in the past, the statement said, and what will inform his decisions in the future would be maintaining the quality of life on the Island.

The three other Town Board candidates seeking election for two open seats — Democrats Albert Dickson and Benjamin Dyett and Republican Tom Cronin, like the candidates at the top of their tickets, were in general agreement on most issues.

Mr. Dickson, a former councilman, said he knows how the town runs and how it can run better. He wants to ensure impartial expertise is sought to render advice on issues, prime among them, how to make potable water available to residents whose wells may be tainted with contaminants, or compromised by salt water intrusion.

Mr. Cronin wants to make sure there’s more research to inform decisions the next administration will make.

Mr. Dyett touted his background in law, business and entrepreneurship and said he wants to see affordable housing to build a community where young families can live and enroll their children in school on the Island. He also wants to work toward greater protection of wetlands.

All want revisions to the Town Code to eliminate loopholes.

Addressing concerns some might have about his resignation from the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Board, Mr. Dyett said what that group has done is “not a bad start,” but it will take time and patience to turn out a document that will garner public support.

Mr. Cronin wants a moratorium on the Comp Plan to allow those involved in its development, and the community, time to “decompress” before resuming work.

Mr. Dickson wants a strong environmental impact plan in place before the Comp Plan is finalized.

The entire session with Jo-Ann Robotti posing questions to the candidates is expected to be posted to the town website.


Early voting at the Shelter Island Community Center begins Saturday, Oct. 28, and runs through Sunday, Nov. 5.

Hours on Saturday, Sunday and Monday — Oct. 28, 29 and 30 — are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Early voting on Tuesday and Wednesday — Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 — are from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

On Thursday and Friday — Nov. 2 and 3 — are from noon to 8 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday — Nov. 4 and 5 — from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.