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April 1st, 2004

Hamptons Politics-Spring 2004

by D. Clark MacPherson

While we patiently wait for democracy to take root in Hampton’s government we need a Hamptons Public Advocate. There is no credible representation for the enormous political base that has been ignored: non-resident, tax-paying property owners. These are the people who come predominantly from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, to provide most of the money for the entire Hamptons economy.

Why have the Supervisors of both Southampton and Easthampton not taken the initiative and created a government position for a representative of their largest constituency? A voice in local government for those who are paying the bills through property taxes begs the question – is a challenge to the law regarding voting in local elections necessary?

As elected officials in the Hamptons approach or avoid this issue -we need to follow some of the breadcrumbs. We should attempt to decipher what has been going on in this land of milk and honey and large amounts of cash-your cash. What has the money been used for? Where has the most exciting source of green since the coining of the word “cornucopia”-the Peconic Land Tax-been going? You know, the 2 percent tax that is collected at every real estate closing? Who writes about it? Where does it go? How much is it, really? And, who gets to get to decide where all that money goes? Interesting questions, don’t you think? Remember, this is in addition to the regular real estate taxes that are collected. This is in addition to the school taxes that are billed to each property owner, for the school official’s salaries who plan even more building projects that will increase your taxes as their salaries go up!

Would Westhampton Beach have planned a $31 million dollar expansion plan, for example, that included a new auditorium (when a professional auditorium was offered to the school for nothing) AND would the Village of Westhampton Beach have planned a new Village Hall-if only to serve the same number of local residents as it always had-if local residents were paying for it? Would school superintendant Lynn Schwartz have gotten a 13 percent raise (to $170,000 yearly) for handling 1800 students, when NYC Chancellor Joel Klein (at $250,000) deals with more than a million kids, if the gravy train were derailed?

The answer, my friends, really is blowing in the wind – but it’s cash that blowing in this particular wind, and it’s yours. So, we will be checking out some answers, too – and we’ll get back to you with some facts about the Hamptons’ share of $200 million over the last few years from the Peconic Land Tax alone – of which Southampton Town picked up nearly $100 million. It is the Town Board that decides where the money is going. As always, “Follow the money.”

Which leads us to the recent election in Southampton Town?ɂ Patrick “Skip” Heaney won re-election, if you call it that. But this Queens democratic who owned a fence company in Hampton Bays may be facing an uphill battle this time around. All is not perfect on this new Town Board.

First we have to consider the fact that it was not an election in the sense that Bush theoretically won the presidency. At least in that election, Bush had an opponent. Hal Ross, a political insider who hops around from one political party to another appears to have as his mission to excuse any Republican from ever having to run a race. Apparently he hadn’t claimed to be Gore’s campaign strategist. He didn’t call him at the last minute to suggest he drop out (as Ross did with Hank DeCelia during this past “election” for Supervisor). Heaney has never really run for Supervisor. In his two bids for office, he’s never had an opponent. That’s politics in Southampton Town. It is the most startling reality of a major resort that sucks up property tax money like a Hepa vacuum cleaner. So Heaney was swept into office unopposed, supported by that unofficial organ of the Republican Party, The Southampton Press. This award-winning periodical has never once found it necessary to question the democratic principles challenged by serial one-party elections. Heaney won the race, then proceeded to GO and continued to collect the use and influence of that $100 million. Let’s see, now all of that money goes to buy parcels to protect the environment and conserve open space, doesn’t it? And, those purchases are transparent and reviewed by the people who are paying for them through the Peconic Transfer Tax-and reported transparently by the Southampton Press, are they not? Right, says the Tooth Fairy. Guess again.

Okay, so Home Rule, Home Rule, you can’t come in here and tell us what to do!

Oh? Okay.

Well, let’s look at the weights and balances. Here’s the new Town Board, folks. We have Nancy Graboski, a Republican, a Flanders schoolteacher and former member of the Southampton Planning Board. What most people forget about this stellar candidate is that she was the Chair of the Planning Board, the one who reviewed all of the applications and was the “Johnnie-on-the-spot” during the time that the Ira Rennert controversy popped up a few years back. Although she resigned “for other reasons” there were some unpleasant accusations over the anti-Semitic imbroglio that pitted Rennert against the Town of Southampton. The hallmark of her candidacy is the reported comment among her “friends” in the press that she is perhaps “the most ill-informed and unprepared candidate” they ever met.

Then we have Linda Kabot, another Republican. She’s the former secretary of Vince Cannuscio (Republican Supervisor prior to Heaney), and is a photographer who is best known as a “woman” and a true “local.” The significance of this, in part, is the fact that the only issue in the Hamptons, at least in Southampton, that will motivate people to cross party lines – is gender. Regardless of the candidate’s credentials, women will cross party lines in the Hamptons to vote female. Do the women voters know something about the level of male Republican candidates thus far-or not enough about the female candidates? Well, in this case, from Kabot’s direction come the twin wonders of her questionable “flight 800 missile” photo and a family member (mother) who was stabbed by her Guatemalan tenant. Here we have stature. To clarify her experience in handling that $100 million for us, at a recent meeting with the Shinnecock Indians over the potential casino project, she offered her pithy credentials. She explained to the Indians that she was familiar with casinos since her “mother had a problem and wound up losing her trailer.”

Dennis Suskind, a democrat, is a veteran of the Town Board. He’s a New York City guy who appears to be studying the political landscape and has criticized Heaney in the past, leading one to believe that he may have a run for Supervisor in mind-possibly during this next round in 2005. He’s probably the closest thing to a Hamptons Public Advocate representing the interests of non-resident taxpaying homeowners. Hard to tell if he can do anything on a Republican-controlled Board with a house organ (Southampton Press) that only “prints the news to fit the agenda.” But Suskind is a wealthy guy-that could change the balance.

Finally, there is Steve Kenny, another Democrat. He’s an Economics professor from Remsenburg (formerly known as “South Speonk”) who teaches at Suffolk County Community College. Presumably, he has some money knowledge. Just to show how much he knows about money, he is capable of the sort of “double-dipping” the State Legislature may not have envisioned when they permitted its employees to reap 75% of ALL income at pension time. Add the college salary (guess $75K to $90K) to the Town Board salary ($45K) and we’re talking serious money a year – to lay back and relax. Yes, folks, this kind of economic understanding bodes well for our $100 million plus. The balance on this Town Board, however, is anything but certain. What appears to be predictable, if anything is-is that there will be “floating coalitions” and Kabot is not known to particularly like Heaney, although they are both Republicans.

What is stunning about this level of talent, however, is that Heaney and this Town Board will be playing with our money and not one move has been made to consult us on how we think it should be spent. The first step will be to determine how much there is and where it has been going-and why.

D. Clark MacPherson

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