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Oct 30, 2013 10:33 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Supervisor Candidates Look To The Issues

Oct 30, 2013 12:20 PM

Election Day 2013 looms, and both Southampton Town supervisor candidates lament that the many important issues facing the town were never parsed in public during a campaign that instead focused on personal jabs and bickering over who to credit for the town’s recovery from the throes of financial mismanagement and recession.

Monumental issues and vexing concerns are towering on the town’s horizon: They include how to curtail illegally overcrowded rentals, expanding affordable housing initiatives, and addressing police staffing needs and leadership questions. There are more: planning sustainability options, spurring economic growth, and, most of all, tackling the overwhelming problem of septic pollution of the East End’s tidal bays and creeks, which both candidates agree is the most pressing and vexing problem that the town and the entire region face in the coming decades.

The two women, both veterans of the post, have disparate views of how to tackle each issue. But the residents who attended the dozen or so forums at which the two faced off rarely heard more than a sentence or two from either candidate on any of the above, and never a detailed comparison of their differing views that a would-be voter could use to make a decision.

Instead, they heard about credit reports, budgets, deficits and staffing cuts from years ago. They heard the two candidates defend their own records and point fingers at each other for being dishonest or incompetent.

The candidates themselves acknowledged this state of affairs this week, with mutual dismay.

“I feel like we’ve been mired in the past,” said Linda Kabot, the Republican challenger who served as supervisor from 2007 to 2009. “During the entire campaign trail, the sustainability plan barely came up at all ... The police department issue never got aired.

“Affordable housing, Sandy Hollow [Cove] came up as a site-specific concern, mostly to do with density on that particular parcel, but not the issue of policy going forward,” she continued. “I would have liked to focus more on the future of the town.”

Ms. Kabot, not surprisingly, blamed her opponent, incumbent Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, for the stagnancy of the campaign and what she said were gross misrepresentations of the record in Ms. Throne-Holst’s touting her accomplishments since wresting the office from her in 2009.

Her foe, the Democratic nominee and an Independence Party member, pointed the finger the other way, of course.

“A couple things stand out to me about this [campaign]: the financial management history and our various versions of what happened there ... and personal attacks instead of issues. But that’s how she runs her campaign,” Ms. Throne-Holst said of her opponent. “I spoke as best I could about the bigger issues around water quality and economic development and tax abatement and business incentives.

“You would think it would have been great to explore those a little more, talk about how you actually get real results with quality-of-life issues, code enforcement and that kind of thing, how you actually get there,” she added.

Ms. Kabot claims that steps she took as supervisor, including the crafting of the 2010 budget, began to right the town’s economic ship, despite towering deficits and years of tangled books that were only just coming to light when she left office. She bristled at Ms. Throne-Holst’s pointing to the recovery and the flat tax rates of her tenure, pointing out often that the current supervisor’s first budget proposal was tax-neutral thanks only to cuts made by the Republican and Conservative members of the Town Board. Ms. Throne-Holst fired back that Ms. Kabot had not righted the ship but rather saddled it with even more debt, its most burdensome load in trying to get her arms around a problem she was ill-equipped to handle.

As the heat of the battle reached its most fevered pitch, a comment by Ms. Kabot at one of the debates threw gasoline on the fire. The comment appeared to suggest that Ms. Kabot’s status as a married mother of three and homeowner makes her more qualified to lead the town than Ms. Throne-Holst, who is divorced and rents her home, though she also is a mother of four and a nearly 30-year full-time resident of the town.

The comment, particularly with regard to marital status, drew deluges of criticism for the challenger, from across the political spectrum. It also highlighted some of the behind-the-scenes dynamics trailing in the campaign’s wake.

Former Supervisor Patrick Heaney, a lifelong Republican who was ousted from office in a intra-party primary by Ms. Kabot, excoriated Ms. Kabot for bringing up Ms. Throne-Holst’s marital status as a campaign issue and voiced his support for the incumbent. Ironically, Mr. Heaney had pitched in to help draft the Republican Party platform early in the campaign.

“I was asked to help mentor the two candidates for Town Council, and I prepared a number of policy points, more as a primer, things I thought should be on the radar, or that the council candidates should be getting up to speed on,” he said this week. “It was never my intention to support every candidate on the ticket. I made it very clear I would not be behind Linda Kabot.”

Ms. Kabot, who has been an outsider of sorts within the Republican Party since even before her primary defeat of Mr. Heaney, was commonly seen as having tepid support of the party’s old guard, for whom Mr. Heaney had been a favorite. But Ms. Kabot’s core campaign staff includes one of the party’s most stalwart soldiers: former town councilwoman, town clerk and town Republican Party chairwoman Marietta Seaman. Former Councilwoman Nancy Graboski also was integral, as was former Democratic elections commissioner Neil Tiger, Ms. Kabot said.

With an inveterate inner circle in Ms. Kabot’s corner and a candidate with deep financial pockets and a thick resume in the other, the role of the major political parties themselves took a sideline in the supervisor’s campaign, instead focusing on the battle for the Town Board.

“Linda has run campaigns before, so she had her team of people,” Southampton Town Republican Party Chairman Bill Wright said. “We were definitely more involved with the council candidates this time around.”

Ms. Throne-Holst, who noted that the Democrats took largely the same approach with the Town Board race, essentially ran her own campaign, she said. Over the summer she paid an East Hampton political consultant some $30,000 for helping to steer advertising and focusing her message to voters. But she says she parted ways with the firm last month, would be getting some of the money back, and took over the helm herself.

She has raised mountains of money, in the neighborhood of $100,000, and has spent prodigiously. Ms. Kabot, who raised a respectable $60,000 in campaign contributions herself, relied on her own elbow grease and shoe leather, employing what has become a signature tactic of knocking on lots of doors.

“I’ve knocked on thousands of doors and asked them about their concerns,” Ms. Kabot said. “The cornerstone of our campaign has been working with the Town Trustees to protect our rights as freeholders, streamlining regulations to stimulate business, and protecting our environment. I wish those issues had gotten more attention.”

Ms. Throne-Holst said that for all the bickering and finger-pointing, she’s still at a loss for what her challenger was actually criticizing about her administration.

“If just once Linda had been able to say, ‘Here’s something where Anna really screwed up,’” the incumbent said, “one thing she could point to and say, ‘I would have done that differently,’ then it would have been a campaign—it would have been a race.”

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68 weeks ago Sister Jackie Walsh was mowed down and left to die on the side of the road, and the campaign has conveniently ignored the failed investigation's "miscarriage of justice" blight on the East End.

Did political favoritism contribute to the 11-day delay in releasing the alleged driver's ID and photo?

Guess we will never know.

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"None of the Above"

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By PBR (4956), Southampton on Oct 30, 13 1:23 PM