The proposed offshore wind farm and water quality were the primary topics of discussion on Monday when the East Hampton Independence Party’s screening committee interviewed candidates for townwide office.
The committee, meeting at Ashawagh Hall in Springs, conducted brief interviews with Republican and Democratic candidates for supervisor, town board, and town trustee. Incumbents in other offices who have been cross-endorsed by the two major parties were assured the Independence Party’s support.
Candidates “can’t focus on Washington,” Elaine Jones, the party’s chairwoman, said yesterday. “We are not interested in what’s happening in Washington, we’re interested in what’s happening in East Hampton.”
To that end, she told each of the Republican candidates for town board and supervisor that a photo on Facebook depicting them with a cardboard cutout of President Trump was troubling. All three men — Paul Giardina, Jerry Larsen, and Manny Vilar — said they were unaware of the photo and that in any event it should not be seen as an endorsement of the president.
“I’m a very center-of-the-road guy,” said Mr. Vilar, a sergeant with the New York State Parks police and the founding president of the state’s Police Benevolent Association. In that capacity, he said, “I have to work very closely with the Democratic Assembly. You have to be able to reach across the aisle.” He said he had asked the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee if he could screen with them but was denied. “I’m confident enough in myself,” he said, putting “what’s right for the community first, and politics last.”
Mr. Giardina emphasized his long experience working for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and said that his party’s plan to utilize the E.P.A.-State Environmental Facilities Corporation Revolving Fund, which would make $2 billion available to New York State for water-quality remediation, was better than the up-to-20 percent of community preservation fund money voters allocated for the purpose last year. That figure, $4 to $5 million per year, is not nearly adequate, he said.
Ms. Jones asked if the slow pace of the federal government might render his plan unrealistic. “Cutting through red tape is easier for me,” was the reply. “I do maintain my ties with the E.P.A.”
The screening committee seemed warm to Jeffrey Bragman’s candidacy for town board. Mr. Bragman, an attorney, has been endorsed by the Democrats. He has represented the town’s architectural review board, zoning board of appeals, and planning board, as well as applicants before the various boards. “These days, there is a lot of money coming to East Hampton,” Mr. Bragman told the screening committee. “Battles are getting tougher. Boards have to be armed with knowledge.”
“I think we need an attorney on the board,” Ms. Jones said.
Zachary Cohen, who is expected to force a Democratic primary for a town board seat, also sought the Independence Party’s endorsement. He emphasized his dedication to people and the environment, but Ms. Jones expressed a reluctance to “get in the middle of his primary.”
Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, an incumbent Democrat, talked about her work to gain local control of the East Hampton Airport, and Peter Van Scoyoc, a board member who is seeking to succeed Supervisor Larry Cantwell, who is stepping down after two terms, discussed water-quality remediation, housing, and the offshore wind farm. He suggested that Deepwater Wind, the Rhode Island company that plans to construct the wind farm, listen to the concerns of fishermen and route the transmission cable to land via the southern, ocean side of the South Fork and not the bay side, which baymen fear will destroy fish habitat and disrupt, at the least, their livelihood. “It’s in their best interest to have a successful dialog with the town,” he said of Deepwater Wind.
The freewheeling nature of the discussions was perhaps best illustrated in separate sessions with seven Republican candidates for town trustee, two of them incumbents, followed by as many Democrats, three incumbents among them.
The Republicans adamantly oppose the proposed wind farm. The trustees, said Jim Grimes, an incumbent, “are the one thing that stands between some ill-thought-out moment in political time . . . I feel it’s unfortunate our town board hasn’t shown this project the due diligence that they should have.”
Some Democrats, particularly Rick Drew, also expressed deep concerns about the proposed site, selection, a 256-square-mile area that covers the fertile fishing grounds known as Cox’s Ledge. Francesca Rheannon said she wants to find ways for commercial fishermen and Deepwater Wind to “work together so whatever needs to be done to protect the environment in the long run doesn’t hurt people in the short run. . . . I want to try to bring different groups together, because really, we’re all in this together.”
To the suggestion that fishermen be compensated should the wind farm’s construction and laying of its transmission cable prove disruptive, Ms. Jones, noting that her father came here from Norway and fished from Montauk for 45 years, said, “Fishermen don’t want the compensation. They want their lives.”
But, said Ms. Rheannon, “climate change is already destroying our fisheries. This is an issue that’s not going away. We have to find a way to work together.” In Norway, which has offshore wind farms, “they’ve managed it in a way that was good,” she said. “This is a tough issue.”
Bill Taylor, a Democrat and one of the trustees’ deputy clerks, defended the Democratic majority’s work, citing an improved relationship with the State Department of Environmental Conservation, which he said was exemplified by an expedited permit to dredge a part of Accabonac Harbor and open the culvert under Gerard Drive in Springs to improve water circulation.
But Joe Bloecker, a Republican former trustee seeking to rejoin the board, had a different take. A staunch critic of the offshore wind farm, he criticized the present trustee board for cooperating with the D.E.C. on dredging permits, “when they don’t need them, because the trustees have the ability to do these things themselves.”
Independence Party officials expect to reveal their endorsements tomorrow. “This year is a very difficult decision,” Ms. Jones said yesterday. “We have to do what’s right for our party.”