The only drama associated with the Southampton Town supervisor’s position a few months ago was whether the incumbent Jay Schneiderman planned on running again. Once he decided in the affirmative, most local political pundits made him the heavy favorite, and with good reason: he’s a proven vote getter, and the local Republican Party seemed hesitant to take him on.
But town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor, himself a proven vote getter, decided to stir things up, as he is wont to do — and he is very good at it. Greg Robins, the GOP candidate, buoyed by his prospects in a three-way race, seemed rejuvenated. The three candidates sat down at The Independent October 15.
The three discussed the recent controversy in East Quogue, where developers tried to use the town’s Planned Development District option to construct a huge residential community with a private golf course and marina. That led to a move by East Quogue residents to form their own village, which was voted down last week.
Many townsfolk, like Gregor, thought the town made the developer spend a fortune jumping through hoops knowing two town board members could and would sink the project by quashing the PDD request. “That’s part of the reason I’m running, because the developer strung the applicant along.”
“I tried to preserve it many times,” Schneiderman said of the 600-acre site. “I never liked the PDD law. It was too open-ended.”
Gregor insinuated Schneiderman worked behind the scenes to push for the project, noting an oft-cited expert in the hydrology field Schneiderman championed didn’t have the full range of credentials implied. “I have a background in drilling golf courses,” Gregor said.
It’s all still in play: The renegades could opt to break from the town and form a village again next year and Discovery Land has other development plans for the parcel. Gregor questioned if Discovery Land has full title to all the land in question.
Schneiderman’s plan for the town, “To buy, rejuvenate, develop, and auction: the ‘blighted’ Bel-Aire Motel” was criticized by both opponents.
“The town shouldn’t be in the housing business,” Gregor said. “That place is unsafe. The last thing the town needs is another real estate agent.”
The Bel-Aire Cove is one of many one-time resort motels that over the years have turned into overcrowded and unsafe housing. “You don’t have the political will or you’re too good-hearted” to close them down, Robins said to Schneiderman.
“I don’t want anyone living in squalid conditions,” Schneiderman said. “I’m not soft on enforcement.” Schneiderman questioned the wisdom of “raiding houses at four in the morning.”
“Neighbors say this kind of thing has been going on for decades,” Gregor said.
Robins is a retired teacher with 39 years under his belt. He is a longtime member of the North Sea Fire Department and an elected fire commissioner in North Sea. He lives in a modest waterfront house, a talking point in the discussion about Schneiderman’s freeze on property assessments, which will begin in the next fiscal year.
Gregor’s criticism was succinct about the Supervisor’s motivations for the freeze: “He’s increasing spending.”
Schneiderman said the town, one of the few to use full fair value assessment, has developed a problem — some properties are accelerating in value at a much faster rate than others. “There is a mechanism to fix the problem.”
Robins said the Supervisor is holding too much in reserve, asking, “Why do you have $2.5 million in the budget?”
Gregor added, “You should have seen this coming.”
Robins pointed out his North Sea neighborhood is a perfect example of how assessments can go awry. “I live in a wonderful area,” he acknowledged, but while he has kept his house “modest,” others have turned theirs into McMansions, which has the effect of raising the assessed value of all the houses, even those that kept their original footprint.
Schneiderman, who now lives in Southampton, began his public career in 1991 as a member of the East Hampton Town Zoning Board. He served eight years, was elected Town Supervisor of East Hampton in 1999 and reelected two years later, serving two terms. In November 2003, Schneiderman ran for and won a seat on the County Legislature and won reelection five times, until his term limit was exhausted. He handily won the race for the Southampton Town Supervisor’s seat and is seeking a second four-year term.
“I’ve been innovative. I try to come up with solutions. I’m experienced. I do my best. Crime is down, property values are up, and I’ve made my case to continue,” said Schneiderman.
Gregor, 60, a resident of East Quogue, burst on the scene as town highway superintendent in 2010 and took a hands-on approach to an office many critics felt had lost touch with the constituents and workers, and turned into a bureaucracy ruled by deal makers.
He is a graduate of Hampton Bays High School and the Harry B. Ward Technical Center and earned his Level One Road Master certificate from Cornell University’s Local Roads program. He is a Long Island representative for the New York State Association of Town Highway Superintendents and a member of the Suffolk County Highway Superintendents Association. His calling card is his hands-on experience: he’s on the job, period.
Gregor said he’s running because he suspects Schneiderman may try for a county position in the near future — the supervisor ran for Suffolk Comptroller last year. “What’s his next move?” Gregor asked rhetorically. He said he has no political ambition beyond the next couple years. “I’m an underdog. I’m sick of the backstabbing. I want to be a good neighbor.”
Robins said, “It’s time for a local guy.” Schneiderman, he said, “isn’t in touch with the real people.”