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Oct 16, 2018 8:12 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Lys, Vilar Talk Personality And Community In Unconventional East Hampton Candidates Debate

East Hampton's clergy hosted East Hampton Town Board candidates David Lys and Manny Vilar on Thursday night at Calvary Baptist Church for a discussion about morals and values in politics.  MICHAEL WRIGHT
Oct 16, 2018 1:03 PM

The race for East Hampton Town Board kicked off in earnest in somewhat unconventional fashion last week.

Instead of sitting at the head of a room, answering questions about issues of policy and leadership experience posed by seasoned government hawks in front of an audience of supporters, David Lys and Manny Vilar’s first public face-to-face meeting as opposing candidates came last Thursday, October 11, in the basement of a church, before a closely gathered audience of clergy and churchgoers, discussing community and personality more than policy.

In a forum led by the Reverend Walter Thompson of Calvary Baptist Church, where the event was held, and the Reverend Ryan Creamer of Most Holy Trinity Church, the two candidates were asked by the clergymen to describe the foundations of their beliefs and public persona, how they would handle various situations, and the role they think the town government should play in the community.

Both men used the opportunity to talk about their interest in and concern for the community, with Mr. Vilar seizing on issues of behind-the-scenes policy-making.

“We have a lot of discourse but we need to do a better job to bring the public back into the decision-making,” the Republican candidate said. “We need to do better outreach to our community.”

Mr. Lys said that while the town has done great community outreach through its involvement with citizens advisory committees and various other advisory committees, it needs a broader cross-section of the local population to get involved. He put the spotlight on difficulty the town has had in recruiting people of his generation—he’s 43—to become involved in local politics and town government.

“The town needs all of the public to come in and participate—not just one generation, multiple generations,” he said, pointing to how continuing on the board would give people his age at least one voice in the meantime. “I can fill in a gap that is happening there right now. But we need others.”

Asked how their “moral compass” would inform their legislative agenda, both candidates nodded to the cost of living in the region and the challenges it presents for working-class residents.

Recalling his 18 years of experience as “a union guy,” Mr. Vilar said his role has long been to fight for improvements for working-class members of the community like town employees, who he said are woefully underpaid for the costs of living in the area. A State Parks Police officer, Mr. Vilar is the founder and president of a New York State policemen’s union.

“I promote legislation that uplifts the downtrodden … to help the disenfranchised,” the Republican candidate said. “We as a community need to look at the problems we have in our community. We need to look at the cost of housing, and look at the cost of living. It’s getting more expensive by the day. The median salary … is $47,000. That’s not enough to qualify for affordable housing.”

“We have to work not just on the affordability of housing but on job growth and salary growth,” Mr. Lys said. He nodded to the Town Board’s acknowledgment that employee salaries are lagging behind those in other towns and the ongoing effort to raise civil servant salaries gradually, beyond contractual obligations, but he explained that the state’s tax cap prevents a more aggressive effort in that regard.

Both men said they have proven themselves to be good at working in situations where differing opinions are pushing against each other. Mr. Lys said that he’s disagreed with others on the Town Board since he was appointed last January, and in his role on the Zoning Board of Appeals before that.

“Homework—you do your homework on what you want to produce and what others want,” he said. “You don’t always get what you want. If we get people to participate then we’ll get good legislation.”

“My job is working with the Democratic legislature, the Republican Senate and a governor who plays it all into the middle,” Mr. Vilar said. “There’s an old adage that half a loaf is better than no loaf. That’s what politics is.”

When asked who they each saw as the core of their support base, both men said that the people in the room were as important to them as those they know intimately.

“Manny and I aren’t doing this for our personal gain—we’re doing this for the people of East Hampton,” Mr. Lys said. He said that his core constituents, harking back to his lament about the lack of participation by younger town residents, is a group that is still waiting to be formed: that of people who are too busy, and are not up on local government issues or don’t speak the language. “We need to make them constituents.”

“We need to work for every group,” Mr. Vilar said. “We need to work together as a society.”

Mr. Vilar also said that he thought it would be better for the currently all-Democratic board to have a different voice on it. “We need to bring in all the corners of our community,” he said. “We need an objective voice. Not so much a different mindset, just someone with a little different understanding. My experience comes out of Albany … where the two-party system is alive and well.”

Mr. Lys, with a wry chuckle, noted that there are already plenty of different voices on the board.

“Just saying we’re all Democrats is just putting labels,” said Mr. Lys, who is technically still a Republican until after next month’s election even though he filed to change his registration last December. “If you’ve watched the Town Board recently, we don’t always get along. You’re looking at more than politics. You’re looking at five individuals from different parts of their hometown.”

Both men downplayed their own connection to politics before running for Town Board. Mr. Vilar, who also ran for supervisor last fall, said his political advocacy has been mostly for candidates who have pledged to a platform that his union saw as favorable to its members. Mr. Lys nodded to his own switching of political parties.

“I looked at what my values were and I made a determination of what I was going to stand for,” he said. “I want to get things done. I can continue to do that without politics.”

The two men will face off again on Tuesday, October 23, at the East Hampton Library for a debate hosted by the East Hampton Group for Good Government.

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They are both very good men who really care about our community as a whole rather than just acting for their own benefit and the small group of people to whom they are beholden. Too bad we can't get rid one rather divisive and self-serving Board member (*cough Bragman cough*) so they both can be on the Board and serve our whole community.
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Oct 16, 18 11:30 AM
Although I plan to vote for David Lys I agree with the above comment that both candidates are good men who care about our community and so I will be pleased with either of them on the board.
By Rich Morey (378), East Hampton on Oct 16, 18 12:37 PM