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Oct 30, 2018 3:08 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Election Hinges On A Few Differences

David Lys and Manny Vilar
Oct 30, 2018 3:08 PM

East Hampton Town residents will be asked to vote next Tuesday in a rare off-cycle election for just one Town Board post, to be filled for just one year.

Perhaps less rare is that the two candidates offer only faintly divergent views about most issues of particular concern in the town—although each offers himself as more distinctly suited for the job compared to the other.

David Lys, who has been the interim fifth councilman since January, has presented himself as a native East Ender with a history of community involvement and dedication to addressing issues of importance to residents here. At 43, he says he is an important representative of a generation of East Hampton residents who lack a voice in town government, because their peers are too busy with their professional and family lives to dedicate themselves to public posts.

A former member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Mr. Lys, a kinesiologist and father of four, was recruited to seek elected office after impressing town officials with his marshaling of the restoration of the Amagansett Life-Saving station.

Emmanuel “Manny” Vilar offers his own decades of bureaucratic management experience as the founder and president of a statewide union that represents New York State Parks Police officers, saying it would make him a savvy and valuable member of the Town Board. In his second run for a seat in as many years, he has said his expertise at negotiation and lobbying make him uniquely suited to help improve the workplace morale for town employees and manage negotiations as disparate as CPF purchases, state and federal funding for septic and erosion control measures, and airport regulation.

He is a longtime local resident, was a bay constable in the last years when such posts were elected, has volunteered for the Springs and Montauk fire departments, and is a father of six, including three current East Hampton High School students.

In contrast to typical election cycles, the two men have met face to face in public just twice since Mr. Lys won the Democratic primary in September. They have laid out only marginally different views on base issues before the town, like water quality improvement, the creation of affordable housing and staffing.

But in recent conversations, they did stake out divergent positions on issues like the Deepwater Wind application, salaries for town employees and the future of the East Hampton Airport that offer voters a choice to weigh beyond just personalities.

Though Mr. Lys was one of the two votes on the current Town Board against the proposal to give Deepwater Wind permission to run the power cable from the planned South Fork Wind Farm under town roads from Beach Lane in Amagansett to an East Hampton power substation, he has not voiced specific opposition to the project itself. His objection was rooted in the lingering vagaries of the application that remained when Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc pressed the vote. He has said he wants to see the town take an active role in the review of the project by state and federal agencies, which will be the template for hundreds, possibly thousands, of offshore turbines that are expected in the coming years.

“I wasn’t given enough information to vote in favor of it,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I’m against renewable energy.”

Mr. Vilar has also said he is in favor of renewable energy development but has been more adamant in his opposition to the Deepwater project at its heart.

“I’m not a fan of Deepwater,” Mr. Vilar said at the Group for Good Government debate last week. “I have concerns about the underwater ecosystem, and the carnage it will do in that location and what it will do to our commercial fishing industry. I do not think they have been forthright with us from the get-go. I think they have misled the Town Board, I think they have misled the Trustees, I think they have misled our community.”

The two men also have split over whether the town should consider closing East Hampton Airport if noise from the airport cannot be drastically reduced.

Mr. Vilar has said bluntly that closing the airport should not be an option and that the town should seek federal legislation to allow it to impose restrictions on flights that would reduce the number of noisy aircraft, primarily commercial charter helicopters, that use the airport.

“From an emergency management perspective … we need to have a safe and secure facility from which we can land emergency aviation units,” he said. “But we need to bring relief. I’ve sat on those people’s back decks and listened to the noise.”

Mr. Lys has said the town should not be working on a plan to close the airport but should not wholly write off the possibility—if only to have the threat of doing so as a bargaining chip in seeking other remedies.

“You never take anything off the bargaining table,” he said. “If you have to close the airport, maybe it brings them back to the table.”

Mr. Lys stood by the town’s ongoing effort to re-calibrate wages for hundreds of town employees outside the confines of the civil servants’ contract—something it has been doing, incrementally by department or office, for three years. He noted that the state tax cap and the need to keep spending in check make a more comprehensive effort daunting to implement.

He said the town is in a tenuous “top-heavy” position and needs to be ready to replace senior employees by keeping new employees and their institutional knowledge. He applauded the recent push to recruit people who are already town residents to town positions, which could help cut down on a chronic loss of employees to other townships.

Mr. Vilar said the issue of town employees’ lagging salaries needs to be addressed in a broader manner, through a comprehensive analysis of all the town’s positions and the salaries that are assigned to them. He said that East Hampton pays 30 percent less than other towns for some positions, a discrepancy that has made it hard for the town employees to live in the area. He said his union experience would make him a perfect person to spearhead the effort on the Town Board.

“This is fixable. This is in my wheelhouse,” he said.

The two men were equally cautious about saying they would press for a townwide reassessment, a perennial campaign issue but one that has never been carried to public discussion after Election Day.

Both said that the town should be embarking on a wide-reaching study of current assessment disparity and what a full reassessment would mean for residents of the various school districts—in particular, Springs, where both candidates live and where school taxes are already the highest in the town. Both warned that reassessment could have costly consequences for some and would not be in favor of diving in headfirst until more is known about the effects. But both also acknowledged that the issue could be forced by residents, in court, as was done in Southampton Town, and that the town should be prepared for being compelled to reassess.

“It’s not if it’s going to happen, it’s when,” Mr. Lys said. “We should get ahead of it sooner rather than later.”

“This is one of those lightning rod topics—people jump out of their skin,” Mr. Vilar added. “We talk about all those south-of-the-highway homes, but they are all in the East Hampton School District. Springs is on the bad side of the equation.”

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