The Candidates on Morals

Manny Vilar, left, and David Lys, right, answered questions from local clergy during a forum last Thursday sponsored by the East Hampton Clericus.

Two sons of immigrants presented a case for their election to the East Hampton Town Board last Thursday as the East Hampton Clericus hosted David Lys and Manny Vilar at Calvary Baptist Church in East Hampton.

The civic forum, in which the candidates answered questions posed by the Rev. Walter Silva Thompson Jr. of Calvary Baptist Church and the Rev. Ryan Creamer of Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in East Hampton, was part of the Clericus’s VoteHamptonNY initiative, a nonpartisan, interfaith effort to encourage voter engagement. 

But an otherwise measured discussion about leadership and morality was punctuated, at its conclusion, by mention of President Trump. While Mr. Vilar sidestepped a question from a member of the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee as to why he had supported Donald Trump’s candidacy in 2016, he drew the evening’s loudest applause with a call to rebuke partisan division and a plea for tolerance and respect. 

Mr. Lys, who was appointed to the town board in January to complete the term of Peter Van Scoyoc following his election to supervisor, and Mr. Vilar, the founding president of the Police Benevolent Association of New York State and a 2017 candidate for supervisor, were queried on topics including how their moral compass guides them and the church’s role in governing. 

To the question of his moral compass, Mr. Vilar, whose father immigrated from Portugal, spoke of his desire to “promote legislation that uplifts the downtrodden, the financially disenfranchised, to fight against intolerance.” The cost of living in East Hampton demands an examination of policies “to try and create an environment that’s going to be good for our community,” he said. 

At a median salary of $40,500, the average town employee cannot afford to live here, Mr. Vilar said. “East Hampton Town government needs to start with its employees” and find a way to elevate all salaries, even if incrementally. The best way to raise a community is through economic initiatives and policies, he said. “If everybody has a job, they can afford to live, they can spend more time with their families. . . . It gives them the freedom to volunteer in their church, to volunteer for their civic organization.”

Mr. Lys, whose father came to the United States from Indonesia, agreed that some staff positions in the town’s government are undervalued but pointed to the recently unveiled tentative budget, which includes an almost $1.3-million increase in employee salaries and benefits, and the new Live Here, Work Here initiative meant to interest residents in working for the town. 

In addition to his family, “My moral compass has been molded by the residents of the town in the 42 years I’ve lived here,” he said. “I’m not a Johnny-come-lately,” he said. “I’ve been actively involved for the last decade . . . not for political or personal gain, but for what I felt was right, that I felt was the good thing to do for the Town of East Hampton.” 

Mr. Vilar said that the Democratic supermajority on the town board is a detriment to having diversity of thought. “I believe we need to have an objective voice,” he said. “We need to have someone in there that’s maybe not of a different mind-set, but a little diversity, a little understanding.” He and Mr. Lys both live in Springs, he said, and share many mutual friends. “And that is a good thing regardless of who gets elected, but it’s good to have a little diversity, just having people from a two-party system alive and well.”

Mr. Lys, who recently changed his party registration from Republican to Democratic, said that the present town board is in fact diverse. “Saying we’re all Democrats is just putting labels on individuals,” he said. “We’ve got individuals on the town board right now that come from different walks of life, different ethnicities . . . parishes, families, hometowns, different life experiences.” They don’t always get along, he said, “but we always come to a decision we think is correct because we did our homework.” 

The candidates agreed that houses of worship have a role in the common good. Mr. Lys noted that the Springs Food Pantry is based in that hamlet’s Presbyterian church, and that the church was a pillar of the town from the time of its 17th-century origins. “This community was founded that way,” he said. “We went back to the places we felt safe at, and we all felt safe at church. You want to talk about moral compasses? It started at church.”

Mr. Vilar quoted Theodore Roosevelt. “To educate a person in mind but not morals is to educate a menace to society,” he said. “We have to work closely with our religious establishments and religious communities within the town. I believe there’s a strong connection between government and faith.” 

J.B. Dossantos, whom East Hampton Democrats elected to represent the 14th election district, which encompasses the Calvary Baptist Church, then asked Mr. Vilar why he had displayed campaign signs and voted for Mr. Trump. “Evil does exist,” Mr. Vilar said. “It exists in our society and it works in insidious ways. We must always be vigilant to guard against the voices of intolerance and hatred. As a society, we must protect the weak, the infirm, those that are victimized, and the downtrodden.” 

To the gathering, he revealed, apparently for the first time, that racist and anti-Semitic graffiti had been discovered in Montauk over the last several weeks. Again he quoted Roosevelt, and asked that residents of the town, “regardless of who you vote for and what your political leanings are,” reject partisanship. “Give evil and hate no quarter, love your neighbor as if they were your own family,” he said. “Be respectful, compassionate, empathetic, and understanding. Be vigilant at all times against intolerance. Rebuke those that would divide us by ethnicity, religion, lifestyle choice, or political preferences.” 

His remarks drew loud applause, over Mr. Dossantos’s objection that Mr. Vilar had not answered his question. After the forum, Mr. Vilar told The Star that he had voted for Mr. Trump, but he denied having displayed campaign signs for him on his property. 

Despite the unexpected turn at the discussion’s conclusion, Diana Walker, an organizer of VoteHamptonNY, said that “This is a happy day in my life. . . . I hope that we truly are providing an environment, thanks to Pastor Thompson and to everybody here, with a sense that it is ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ We’re trying to do that.”