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Incumbent, Three Newcomers Vie for East Hampton Town Board

Thu, 11/02/2023 - 10:50
The four candidates for East Hampton Town Board are, from left, David Lys, Scott W. Smith, Tom Flight, and Michael Wootton.

One incumbent and three newcomers are seeking two spots on the East Hampton Town Board this election year. Councilman David Lys, running on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines, is joined on those ballot lines by Tom Flight, who is a first-time candidate.

Opposing them are two other first-time candidates: Scott Smith and Michael Wootton are running on the Republican and Conservative Party lines.

Following are profiles based on interviews conducted last month. 

David Lys (D, WF)

A former member of the town’s zoning board of appeals, Mr. Lys was appointed to the town board in 2018, following then-Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc’s election as supervisor. He won a special election that fall and was elected again in 2019. “I think I have done my job successfully,” he said. “We’ve been able to move many things across the goal line as far as town projects, initiatives that deal with the environment to recreation to affordable housing, that I have participated or been in the lead on.”

He is the town board’s liaison to the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee, the town’s Water Quality Technical Advisory Committee, Community Preservation Fund Advisory Committee, the Fisheries Advisory Committee, and the Nature Preserve Committee as well as town departments including Aquaculture, Land Management, Recreation, and Buildings and Grounds. “If you get everyone working together for the same goal, a lot gets done,” he said.

He cited the Covid-19 pandemic in arguing that the town board successfully confronted a public health emergency “in a way in which we protected not just the health but the economy of East Hampton. We worked together through multiple departments to be able to design for East Hampton appropriate boundaries and safeguards, and also facilities to be able to weather that storm of the unknown.” Credit also goes to staff and residents “for their patience during that time frame,” he said. Elected officials were able to “continue to move on and develop long-term projects,” he said, such as Coastal Assessment Resiliency Plan policies and affordable housing projects “that we are about to break ground on, or projects actually under construction.”

Recreational projects such as renovation of the Montauk Skate Park and construction of the Little League playing fields on Stephen Hand’s Path in Wainscott were also continued during the pandemic “without allowing it to delay progress,” Mr. Lys said.

His four children, he said, are the lens through which he sees his work. “What do my kids need in the next generation to make their hometown as wonderful as it was for me? I have a chance to make decisions on how that’s going to play out.”

Prior to his time on the board, he was involved in historical preservation, including at the Amagansett Life-Saving and Coast Guard Station Museum. As a councilman, “I’ve been able to continue with that” with historical designation of Second House and the Carl Fisher house, both in Montauk, and the Julius D. Parsons Homestead in Springs, as well as restoration of colonial-era cemeteries. “That’s all been very satisfying,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have the support of the town board for those projects.”

Scott Smith (R, C)

“I am running for town board because the direction that this town is headed is not one I think is conducive to a family-oriented environment,” said Scott Smith, who co-founded and runs Smith River Kitchens in East Hampton. “I don’t like the direction that they are handling the local issues,” he said of the present board, citing East Hampton Town Airport, emergency and personal wireless communication, “and wasteful spending.”

“I believe in solutions, not litigation,” he said, “and the fact that the current town board is in more lawsuits than any town in New York State is an example of poor leadership. Common sense left Town Hall a decade ago. I want to bring back common sense, thoughtful process, and I want our community to be the family that the East End once was.”

He spoke of the shortage of affordable housing. “Time and time again on the campaign trail I would run into families that were in a dilemma of having to either stay here and not see their grandkids in Virginia because the family has left, or sell the property and move to Virginia to be with them, but this is their home and they don’t want to leave it.”

A volunteer with the East Hampton Fire Department, he repeatedly criticized the town board for the lawsuits in which it is involved as defendant or plaintiff. He was especially critical of the town’s 2020 lawsuit against East Hampton Village over the perfluorinated chemicals stored and used at the airport, which contaminated drinking water in Wainscott and caused 47 of the airport’s acres to be included on the State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Registry of Hazardous Waste Disposal sites, or Superfund sites. “How can a town board that represents the community sue the backbone of this town? We are volunteers, and we choose to work for the community.”

He is “100 percent for saving the airport,” he said, “not only for the money that it brings into the community, not only for the employees that rely on the airport, but there are significant benefits of having a local airport, for emergency rescue responders.” He was also critical of the town’s efforts regarding what is popularly known as Truck Beach, where a judge determined that a 3,100-foot stretch of Napeague ocean beach is privately owned. “Just another example of the town board not handling something correctly and wasting taxpayer money by having absurd amounts of litigation,” he said.

“We need to have balance,” he said. “I vow to bring back accountability in Town Hall, I vow to do everything I can to keep our families here at home in East Hampton. I want to bring back pride in Town Hall, because there isn’t any.”

Tom Flight (D, WF)

A native of London, “I come from a very civic minded family,” said Tom Flight, whose parents are both in politics. He married a Montauk resident and became a United States citizen. He has held corporate positions at Wal-Mart and with brands including the Gap and Ann Taylor, and at present owns two retail stores in East Hampton Town. He is an emergency medical technician, and said that his community engagement began when he was asked to serve on the Montauk School Board.

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, “I got involved with setting up the testing center in Montauk, at the school,” he said. He went on to do the same at East Hampton High School. “It was great to be able to help.” He then helped to establish the town’s Covid-19 vaccination center, through which he got to know Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc. The timing was right, he said, when he was approached about running for office. “I really hope my skill sets will help bring solutions to some of the problems we face,” he said.

Among these are affordable housing. “We have to look for different solutions,” he said, and called the All Hands on Housing initiative implemented last year by the present board “a great initiative. It is one of my number-one priorities. I hope I can really be helpful in that.”

Another issue is environmental preservation, which he called critical to the town’s economy. “There is a very challenging balance ahead in terms of how we continue as a destination, yet minimize impacts to the environment.” Traffic is another problem, he said. “We really need to look at our transportation system here.” The South Fork Commuter Connection and the Hampton Hopper are positive components of the town’s transportation system, he said, but they “need to be better, and need to be clean in terms of energy sources.”

“I have a good, multi-perspective position on a lot of these issues that hopefully relates to a lot of people,” he said. “In the end, that’s what this job is about: serving the community. I hope with my history on the school board and as an E.M.T., I can show that I do that, and it’s something I think is right to do.”

“We see a lot of complaining,” he said. “It’s on us to fix it, be that through involvement in government, civic organizations, town committees, the Fire Department, the school board, the PTA, youth programs. Housing, communication, and transportation are all part of it. It’s a big job, one I’m looking forward to.”

Michael Wootton (R, C)

Growing up in Syosset, Michael Wootton’s family would vacation on a boat docked at the Montauk Marine Basin. He worked in banking in Manhattan for around 20 years, bought a house in Wainscott in the 1990s, and became a year-round resident around 2006.

He describes himself as fiscally conservative, socially progressive, and an environmental advocate who has voted for Republicans and Democrats. “I don’t know why national politics have to get involved in solving our local issues,” he said. “I try to look at the individual over party ideology.”

He learned of local issues through the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee, including an ultimately-abandoned effort to construct a car wash in that hamlet. “If the C.A.C. did not voice strong opposition, it probably would have happened,” he said.

The South Fork Wind farm was another issue directly impacting Wainscott residents. It’s easy to accuse opponents of nimbyism, he said, but “the first question to me was, is a wind turbine a good solution for the proposed problem, to meet peak demand in the summer? As I learned, it seems like it was a poor solution, simply by the fact that the wind doesn’t blow that strong in summertime.” He is also concerned about electromagnetic fields emanating from the wind farm’s export cable and its potential to impact fish migration patterns. “I still don’t understand why they could have chosen to bring a cable down a residential area,” he said of the export cable that was buried under roadways on a path to a Long Island Power Authority substation in East Hampton.

He pointed instead to overdevelopment, specifically oversize houses, as a contributor to climate change, and said that he supports the build.in.kind initiative founded by an Amagansett resident to encourage changes in the town’s zoning code.

The town’s economy “seems focused on one thing only: real estate development,” he said. “We need to diversify the economy.” Proximity to New York City and its wealthy residents “obviously pushes prices up,” he said of real estate in the town. “I don’t think there is a silver bullet, but we could start with trying to diversify the economy and improve infrastructure.”

He was moved to run for the town board because “I saw how the board reacted to what I would call strong voices of dissent,” he said, citing Simon Kinsella, a staunch opponent of the wind farm, and former Councilman Jeff Bragman, whom the East Hampton Democratic Committee did not support for re-election after a single term. “These were people I respected — strong, intelligent voices of dissent or restraint, and it seemed like [the board] plowed ahead with blinders on.”

If elected, “even if I was the sole voice of dissent, even that would be helpful,” he said.

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