Maintaining a status quo in East Hampton Town should not be an option, no matter who wins the important board election that concludes on Tuesday. The scale of the issues created by too much growth requires not simply a caretaker local government but a visionary one — one bold enough to take the big steps necessary to preserve our cherished sense of place. Because of this, The Star favors Jeff Bragman over the sitting Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and the Republican candidate, Kenneth Walles.
How visionary a town board is has traditionally depended on who occupies the supervisor’s office. This year, voters have a choice among an establishment Democrat, a fringe-y Republican, and an Independence Party option, Mr. Van Scoyoc, Mr. Walles, and Mr. Bragman, respectively.
There is a widely expressed anxiousness that East Hampton is at a tipping point beyond which there would be no return. Long-term residents are beset by everything from noise to service delays due to staff shortages, and they are looking for answers. Meanwhile, pressure on the natural environment builds, and some days it seems like the only people satisfied with the way things are real estate brokers savoring an extended run-up in prices. “Greed is good,” they seem to say, echoing Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street.” Meanwhile, East Hampton is rapidly being transformed and not for the better.
After endless years of talk, many of the most pressing projects for the town have yet to begin. The town board, for example, should have had a plan in place for its airport. once power-sharing with the Federal Aviation Administration expired. This is an extraordinary failure of leadership.
Similarly, town officials are in the process of yet another round of supposed coastal erosion planning, but really they are waiting and hoping that the Army Corps of Engineers with its millions of dollars will come to the rescue. Waterways are no longer productive the way they once were.
What response there is to the affordable housing crisis cannot make a dent in the problem, yet the town allows demand for labor to grow by the day. Alarming, too, is the town’s willingness to reclaim parkland for other purposes through a process known as alienation, and to do so in the most under-the-radar way possible, meanwhile overpaying in land preservation deals with well-connected property sellers. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money have been wasted as well in fighting an improper court settlement forged in a back-room deal for which a town attorney took the fall. This has been the problem with the past four years under Mr. Van Scoyoc — precious time that East Hampton did not have has been wasted.
Voters should rule out Mr. Walles’s G.O.P. bid from the get-go. Repeating dubious statements about Covid-19 is disqualifying in our view. So too is his implicit agreement by running as a Republican Party candidate sympathetic with, and in some cases directly supportive of, the Jan. 6 attackers in Washington. Nor has Mr. Walles over the years had enough of a presence in town affairs for voters to suddenly award him the top job. A candidacy based on conspiratorial vapors and false claims is one best passed over.
Mr. Van Scoyoc’s self-control in town board meetings has also been wanting. He has an extraordinary animus toward Mr. Bragman, and the many hours wasted in four years of useless back-talk have been an embarrassment. What has most gotten under his skin are exactly the kind of questions a town board member should be asking — pointed and considering varying points of view. This is Mr. Bragman’s strength and it seems Mr. Van Scoyoc can’t stand it. Nor is the supervisor’s incivility limited to his rival; members of the public with whom he disagrees also can come under fire. And, while it might seem to some a trivial thing, Mr. Van Scoyoc should not continue to lie about having family ties going back generations in East Hampton, which he absolutely does not.
As we observed when we endorsed Mr. Bragman for town board in 2017, he has a clear commitment to upholding the town code and taking on entrenched insiders. He alone on the board has put forward a meaningful plan for the next year at East Hampton Airport, one with the prospect of actual improvement for long-suffering residents. For him, community and the environment come first, listening without bullying.
For far too many elections, East Hampton voters have not had a worthwhile choice among supervisor candidates. This time, they are fortunate to have options. We see them as more of the same or something new. Right now, East Hampton Town needs something new.