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East Hampton Village Trustee Hopefuls Make Their Case

Sat, 09/05/2020 - 17:24
The candidates for East Hampton Village trustee are, at top from left, David Driscoll, Ray Harden, Chris Minardi, and on bottom, Richard Lawler and Sandra Melendez.
Durell Godfrey and Marcus Baladron Photos

Five candidates are vying for two open East Hampton Village Board seats in the Sept. 15 election. Richard Lawler, who was appointed mayor in January to complete the term of the retired Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., is seeking his fourth term as a trustee. He is running on the Elms Party line with Ray Harden, a former member of the zoning board of appeals, whom he appointed to the village board in May. The party's candidate for mayor is Barbara Borsack, currently the deputy mayor.

David Driscoll, a member of the Fish Hooks Party, would be a newcomer to the board. Prior to moving to the village full time, he served in the New York Police Department for 38 years, and had been the longtime co-owner of the Chowder Bowl snack bar at Main Beach. His party's mayoral candidate is Arthur Graham, a trustee.

Sandra Melendez, a lawyer with a practice in the village, would be the first Latina to serve on the board. Her running mate on the A NewTown Party ballot line is Chris Minardi, a lifelong village resident and a member of the zoning board of appeals. Jerry Larsen, a former East Hampton Village police chief, is the ticket's mayoral candidate. 

In recent interviews, the trustee candidates discussed their policies and their priorities.  


Richard Lawler

Mr. Lawler, who spent 35 years as a police officer with the town and the county before joining the board, called his government experience a major asset. "I've been on the board for 12 years so far, and I think we've accomplished a lot," he said. He cited initiating the development of a wastewater treatment system, launching efforts to improve the water quality of the ponds, andâ particularly during his stint as mayor in the midst of the pandemicâ helping to protect the health of residents and the livelihoods of business owners. 

"When I was appointed in January, I made a statement that my door was always open, and I had several phone calls from business owners indicating they needed help because of the pandemic," he said. He ordered that outdoor merchandise displays be permitted, and outdoor dining as well, after he and Ms. Borsack set up a committee to get input from business owners and residents. "The way we did it is the way I think anything that's important to the community should be done," he said. "The idea was to give stakeholders an opportunity to say their piece. Barbara and I did that, and we did everything we could to educate the public about Covid."

On the topic of the proposed wastewater treatment system, he took issue with those who say the project isn't progressing fast enough. "You wouldn't build a house without hiring an architect, so certainly a project of this nature, which is going to be millions of dollars, you wouldn't want to do it without hiring the proper experts," he said. "Other municipalities that I've talked to have said, 'Yes, the planning stage takes time, but once you start construction, then it goes pretty quickly.' And I anticipate that's what will happen with this." 

The board recently approved, in a unanimous vote, $863,500 for dredging Town Pond. Asked about other spending priorities, Mr. Lawler said he would vote for more funding for new vehicles for the Department of Public Works "to keep the village up to par," and for making improvements to Herrick Park. "We just spent over a million dollars on new fire department vehicles and ambulances, and equipment for our emergency services, so that was very important."


Ray Harden

Mr. Harden, a co-owner of the Ben Krupinski building company, has served as a member of the East Hampton Fire Department, including as chief, for 21 years. He currently heads the village's Fireman's Benevolent Association, and is a fire coordinator for Suffolk County, helping manage operations and resources during large fires.

"I love the community and I love giving back, and a lot of that has come from working for Ben and Bonnie Krupinski," he said. The former owners of his company died in a 2018 plane crash. 

Mr. Harden said that Mr. Larsen had initially asked him to run on the NewTown Party ticket, but that he preferred Ms. Borsack's and Mr. Lawler's approach to governance, which he described as "residents first." 

The number-one priority, he said, is developing the wastewater treatment facility, both to safeguard water quality and to allow for more businesses and affordable housing in the commercial district. 

His background in running a construction company will be an asset to the board, he said, because of the major projects in the works, including a planned renovation of Herrick Park, and because he has experience managing a large budget. "I crunch numbers every day." 

Improving parking will be another priority. Mr. Harden is a fan of the new license-plate reading technology the board recently approved, saying that it will open the door for different parking-time limits. He also wants to encourage more use of the long-term parking lot, especially by people who work in the commercial district. "I would like to see a shuttle that goes from that lot to the village and back," he said. "If we have a shuttle that continuously runs, people will know they won't have to walk, and more people would park there." 

To cut down on required appearances before the zoning board of appeals, he would simplify the process involving the removal of phragmites from Georgica Pond. Instead of  Z.B.A. approval, he said, Billy Hajek, the village planner and a member of East Hampton Town's water quality advisory committee, could make sure that applications pass muster. "Maybe we can take that off the Z.B.A.'s agenda. Most of the applications get approved, because it's a good thing for the pond," he said. 

Since being appointed to the board, Mr. Harden has been spending time at Village Hall three days a week. By having discussions with Mayor Lawler, Ms. Borsack, and Becky Molinaro Hansen, the village administrator, "I learn something new every time," he said. "That's why I think the experience that Rick and Barbara have is unsurpassed. If others get elected, it could be a very inexperienced board. That could be scary, and it could be dangerous." 


David Driscoll

Mr. Driscoll, who has been coming to the village since he was a child, said he is well versed on a range of issues. "I have business experience here. I have lifelong friends here. I have historical knowledge of what's been going on here since the '60s, so although I wasn't always a full-time resident, I was always super-involved." 

Twenty years in the executive ranks of the police force, he said, had provided him with experience in managing personnel and budgets. "The police department is like any other organization; it relies on planning and protocol and structure, and you have to be able to coordinate and work with many different entities," he said. During his career, "I secured $34 million in grants and then had autonomy about spending it." 

He also got a chance to streamline a bureaucracy, he said. "I think I can make village government more efficient and more communicative." As it stands, he said, the communication flow between the board and the public, and even among board members themselves, is "haphazard at best . . . I've talked to board members who said, 'I learned about that issue in the paper.' That's not ideal." 

Each board member serves as a liaison to different village departments. "One of my proposals is to have a monthly report from all the liaisons," he said. "And, once a year, each department head should come before the board and the public to give an overview of their command, and the successes and challenges. A more participative government is a more effective government." 

Mr. Driscoll agrees that expensive, longer-term projects like the wastewater treatment plant and the renovation of Herrick Park are needed, but suggested that fixing deteriorated sidewalks, roadways, and other infrastructure should be a more immediate priority. "We have to get a handle on the bread-and-butter issues," he said. "The repair-as-you-go approach is not working. Look around, there are trip hazards everywhere. We need to take a holistic approach to the sidewalks. If that takes four fiscal years to get that done, let's get it done, and then we'll have a maintenance program in place." 

Before the wastewater treatment plant is built, he said, the village should replace old septic tanks at the beaches with low-nitrogen ones. Another concern of his is illegal house rentals. Landlords, he said, should be required to file a notice of their intention to rent with the Code Enforcement Department. "I think most people are compliant if they know they might get caught." 

"I don't have the answers to a lot of stuff, but I know how to approach complex problems," Mr. Driscoll said. "I know what questions to ask, I know what the pitfalls can be, and I know when I'm being fed B.S." 


Sandra Melendez

Ms. Melendez said she is proud to be a member of the NewTown Party because it is "an agent of change."

"Whether we win or not, we are promoting things that will happen, because now the other candidates are agreeing with us," she said, citing the recent approval of outdoor dining. "Now the only difference is who can do it better. I think we can do it better, because we brought the ideas that people are asking for, and we have the plans to do it."

Her experience as a lawyer "makes me a great candidate," she said. "I've always been the type of person that if you give me a problem, I will study all of it, I will figure out the best way to solve it. But I also want to bring people to the table to make an informed decision."

Being a mother of four will also inform her work on the board. "I don't think the village is as family-friendly as we want to think it is," she said.  Recently, for example, she saw village police officers ask three kids to stop selling their homemade pottery from a table on Gingerbread Lane. "Those kids were not harming anyone," she said. "My daughter wanted to have a lemonade stand, and I was explaining to her that in this town, we cannot do this." 

She also cited the disrepair of Herrick Park and some village sidewalks as examples of issues of concern to families. "I think the board has been stuck for 20 years," she said. "Change has to happen, and I would bring my energy for progress." 

Wastewater treatment is the most urgent priority, she said, because its repercussions would be beneficial, including an increase in affordable housing. "Our kids need to come back and bring back businesses, so the village doesn't become a thing of the past," she said.

Another welcome change would be allowing live music at restaurants, Ms. Melendez said. "I'm not saying a D.J., but if they can have a piano player at the Palm or the Maidstone? Because otherwise people have to go to the American Hotel in Sag Harbor for that." 

Becoming the first Latina on the village board would be "incredible, because that would mean that the village is accepting the changes that are happening," she said. "There are a lot of Latinos here. When I came here in 2007, there were not as many, or at least I didn't get to know them, but now that I work here in the center of the village, I see we are a big population, and we're growing day by day."


Chris Minardi

A member of the Z.B.A. for 10 years, Chris Minardi, who works as a sales director at New York Title Abstract Services, is an East Hampton Village Fire Department and East Hampton Ocean Rescue Squad volunteer. He has been a lifeguard at Main Beach for a decade, and said the lifeguard program hasn't been getting enough attention from the board.  

"It's been neglected for a long time, there's always a staffing problem," he said. "I have to go chip in this afternoon because they need guards. It's desperate. We need another stand at Two Mile Hollow. We need some kind of presence at Wiborg. I know the locals don't like that idea because they want to keep that their hidden gem, but someone's going to drown." In fact, this spring, Mr. Minardi, in his capacity as an ocean rescue squad member, saved a woman from drowning there. 

"We need better management at the beach," he said. "The current board just doesn't know the beach, it's not their skill set. They don't have the relationships and the experience that I bring to the table." The beach, he said, should not be an afterthought. "That's why people come to East Hampton, they want to go to the beach, feel safe at the beach, and they want it to be clean. I want to help handicapped people onto the beach, I want lifeguards to be swimming with kids, I want it to be kid-friendly, like when I was growing up."

Mr. Minardi also thinks it's absurd that village residents can't loan their beach parking stickers to their renters. "That's not right," he said. "If you rent, the stickers should stay with the house. Maybe we can charge a $100 fee to transfer it to a renter, then the village would be able to use some of that profit to hire more lifeguards and keep the beach cleaner."

The NewTown Party is about "common-sense change," he said. "The board could use a fresh set of eyes, some youth, some energy. I have a business background, and I've been a very successful self-employed businessman since I graduated college."

One aspect of village government he would really like to see change is its measured movement forward. "Red tape drives me crazy," he said. "Things take forever, and they don't have to. I'll tell you right now, if Jerry and I win, the next day there will be three-hour parking throughout the parking lots. We don't need a committee. That can be done with the stroke of a pen." 

The current board hasn't kept village residents apprised of progress on major issues such as the effort to have PSEG Long Island, the electric utility, remove overlarge poles and wires from McGuirk Street, he said. "If someone from the public doesn't bring up the power lines, it doesn't get brought up at a meeting. That boggles my mind. It's got to be put on the agenda every month until it's rectified. If I'm there, it's going to get brought up, and I'm going to demand we move forward." 

The same goes for the wastewater treatment plant, he said. "The hot-topic issues should be discussed at every meeting, even if it's just for five minutes, because the public needs to know that the board is working on it." 

"We need some energy on that board, and I've got a lot of energy and a different way of looking at things," Mr. Minardi said. "I love life, and I say to my kids, every day's a gift, look at how lucky we are, we live in the best place in the world, we've got the means to do what we do, and now we're volunteering our time to even do more. Let's not waste it!"


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