At Friday night’s debate in the basement of the Floyd Memorial Library, Greenport residents had their first chance to hear the candidates for Village Mayor debate the issues in public.
At least, they would have, if both of them had been there.
Current deputy mayor George Hubbard Jr. was left with no one to debate Friday night after his opponent, business owner Zuleyha (Julie) Lillis, didn’t attend the event.
The moderator — SoutholdLocal.com editor Lisa Finn — later explained to a reporter that Ms. Lillis had a “business appointment” and wasn’t able to make it. Some in the audience applauded after Ms. Finn announced that Mr. Hubbard would be the sole candidate at the mayoral debate.
Ms. Lillis didn’t respond to an email Friday night asking her to confirm why she was absent.
On Friday night, Mr. Hubbard spent the time fielding questions from Ms. Finn. He began his opening statement by reaffirming his commitment to the position, taking a subtle swipe at the absent Ms. Lillis.
“I’m disappointed that my opponent is not here,” he said. “I think this is very important for the future of this village, for all of us. In eight years on the board, I believe I missed four meetings … I take this seriously.”
During the debate Mr. Hubbard outlined his views about various issues, from events at Mitchell Park (he supports lifting the moratorium by April and limiting the events to village-sponsored ones only) to transparency and civility (he said he would allow the public to speak at meetings).
Mr. Hubbard also said the village should put renewed focus on renting out the Scavenger waste plant site to generate revenue needed to pay much-needed infrastructure maintenance, like road pavings and sidewalk repairs.
After each answer, Mr. Hubbard received a smattering of applause from the debates audience, which included residents, village employees, elected officials and village trustee candidates.
Those candidates — Jack Martilotta, David Murray, Doug Roberts and Williams Swiskey — also debated earlier in the night. Though most echoed their statements made at an earlier debate this week, Ms. Finn posed new topics related to the integration of Hispanics into Greenport, the Guardian Angels neighborhood watch group and reported gang activity.
The four candidates agreed that the Guardian Angels should be allowed to walk the streets of Greenport, pointing out that it was their right to do so. Mr. Martilotta, Mr. Murray, and Mr. Roberts said the village valued its Hispanic residents and should work with children and Hispanic populations to invite them into participating.
The three said trust with the Hispanic population might ease tensions, though each said they had not seen gang violence firsthand. Mr. Swiskey, meanwhile, said the village was being “overwhelmed” by illegal immigration and said the gang issues brought up by Ms. Finn were being exaggerated.
“It’s not the crisis that people are making it out [to be],” he said. “I walk home at midnight from down the street … and I don’t see any trouble on the streets.”