Suffolk Times Endorsement: Town Board

The Southold Town Democratic Committee has faced many challenges in recent years as it has made the case for change at Town Hall.

For starters, as a minority party on the Town Board, with not even a single elected member for most of the past decade, the party’s candidates could not run on their own records. And when you have no presence on the board, it’s harder to raise campaign cash or to put your candidates in the limelight.

So the Democrats have repeatedly found themselves in the unenviable position of nominating lesser-known candidates — or nominees with limited experience in town government — to run against Republican incumbents who can point to what’s great about life in Southold and the things they’ve accomplished in office. And that’s hard to argue against. The Southold Town Board has managed to keep taxes relatively low, they’ve mostly curbed overdevelopment and they’ve funded open space preservation. 

In other words, the Southold GOP has been able to take credit for Southold being such a special place and Democrats have been forced to explain why they can argue, “Yes, it is a wonderful place, but changes still need to be made.” 

That’s been no easy task. Until now.

These days there are more things to not like about the direction things in Southold are headed. Our rural utopia is reaching an unwelcome crossroads ahead of schedule as effects of the pandemic have sped up change and exacerbated issues already at the forefront, like commercial development, traffic and affordable housing. 

And this year, with no incumbent Town Board members seeking reelection, Democrats may have had an easier time making the case for why they’re better suited to navigate through a period of great change.

We believe no candidate has done a better job of this than Greg Doroski, who narrowly lost a bid for town supervisor in 2019 and has returned two years later as a more polished candidate and seeking perhaps a more appropriate office, considering his lack of experience working in government.

“You know, sadly, most of the issues we campaigned on the last time are more urgent today,” he rightly said in an interview with our Editorial Board earlier this month, citing a lack of vision, planning, leadership and accountability by the current Republican administration and Town Board majority. “We are at a pivotal time in our history. The big money is here, the big projects are in the works.”

Mr. Doroski argues the town’s comprehensive plan is underutilized and Southold is in imminent threat of overdevelopment and lacks the tools or vision to fight it. He points to ongoing litigation over an eminent domain action taken to prevent the development of a hardware store in Mattituck as one mess the town finds itself in because it wasn’t more proactive years ago. Big and controversial hotel proposals and outsized houses that seem out of character with the rest of the town are other issues he seems eager to take on if elected to office.

His running mate, Brian Mealy, is more soft-spoken and perhaps less persuasive in making the case for why he would be the right person to help steer the town in the right direction, but he seems in tune with issues we see as most important to the residents of Southold. Mr. Mealy said voters are deeply worried about the environment, affordable housing and “maintaining the quality of life” in town. He said, “Every hamlet and every village is under attack from overdevelopment.” It’s hard to argue against that at a time when several deep-pocketed investor groups and wealthy landowners have begun putting forward projects that could drastically alter the character of the town. 

Yet in our interview with the candidates, Republican opponent Greg Williams tried to do just that by making an overly simplistic case that Democrats are for affordable housing and against overdevelopment and that “those two [philosophies] are against each other.”

We believe that with careful planning and proactive leadership, Southold Town can offer more affordable housing to its working class and the young adults who feel squeezed out of the hometown they know and love. And that can be accomplished alongside efforts to use tools at the town’s disposal to make sure large sections of the town don’t become rows of hotels and upscale development projects catering to the super wealthy. Some of that growth is inevitable and can be a positive, but it must be studied and managed with good government principles.

Of the two Republican candidates, it’s Mr. Sannino who impressed us most, in particular with how he was not afraid to speak out in our interview about the failures of the current regime. On the issue of marijuana dispensaries — in which Southold has been an outlier among East End towns by remaining almost completely silent about it — Mr. Sannino said, “We don’t have a plan in place. Where is this going to take place? How will it affect our community?” Time is almost up.

A vineyard owner, Mr. Sannino is also a supporter of agriculture and his expertise in that area and his general business acumen could be of value to the Town Board. His running mate, Mr. Williams, like all four candidates, seems to genuinely care about the place he calls home. His desire to serve is admirable, but we’re not sure he would bring any new ideas to the table. He’s a far from dynamic candidate.

We think, overall, Mr. Doroski and Mr. Mealy, who already has a strong record of public service in just his mid-40s, are better positioned to tackle concerns the public might have with the direction of the town. At a minimum, their election would bring balance to a board that has gone more than a decade without it. 

With a 3-3 Town Board, Southold residents would get the clearest picture yet of which local town party has their best interests in mind -— and have the added benefit of seeing more views represented. That’s an enticing proposition at this crucial time in Southold history.

On the issue of mailers…

The attack mailers sent to homes in Southold this week by the town’s Republican committee were not the deciding factor in this year’s endorsements, but they do make it easier to support their opponents.

If Republicans really wanted to make an issue of code violations at Mr. Mealy’s home during the campaign they should have done so at a public forum or in some other way that would have allowed him to respond to the allegations.

Instead, they said it in a mailer that arrived on the day early voting began. It was an ugly, cheap attack done in the laziest and most cowardly way possible.

Whether that stunt is reason enough to vote for their opponents is for residents to decide. At the very least, it should cause every citizen of Southold to question the moral fiber of the town’s GOP leadership.