Greenport trustee candidates face off in first debate

The first debates for five candidates running for Greenport Village trustee unfolded on Saturday afternoon before dozens of local residents. Two of the four trustee seats are open.

The candidates were asked why they were running; what the biggest challenges facing the village are and what each individual could bring to the table; how a candidate would work with the administration on affordable housing, and how each would tackle Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed mandate to build affordable housing near Long Island Railroad stations; whether the candidate supported or opposed the administrative moratorium; what past experiences equip each candidate to navigate the role of trusteed; what the role of the board is in regulating businesses like bars, restaurants and hotels, and how the candidates would build bridges to engage Hispanic residents, who make up as much as 30% of the village’s population.

While the candidates expressed a spectrum of stances on the administrative moratorium, the importance of the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP) and the best approaches to expanding affordable housing and managing development, all five participants agreed that better enforcement of existing codes, a crackdown on illegal short-term rentals, better relationships with Southold Town officials and a clear vision for the town’s future were vital to the success of the next village administration.

Why run?

Asked to explain why each candidate is running, Patrick Brennan began by saying that in the course of his work as chairman of the Village Planning Board, as a warden in the fire department and a vestry at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church where the debate was held, “I’ve earned a reputation as a critical thinker, a hard worker and a team player.” He touted his background in architecture and construction and his work on affordable housing and environmental education.

Lily Dougherty-Johnson fondly recalled growing up in Greenport and being “dragged to village board meetings on occasion” as a child. Years later, she said, “I’m running because I care a lot about this community and I have for a very long time.” She talked about how her time serving on the village Planning Board and volunteering for the Greenport Farmer’s Market board has taught her that most people in the village share the same vision for Greenport. “We all want transparency and better communication. We all want a long-term vision … so we can move forward. We all want a future village that’s clean and safe and thriving for generations to come, so that our children and our children’s children can live here.”

Monique Gohorel said she grew up in East Marion and learned the value of community when she experienced kidney issues and required a transplant. “Being involved again is my way of thanking all the [local] people that supported me.”  She said her first priority is affordable housing. “Yes, I want to preserve our land, yes I want to preserve our water, but without the community that makes up this place, we’re no place at all.”

Noting that the village board would be “lucky to have any of the candidates up here,” incumbent trustee Jack Martilotta talked about he and his wife’s three kids in Greenport schools, his work as a science teacher at the high school — where he’s coached the football team for over a decade — as well as the track team and girls and boys wrestling. The Iraq war veteran also cited his 22 years in military service as well as his role as commander of the local American Legion. “My wife and I have been trying to set an example for the kids in the community to get involved in the community and that’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last eight years,” he told the audience.

William Swiskey said he “got involved in this race as sort of a lark, but then some very serious issues came up.” In contrast to Ms. Gohorel, Mr. Swiskey said: “I don’t know if there’s any room in the Village of Greenport left to build affordable housing. We have to get on the town of Southold to get the land to do it. We have to live in reality.”

Top challenges

Asked to define the biggest challenges facing the village, Ms. Dougherty-Johnson cited infrastructure — “Not just our streets, but our roads … and the skate park and the ice rink, and all the things we started and [we] have and need to keep up. The other is development and affordable housing.” She said there is more funding available than is being sought, and cited her grant-writing experience.

Ms. Gohorel took issue with Mr. Swiskey’s remarks about having no more room for affordable housing. Signaling a theme she would repeat throughout the debate, she said the real problem is that “we don’t enforce our codes, our own rules that we have. If we don’t enforce them, why do we have them?” She said the village needs “ironclad rules” to allow it to “tell people no.” “Otherwise, we’re just going to keep getting run over” by developers. She touted her fluency in both English and Spanish as a way to build bridges to the growing Hispanic community in Greenport.

Mr. Martilotta said he agreed with Mr. Swiskey about the dearth of available housing. “There are two or three lots [available] in the entire village.” He agreed with Ms. Gohorel that better code enforcement would solve a lot of problems. He said the board’s persistence and commitment had been vital to the completion of past projects.

“When I first joined the board eight years ago, the power plant was kind of scary. I’d sit in my house on Fifth St. and the lights would pulse … we got, I think, $5 million in grants, we redid the entire power plants, right down to changing poles in town. That took six years. We did a lot with the sewer plants,” he said. “Curbs and sidewalks? We’ve done a ton of it but you’re never really done. I think we paved about ¾ of the [village’s] roads.” He also asked whether the LWRP is “the be all and end all? It is not. It is not a how-to guide” on how to control development and maintain the character of the community.

Mr. Swiskey said he has been working on the waterfront advisory committee and that a report on the village infrastructure should be ready by mid-March. “Your biggest problems with infrastructure are your bulkheads, and your drains. We can talk about the LWRP, but the basic footwork has to be done.”

Mr. Brennan said that “the pressure that’s coming with increased tourism and development interests are posing real challenges for our village and this in part has contributed to rapidly-increasing housing costs, growing demands on our infrastructure and some diminishing opportunities for our working waterfront. We need to craft a vision [and] develop a comprehensive plan.” He said affordable housing is the “foundation” of a comprehensive plan, a matter that “underlies all other issues.” With so little available space, he said, the village needs to “think about the inventory we’re losing to short-term rentals.”  

Affordable housing

Asked how each candidate would work with the village administration on the affordable housing issue, Ms. Gohorel said that “yes, we have an affordable housing issue, but we also have a housing issue. If you’re paying between $2,500 and $4,000 a month plus utilities, there’s nothing affordable about that.” She returned to the issue of code enforcement. “If you’re allowed to rent AirBnB or a second house rental, one night at a time, for $500 to $1,500 a night, of course you’re not interested in” long term rentals. “If we’re not enforcing our codes, we’re not doing anything.”

Mr. Martilotta said that with the village’s sewer system, which allows for housing density, there’s plenty of capacity to build new housing, but stressed that “we need to work with Southold Town to make that happen,” saying the town must cede more land for such housing to the village.

Mr. Swiskey disagreed. “Folks, the reality is we don’t have enough room” to build new housing, and he said he doesn’t believe most residents are interested in creating long-term rentals on their properties.

“I have a $35,000 house now worth a million. I don’t want to have an apartment [on my property], and most people don’t want to have an apartment. You’re going to have to work with Southold Town and enforce the [existing] codes.”

Mr. Brennan suggested formalizing and ad hoc committee on affordable housing into a commission that can work in an advisory capacity to the board. He also advocated “flex[ing] our muscles a little bit as a village.

“Greenport is an entertainment and economic and hospitality center for the North Fork. If we get some of these projects going, restoring the movie theater or possibly building an auditorium, we’re also going to become a cultural destination. We have a lot to offer the North Fork … and we need a seat at the table.”

Ms. Dougherty-Johnson outlined additional options for affordable housing. “We say there’s no space but there are buildings — old carriage houses and sheds — and the possibility of putting apartments in these buildings, so that’s something that we should really look into.”  

Rezoning near train stations

The candidates were also asked to address Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed mandate to increase housing by 3% by rezoning areas near Long Island Railroad stations to allow for high-density housing.

Mr. Martilotta observed that there is simply not enough space surrounding the Greenport LIRR station to build housing. “There’s nothing there,” he said.

Mr. Swiskey, noting that the proposal calls for housing 500 feet north and south of the train station, “which would be Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and part of Third Street. If you want houses on 50 by 50 [foot] lots, then you can support that [proposed] legislation. I think in Greenport that’s nuts.”

Mr. Brennan urged audience members to see this “not as a burden but as an opportunity. “What the state is trying to do is something we’re trying to do here today.”          

Noting that the mandate would come with funding for planning, he said “I think we can get in front of this, do our own work and create our own solutions.”

Ms. Dougherty-Johnson agreed with Mr. Brennan. “The intent behind it is housing, and that’s something we need.” Ms. Gohorel concurred. Mr. Swiskey used the debate’s sole red card for a rebuttal.

He said that there is a piece of Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) property “that would fit a two-family house.

“Let’s ask for the property and build on it.”


The candidates were asked whether they favor or oppose the administrative moratorium in place, and Mr. Swiskey said he is opposed to it. He said the Planning Board could have exercised its authority to deny applications for outsized developments, but that the board “kicked the can down the road with this moratorium.”

“No person with money is going to come into such an environment … and invest in the village,” he concluded.

Mr. Brennan said he took two views of the moratorium.

“Yes, the moratorium has been a good thing for this village because it finally allowed the village to get this discussion underway and start doing this work. It’s been a difficult time over the past couple years for the village to pass legislation on things that are part of this moratorium. Whether it be parking, housing, [the] waterfront. So absolutely, this has been good in that sense.

“But here’s my criticism,” he continued. “I think the timing and the implementation of the moratorium is not correct. I have been pushing the village to spend more time on engagement, bringing a larger portion of [the community] into this discussion, and I think a moratorium compresses the timeframe in which we can do that engagement. We need to take more time and do a more thorough and comprehensive job.”

Ms. Dougherty-Johnson said she wishes the village didn’t need a moratorium, but at this point it does, and she supports it. “We need to move forward with this this, and there needs to be much more public outreach and input from the community.” She also said that “if we do it,” she said, it should be done “thoroughly, but expeditiously.”

Ms. Gohorel agreed with the need for a “pause” on development.

“We all know: do we want more development? No. Do we want big hotels downtown? No. But it needs to be investigated. Hotels? Yes, but in a reasonable fashion. We have to do our homework.”

Mr. Martilotta said the moratorium concerns him.

“Initially, I wasn’t for the moratorium, because I think we’re conflating two things. We’re saying ‘the only way we can do the LWRP is if we have a moratorium. That’s not true … my concern is that it’s a very big, blunt instrument. Whoever wants to open a business, we’re now created this barrier. We’ve tied the moratorium to doing the LWRP and I don’t think the two should be tied together.”

Candidate backgrounds

Asked what in their backgrounds would help them in their prospective positions as trustees, Ms. Dougherty-Johnson cited her experience working with the Planning Board and her background as a trained librarian. Ms. Gohorel pointed out that she is bilingual, a quick study who worked in a library and was home-schooled.

Mr. Martilotta cited his eight years as trustee and deputy mayor. Mr. Swiskey noted that he was a former superintendent of utilities for the village. “I’ve handled budgets, crises [and] contracts.” Mr. Brennan said he participates on numerous boards and committees in the village. “I do the work, I roll up my sleeves, and if I don’t know something, I’ll do the research. I’ll do the writing. I’ll make sure we have a vision and a view.”

Code adjustment

Mr. Swiskey suggested expanding the definition of a “family” to accommodate more potential long-term renters, and all four other candidates agreed.

“What about the 20somethings that want to be roommates in the house?” Mr. Swiskey asked. He also suggested that the number of people in an apartment should be guided solely by the size of the apartment.

Mr. Brennan agreed, adding that the “definition must be generous enough for unconventional ideas of family.”

Ms. Dougherty-Johnson, Mr. Martilotta and Ms. Gohorel agreed, with Ms. Gohorel returning to her theme of better enforcing existing code. “We need to focus on safety. We know there are places that hold 15 people with two bathrooms. That’s definitely not safe.”

Board’s role in regulating businesses

Asked what role the board should have in regulating businesses such as bars, restaurants and hotels in downtown Greenport, Mr. Brennan said that the “village has a responsibility of creating the legislation and the policies to move in the direction it wants to see itself go.” He warned that when the village approves a development, “if the developer decides to exit at any point, we may be stuck with a property that is approved [for a given use] in perpetuity.”

Ms. Dougherty-Johnson said that “the board’s responsibility is to do the legislation, which includes zoning and having a long-term plan and the LWRP.

“It’s the guiding document for the business of the village,” she said. “If we want a working waterfront to survive and thrive, that’s the responsibility of our village government to help support not just the waterfront but the businesses that are already exist and are here.”

Ms. Gohorel said it’s the responsibility of the trustees to see “what’s manageable and attainable and sustainable. How many restaurants can Greenport hold? How many bars? How many t-shirt shops.”

Mr. Martilotta said he sees things differently. 

“As a village board … I don’t think we can … say ‘there can only be five bars in Greenport. We can’t really do that. This is America. Additionally … we’d make all kinds of changes to property values all over town. Whoever owns those five [bars], if they survive — those places are going to be worth a zillion dollars, while all the others would be worth less. We got to look at it in that way.”

Mr. Brennan said that “the primary tool to regulate business that we need is our comprehensive plan. That’s how we communicate to the wider world what Greenport wants to be. That’s how we articulate our vision, that’s how we send a message to developers. So when they come into our community, they already understand what we’re looking for.”

Civic engagement

Moderator Peggy Lauber noted that upcoming census tables released later this year are expected to show that Hispanics now make up 30% of the village population, and that while many of the adults won’t be voting, some of their children will. She asked how the board could promote civic engagement in this section of the electorate.

Ms. Gohorel said it’s important to reach the parents whether they are voting or not, but that it would take social media campaigns to reach the young adults, many of whom are too busy working to focus on local politics. Mr. Martilotta suggested that the schools were an ideal outlet for promoting civic engagement. Mr. Swiskey noted that today’s children “are not really taught about participating in their government,” and as such, “there’s really no easy answers here.”

Mr. Brennan suggested that outreach campaigns have to “go to them — in the schools, the churches, the athletic fields.”  Ms. Dougherty-Johnson said that communication and outreach are the “basics” of civic engagement, “and that goes for everyone” in the electorate. She suggested targeted events aimed at appealing to young Hispanics would be a good start.

The second and final debate among the trustee candidates is scheduled for Wednesday evening, March 8 at 6:30 p.m. The second and final mayoral race debate is scheduled for Tuesday, March 14 at 6:30 p.m. Both debates will be held in the Greenport High School auditorium at 720 Front Street.

The election is Tuesday, March 21 at the Third Street Fire Station and polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.