Southold candidates make closing bids as Election Day nears 

With Election Day imminent and campaign trails coming to an end, candidates running for Southold Town government made their final pitches to a packed room of community members and local business owners at a dinner meeting Monday night at Raphael Vineyard. 

Hosted by the North Fork and Mattituck chambers of commerce, the evening featured Democratic and Republican nominees for Southold office, who stepped up to introduce themselves to voters and address key issues. 

North Fork chamber board member Joe Corso led the forum, starting things off on a positive note. “On the North Fork, we try to be civil. We all know each other — I have friends who are on the opposite side of where I am — and if you don’t agree, you let it go,” he said. “We’re still go on being friends and you still try and do what’s right for the community.” 

The only candidate absent from the forum was incumbent Southold Town Trustee Nick Krupski, who had welcomed a baby boy with his wife over the weekend. Alison Delaney, representing Southold Town Democrats, shared a statement on his behalf. 

Democrat Dan Ross, who is seeking a second term as Southold Town Justice, used the opportunity to clear his record, which he claimed his opponent, Republican Brian Hughes, had tarnished.  

In a letter to the editor published in the Oct. 26 Suffolk Times, as well as in multiple campaign advertisements, Mr. Hughes had claimed he was the “only judicial candidate” who completed the NYS Unified Court System Judicial Campaign Ethics Training Program and “the only candidate the Suffolk County Bar Association judicial screening committee has found qualified for judicial office in the election.” 

Mr. Hughes later reached out to inform The Suffolk Times that those statements were “inaccurate,” as he and Mr. Ross have both been screened by the Judicial Screening Committee, Suffolk County Bar Association, and were both found qualified.

Mr. Ross also noted that, at a forum on Oct. 19, Mr. Hughes had said: “All [Mr. Ross] has as far as endorsements is the ‘defund the police’ Working Families Party — look what that’s doing for New York City.”

Mr. Ross called the claim that he favors defunding the police “absurd.” 

“I’m going to ask you to make a decision in this race based on what you know about me and what you know about my record, and not what my opponent says,” Mr. Ross said. 

When the microphone was turned over to Mr. Hughes, he defended the comment, noting that he did not say Mr. Ross wanted to defund the police, but that the Working Families Party, which has endorsed his opponent, supports doing so.

This statement was met with “boos” from handful of audience members. 

“The work that I’ve done in the criminal justice system is pretty well recognized,” Mr. Hughes said. “I’m a law enforcement candidate, but I’m also somebody who has spent a lifetime making sure everybody else’s rights are protected.” 

After a break for dinner, candidates running for town supervisor and Town Board made their statements and answered audience questions. 

Topics addressed included affordable housing, zoning, jobs, inflation and taxes and how Southold’s aspiring leaders plan to maintain the town’s rural character. 

Speaking to affordable housing, Republican incumbent Jill Doherty said that while serving on the Town Board she set up a review panel to assess and approve or deny proposals from developers. 

Ms. Doherty said she also supports repurposing existing vacant buildings as affordable housing units. She added that there will be development, whether it is affordable housing or not, and said community input in the process is important. 

The current Town Board recently approved a Community Housing Plan that outlines allowable uses for the revenue it has collected through a voter-approved 0.5% real estate transfer tax that took effect in April. 

“The town can’t afford to go into the housing business,” Ms. Doherty said. “We can partner with people — I’d rather spend that 0.5% on giving to the people than buying land.”

Her fellow Republican Town Board candidate Stephen Kiely said he is a “hard no” on building apartment complexes in Southold. He said accessory apartments need to be reinstated into the Community Housing Registry. If elected, he said, he would consider using funds from the transfer tax to construct “manor houses” with at least three interior units. He added there are vacant commercial buildings in the town where affordable housing can be developed. 

“What I want the town to look like 20 years from now: exactly what it looks like now,” Mr. Kiely said. “I want our farms to succeed, I want more young farmers to come into this town and I want every business that’s in support of farmers and families to survive.” 

Democratic Town Board hopeful Anne Smith said Southold is changing rapidly and long-term planning is needed into order to create the community future generations want to see. For example, she said, when planning for development, the expected change in sea level over the next 20 years needs to be considered before moving forward with infrastructure projects.

“What it looks like is going to require careful planning and not just thinking in the moment,” Ms. Smith said.

Gwynn Schroeder, also a Democratic candidate for Town Board, was asked about possible areas for workforce housing and if they need to be expanded outside of HALO zones to meet the town’s needs. “We have to build some, or we can’t build our way out of it,” she said. “I’m in favor of having new development, whether it’s affordable or not, within that HALO zone. Rather than have a developer come in and purchase the land wherever, [the town can] purchase the land where they want to see it, decide what the town wants as a community — what do we need, who is going to live there — and then do an RFP to developers, but hang onto the fee title of the land because that will keep it affordable in perpetuity.”

Republican supervisor candidate Don Grim answered a question about boosting economic development in the area through jobs and internships. He said there is a shortage of home health care workers for the elderly, so young people who are looking for work are encouraged to apply for those positions. 

He said home health care aides can make anywhere between $35 and $48 an hour coming out of high school — and the job provides housing, as these young professionals can usually live in the house with the elderly person. 

“We would deal with the guidance counselors at the high school and get [students] on a path,” Mr. Grim said. “This will lead them on a path towards a full-time medical job or pay for their college.” 

Democratic supervisor candidate Al Krupski said he would continue the collaborations with Suffolk County Community College, local high schools and the business community to try to get students engaged in employment opportunities in the area. 

He also addressed a question about transparency in government and said public servants need to be accessible to residents. 

“Whether it’s regular business hours, answering the phone or emails, you always have to be accessible,” Mr. Krupski said. “A lot of times, people come up to me and say, ‘Sorry to bother you, but …’ — no, that’s a moment they have a concern on their minds and that’s really important to hear from them.”