Southold is at a crossroads.
Many people in Southold we have spoken to see this year’s town election as the most critical in recent memory. They say this out of deep worry — about the fate of our farmland and open space; about all the things that come under the heading of quality of life; about whether “regular” people will be able to afford to live here; and about how town officials will interact with the new moneyed class that eyes the North Fork as the next Hamptons, waiting to be exploited.
We wholeheartedly agree that this year’s town elections are critical. Southold is indeed at a crossroads. It feels very much like the future will be decided in the next few years, and the incoming town administration will play a crucial role. To that end, Southold Town government needs a fresh start.
Because so much is at stake for Southold’s future, we believe we need a new beginning with a new slate of public officials — fresh minds and fresh eyes for what is coming. For this reason we are endorsing county Legislator Al Krupski (D-Peconic) for town supervisor and his slate of candidates for Town Board, Anne Smith and Gwynn Schroeder.
We are doing this not because we believe the Republican candidates don’t have their eyes on our precarious future, but because we feel his slate of candidates will give Mr. Krupski the best advantage moving forward.
There is no doubt each of the Republicans running for town offices this year has the town’s best interests in mind. We interviewed them, we attended candidate forums, and we saw this for ourselves. With a few exceptions, they impressed.
We can easily single out Jill Doherty, a top vote-getter for the GOP and a longtime public servant in Town Hall, as an example of someone who has worked very hard for Southold.
We also want to mention Don Grim, the GOP’s candidate for supervisor. He stepped up when few — if any — Republicans wanted to run against Mr. Krupski and cross endorsement seemed the best approach for the party. Despite whatever internal debate went on, the cross-endorsement idea didn’t go anywhere.
The fact that Mr. Grim is on the ballot gives voters a choice. But this time, this place — with the future bearing down on us — calls for a different leader.
Scott Russell was elected supervisor in 2005, after serving 15 years as town assessor. His service to the town has been long and successful. His devotion to Southold and what makes it unique is unquestioned. He leaves a winner.
But he is moving on and a new administration will be coming in. This is a perfect time to rethink where we’ve been, what worked and didn’t work, and plot a new course. Same old, same old is not a governing philosophy any more than nostalgia is.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought to the North Fork a new demographic, and along with it a fundamental and dramatic shift in our economy. Home prices skyrocketed, putting even more distance between any semblance of affordable housing — whatever the definition of that is — and the new reality on the ground.
It seems to many that, if these rising trends continue, many who grew up and went to school in Southold Town will be unable to remain here, even in a rental property. And with sky-high rents, houses often end up packed with tenants who make up the backbone of the service industry because they have nowhere else to live.
Houses with many cars parked in front of them, reflecting the numbers inside, can easily change the character of a street. The same is true for short-term rentals, facilitated by the rise of Airbnb and similar platforms, which may provide the homeowner a needed income but also can dramatically impact the quality of life around them. Making matters worse, those houses are then off the market for long-term rentals — just the thing Southold needs.
With a new Southold supervisor taking office in January, we believe the emphasis of the new government must be to stare down those who want to redraw the landscape and reimagine Southold to match their vision. We, the people, have to win this fight, and we need town officials to have our backs.
With one entity now owning some 1,000 acres of local farmland, how does the new government respond if large-scale development on that land is proposed? The answer to that question comes down to who is in charge at Town Hall.
And there are other critical priorities. The new government must commit itself to protecting our open space and woods, and thus safeguard our salt creeks and bays. The environment is the very core of Southold’s economy. Beginning in January, the new government must take up the challenge of climate change, which, from rising sea levels to storm intensity, is a game changer.
It also must figure out a way, within the limited scope of government and the widespread opposition to density, for young people to at least have the option of continuing to live where they grew up. In truth, with land, construction and housing prices where they are, that train may have already left the station.
The new administration must begin to calculate how climate change and rising sea levels will impact the slender peninsula of the North Fork. Working with other East End towns on a common strategy makes sense. Water issues — quality and quantity — must now be an integral part of the planning process.
The more Suffolk County wants to extend public water to the North Fork, the more pressure there will be to open up areas for development. Public water is a double-edged sword: It can help neighborhoods affected by saltwater intrusion, but it also opens the door for more development.
We feel the best way for Mr. Krupski, a farmer himself and a strong career-long advocate for the environment, to succeed with the enormous challenges ahead is for him to have his Town Board candidates with him at the table.
By his career, by his actions over his years in public service, by his advocacy for what makes Southold unique, Mr. Krupski is made for this moment. He will be an excellent successor to Mr. Russell.
We endorse Mr. Krupski, Ms. Smith and Ms. Schroeder.
Vote like the Southold you love is on the ballot. Because it is.