With a yawning political divide on the national level before them, the two candidates for East Hampton Town Board took part in a more nuanced and collegial political debate sponsored by the East Hampton Clericus, an organization of East Hampton clergy members, and Vote Hamptons on October 11.
David Lys, who was appointed to the town board and is seeking election on the Democratic ticket, sat next to Republican challenger Manny Vilar, amid a circle of voters in the community room of Calvary Baptist Church in East Hampton.
In introductory remarks, Greg Meyers, one of the event’s organizers, said the sense of the group was that the United States had “veered off the track a little bit” when it came to decency, morality, and ethics in the political sphere and that organizers were more interested in learning about the deeper motivation of the two candidates than hearing a political stump speech.
So, even though Lys touted his role as chairman of the committee that oversaw the restoration of the Amagansett Lifesaving Station, and Vilar discussed his work as a lobbyist for the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, they more often mirrored one another’s comments in discussing their reasons for wanting to serve the public.
Questions were posed by the Reverend Walter Silva Thompson Jr. of Calvary Baptist Church and the Reverend Ryan Creamer of Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in East Hampton.
“We need to promote legislation that helps lift the downtrodden,” said Vilar when asked how his moral compass informed his agenda. The best way to do that, he added, would be “to try to make an economic environment that is going to be good for the community.”
A community with a strong economy would allow people to stay here and get involved as volunteers, he said.
He got no argument from Lys, who said his own moral compass was “based on my hometown, based on my family, based on my life out here, and every decision I make has been based on that.”
Asked how he would overcome legislative opposition, Vilar said elected officials had to know they would win some and lose some. “The real work is helping to reach a consensus, working across the aisle,” he said.
“Homework,” responded Lys. “Do your homework.” Refusing to work along with other officials doesn’t fly at the state level, and it doesn’t work at the town level, he said.
Asked who would be their core constituents, the candidates offered similar responses. Vilar said while he would represent “locals. He added East Hampton’s demographics are changing with newcomers moving out from the city and a growing immigrant population. Those newcomers should be brought into the fold, he said.
Lys said his family and other young people, who tend not to be involved in politics, would be his core constituents. He added, though, that both he and Vilar are running “for our love of our hometown.”
Not surprisingly, Lys, who, if elected, would allow the Democrats to maintain a 5-0 board majority, said the lack of Republicans on the board was not a problem.
“I think there is great diversity on that board,” he said, adding that the term Democrat or Republican is “just a label.” Vilar countered that the board could use a Republican perspective.
Asked to comment on the role of religion in government, Vilar said, “I believe deeply in our Judeo-Christian values” and quoted President Theodore Roosevelt, who said “to educate a person in mind but not morals is to educate a menace to society.”
Lys agreed that houses of worship play a vital role in the health of a community and listed a number of church-based programs from Maureen’s Haven homeless shelter to food pantries based in local churches.
At the end of the hour-long discussion, the candidates were asked if they had questions for their counterpart. Vilar, rather than trying to pin Lys down, asked him instead to expound on his work with the Amagansett Lifesaving Station. After Lys explained how he became involved in the project, he, in turn, said if Vilar were to defeat him that he hoped he would reach out to him if he ever needed assistance.