Kepert faces battle to keep Brookhaven seat

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Connie Kepert, a Democrat representing Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Connie Kepert, a Democrat representing the 4th District on June 28, 2011. Photo Credit: David Pokress

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Regina Seltzer never won a seat in Congress, but she caused the ouster of incumbent Rep. Michael Forbes when she beat him in a Democratic primary in 2000.

Now, at age 83, Seltzer is looking to unseat another incumbent, Democratic Brookhaven Town Board member Connie Kepert.

Seltzer is running against her because Kepert did not back a controversial town plan to protect the Carmans River. The proposal stalled last year.

"I hate to say it but Connie's lost her way," said Seltzer, who backed Kepert when she first won her town board seat. "I'm running to give voters a choice and make sure they get what they deserve -- a clean river."

The proposed Carmans River plan, supported by former Democratic Supervisor Mark Lesko, would have significantly limited housing development along the river corridor and transferred those building rights to commercial and industrial zoned land in downtown areas. The plan was hammered out by builders and environmentalists. "It was absolutely the right thing to do," Seltzer said.

Seltzer also criticizes Kepert for backing the Sandy Hills condominium project in Middle Island and accepting campaign money from developers. Seltzer, an attorney, is representing the Long Island Pine Barrens Society in a 3-year-old lawsuit against the project.

Kepert acknowledges Seltzer's passion for the river but calls her a one-issue candidate. The seven-year incumbent says she has tackled a variety of issues including creating a new downtown area in Coram on the site of the blighted United Artists theater complex.

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Kepert said she opposed the Carmans plan because it would have allowed higher-density housing without developers having to come back to the town board for zoning approval.

"I'm a big proponent of funneling development to downtown centers to prevent sprawl," Kepert said. "But I'm not willing to give up our oversight."

When Seltzer ran against Forbes, of Quogue, some criticized her for indirectly helping former Republican Brookhaven Supervisor Felix Grucci win the seat.

Longtime Democratic activist Barry McCoy, who gathered petition signatures for Seltzer in the congressional primary, said local Democrats merely were angry that the national party tried to foist Forbes on them. McCoy is supporting Kepert, calling Seltzer's bid "misguided."

Seltzer denies any ties to the GOP. "I'm not taking any money from Republicans, and I'm not taking any support from Republicans, though I have to tell you they offered," she said. Seltzer said she will quit the race if Kepert changes her stand on the river.

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For Seltzer, the race is a reprise. She won a town board seat 37 years ago in the wake of the Watergate scandal, when the town was dominated by Republican chief Richard Zeidler. That was a townwide race, and Setzer is running now in a much smaller council district extending from Bellport to Coram.

Jesse Garcia, Brookhaven GOP chairman, called the Democratic primary and "internal battle" in which he has no role, but said Seltzer's challenge shows that Kepert is an "absentee and out of touch" town board member. Among the leading GOP contenders for the seat are zoning board member Keri Peragine of Yaphank, Roberta Davis of Middle Island and Carl Owens of Coram.

John Byrne, Kepert's campaign manager, said Republicans "have done everything but throw the kitchen sink to win back the seat. This is another instance where they are meddling behind the scenes in the primary because they cannot beat Connie in a general election."

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