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Freeport mayor candidates face off in forum

Mayor incumbent Andrew Hardwick, center, answers questions at

Mayor incumbent Andrew Hardwick, center, answers questions at a public debate in the Freeport Public Library. (March 14 2013) Credit: Johnny Milano

After months of contentious campaigning, Freeport's mayoral candidates finally reached agreement: The village's priority is rebuilding from superstorm Sandy.

The rare accord between Mayor Andrew Hardwick and his challenger, trustee Robert Kennedy, came during a candidate forum Thursday night.

Kennedy, 58, opened the forum by saying the village must "resolve the flooding issue down south," which has plagued Freeport since before flooding and wind from Sandy damaged hundreds of homes and businesses in the South Shore village.

Hardwick, 55, followed by concurring that recovering from Sandy and protecting against future disasters is the village's prime task.

" 'Post-Sandy' has become our way of life," he said. "We're going to have to address it because it's never going away."

The forum, during which the candidates made statements and took questions from the crowd, was not without quarrel.

Hardwick, first elected in 2009, trumpeted his plan for a forensic audit of village finances -- something he has repeatedly called for and village trustees have consistently shot down.

"It's your money," he told the crowd.

Kennedy, who is giving up his trustee seat to run for mayor, said state auditors have made clear that a forensic audit is unnecessary.

"If you want to go on another witch hunt, have at it," Kennedy said, adding that the audit would cost thousands of dollars.

The forum was the candidates' last public debate before Tuesday's election. It occurred near the end of a heated campaign that began in December, several weeks earlier than a typical village election campaign, and pitted former allies of Hardwick and Kennedy against each other.

The forum also took place a day after Hardwick's opponents criticized him for a flier that claimed he had the support of President Barack Obama. Obama has not endorsed Hardwick, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee said Wednesday.

Hardwick and Kennedy are each running with two trustee candidates, who are competing for two seats on the board. The trustees also participated in the forum.

Hardwick is running with trustee candidates James Caracciolo, a former deputy commissioner of Nassau County parks, and Annette Dennis, a National Grid employee.

Kennedy is running with Carmen Pineyro, a sitting trustee, and Ron Ellerbe, a retired New York Police Department officer.

"We should try to unite, not divide," Pineyro said during the forum.

Freeport Roosevelt NAACP hosted the forum, which was held at Freeport Memorial Library and attended by about 300 people.

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