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Southampton board candidates' backgrounds impress

At first glance, both candidates for the vacant Southampton Town Board seat have resumes so impressive that they could seem overqualified, though neither has run for public office before.

Democrat Bridget Fleming, 49, is an attorney who worked for former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, where she wound up running the welfare fraud unit. She and her family moved to Noyack nearly a decade ago, and she serves on the Noyack Citizen Advisory Committee.

Republican William Hughes, 59, will retire Tuesday from his job as a Town Police lieutenant. He is an Eagle Scout who volunteered to serve in Vietnam after graduating high school and who was recruited to be one of the first members of the Pararescue unit of the Air National Guard at Westhampton Beach.

So Tuesday's special election will pit two candidates who come from large families and have law enforcement backgrounds.

But that is where the similarities stop.

Fleming said it is important for her to be elected because the current town board has repeatedly failed to get important resolutions passed. Sometimes, she said, Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst cannot even get a second to put a resolution up for discussion.

Throne-Holst, an independent who ran on the Democratic line, serves with two Republicans and a Conservative who ran on the Republican line. "There is a serious imbalance in our town government, especially on the town board," Fleming said.

Hughes, who repeatedly stresses the concepts of duty and honor, said that despite accusations that he will simply follow the Republican line, he will be independent on the board. "I balance my checkbook just like you do," he told a debate audience in Southampton village. "I'll do the same with your tax dollars."

There are few local problems that grab the attention of residents in all parts of the town.

Instead, it appears that everyone wants lower taxes, and both candidates are for that. Everyone also wants the economy stimulated, and both say they will work hard to achieve that, even as they would have little direct power to create jobs.

One issue that loomed a few months ago - when the candidates were being chosen by their parties - was the likelihood that Southampton was $10 million or more in debt. But that has since evaporated like a pile of snow on a warm spring day.

The issue developed last year, when the town ordered forensic audits of capital projects that went back nearly a decade. That's when they discovered about $8 million in capital projects had not been properly paid for.

But officials now say the debt is likely to be far less - a manageable $2 million to $3 million - because some bonds were earmarked for projects that were never built.

And even as the new audit findings led to a collective sigh of relief for town board members, it removed the biggest and most contentious issue from the race.

Because the off-year election is likely to see a low turnout, some observers say Fleming has an edge because she has been endorsed by the Independence Party, while Hughes has only one line.

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