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Southampton candidates debate after protest over racial slur

Southampton Village board of trustees candidate Valerie Smith,

Southampton Village board of trustees candidate Valerie Smith, left, participates in a debate with incumbents Nancy McGann and William Hattrick Jr. on Monday, June 5, 2017. In front of an overflow crowd at the Southampton Arts Center, Smith offered an apology for having used offensive language. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Candidates for Southampton Village mayor and the board of trustees debated Monday night over how to address the village’s empty storefronts, environmental issues, declining year-round population and lack of affordable housing.

Mayoral candidates Michael Irving and Richard Yastrzemski, who are both trustees, said that while they have many similar positions, they differ in their on-the-job experience and in their focus on the environment.

Yastrzemski, who is deputy mayor, said his nine years on the board made him “know every nook and cranny of this village” and that his main goal is establishing “community unity.”

Irving, who previously served on the village planning board, said he is more “directed on environmental issues” and is focused on enforcing codes and dealing with overdevelopment.

Both candidates said they support creating apartments in the downtown business district to boost the number of full-time residents.

Trustee candidates — incumbents William Hattrick Jr. and Nancy McGann and challenger Valerie Smith — kicked off the event, which was sponsored by the Press News Group and moderated by its executive editor, Joseph Shaw.

Hattrick, who has previously served as mayor, said his “two greatest concerns” are losing vehicular beach access and “the gentrification of the village to the point that there are hardly any year-round residents left.”

McGann touted her work cleaning up the business district, fighting plans to build a shopping center in Tuckahoe and facilitating the village receiving grants.

A large portion of the debate centered on Smith’s use of a racial slur in a call to police last year. A recording of the call was released last month and prompted about 100 people — including Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and Village Mayor Mark Epley — to stand in protest against Smith’s candidacy before the debate at the Southampton Arts Center.

Smith, who said she entered the race to deal with litter, explained her conduct, saying: “I was very angry with what I was going through with my community, with the youth of my community . . . I’m sorry I caused anybody pain with the words I said. They were directed at the young people that had been bothering me in my house for a long time. They were not directed for an entire race of people.”

All four other candidates rebuked Smith’s comments, and Irving apologized for being the first person to sign her petition to get on the ballot, saying he had mistakenly thought she was a “reasonable” person with “serious concerns” about the village.

The election is June 16.

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