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Helicopter allies spend thousands to thwart re-elections of East Hampton Democrats

Campaign finance records reveal that helicopter companies and

Campaign finance records reveal that helicopter companies and their allies are spending tens of thousands of dollars in a bid to unseat East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell and his running mates, who all supported air-traffic restrictions that went into effect during the summer. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Campaign finance records reveal that helicopter companies and their allies are spending tens of thousands of dollars to unseat East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell and his Democratic running mates, all supporters of air-traffic restrictions started in the summer.

Individuals and companies affiliated with the helicopter industry have spent more than $150,000 this year to back town Republicans -- an extension of a lengthy battle against the town's anti-noise regulations.

Fliers attacking Democrats' "lack of vision" appeared across East Hampton this month, funded by a group called East Hampton Leadership Council, which is registered at the Manhattan address of attorney Lance Harris.

Harris was named as a "board member" of the Newark helicopter company Heliflite Shares LLC at a 2014 meeting of industry representatives and town officials, said Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the town's liaison on airport issues.

Harris, listed as the council's treasurer, did not return calls or an email Thursday seeking comment.

State records show the leadership council has received its $60,000 in funding from a Delaware corporation, YGB Holdings LLC, and has spent more than $45,000 at the Manhattan firm, Mercury Public Affairs LLC. Republican supervisor candidate Tom Knobel, who is also the town GOP chairman, said Republicans have won donors among aviation interests who believe Democrats want to close East Hampton Airport.

"Basically, I am a proponent of a viable, safe airport," Knobel said, adding that he also wants to prevent an "unbearable level of noise."

Cantwell, in a release Monday, said helicopter companies "think they can buy this election" to "try to undo the reasonable noise restrictions we have enacted." He and other Democrats have said they don't want to close the airport.

Heliflite and other helicopter operators with business in the Hamptons have clashed with town officials since April, when the town board passed three anti-noise laws limiting access to the town-owned airport. Helicopter companies and their allies are embroiled in six lawsuits against the town.

Cantwell and Democratic council members Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc face challenges from Knobel, Lisa Larsen and Margaret Turner.

Donors whom town officials have identified as linked to the helicopter industry account for two-thirds of the $165,000 the East Hampton GOP has received this year, records show.

Heliflite and a corporation registered at Heliflite's Newark address donated a total of $10,000 to the town GOP.

More than $87,000 donated to the Republican committee is from Manhattan resident Donald Mullen, his relatives and a half-dozen corporations listed at his West 47th Street address. Mullen, who also has a home in East Hampton and is reportedly a Heliflite customer, could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Marc Spilker, whom Burke-Gonzalez said was introduced at the 2014 meeting as having a "controlling interest" in Heliflite, donated $10,000.East Hampton Democratic campaign chairman Christopher Kelley wrote two letters to the state Board of Elections this week contending the donations violate state laws capping political contributions.

Election officials did not return a call seeking comment.

Kelley called the donations by Mullen and his affiliates "a guise to circumvent contribution limitations" on individual candidates. He also charged that the East Hampton Leadership Council is "conducting illegal coordination of campaign activities" with the town GOP.

Knobel said he had no direct knowledge of the leadership council.

Jonathan Weinstein, a Mercury vice president and spokesman for the leadership council, called the Democrats' claims "mudslinging" and said the council "is acting on behalf of concerned residents who want real leadership in Town Hall, not more of the failed policies of the current administration."


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