‘Sit down and leave’: Controversy and chaos break out at Hilton Head mayoral forum

Calm returns to Hilton Head mayoral forum after Holocaust Revisionist erupts early on

Hilton Head mayoral candidates laid out their political platforms during a forum on Tuesday — mentioning issues such as transparency with the town council, development and the environment. But first, one candidate erupted after the first question.
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Hilton Head mayoral candidates laid out their political platforms during a forum on Tuesday — mentioning issues such as transparency with the town council, development and the environment. But first, one candidate erupted after the first question.

A self-proclaimed “Holocaust revisionist” running for Hilton Head Island mayor lashed out during a candidate forum Tuesday at Indigo Run, leading to a scolding from the event’s moderator and causing members of the crowd to shout “You’re wasting time” and “Sit down and leave.”

Michael Santomauro, who is one of seven candidates vying to be the island’s mayor, became heated after being asked about the town’s future.

He refused to answer the question and — as other candidates appeared to smirk — instead read from a prepared statement about wide-ranging topics, including overcrowding on Hilton Head, traffic control, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and censorship laws in South Carolina.

“None of my opponents have denounced censorship, that alone should disqualify all of them for elected office,” Santomauro yelled over the increasing noise of the crowd, in reference to a law passed by the South Carolina legislature in May defining antisemitic speech.

The forum, the first held since the filing deadline Aug. 15, was presented by the Indigo Run Men’s Group, Indigo Run Women’s Club and the Indigo Run Community Owner’s Association.

Around 200 people attended the standing-room-only event.

After Santomauro’s outburst, the moderator, Daniel Lankin, reminded him of the rules of the forum.

“Mr. Santomauro, you really didn’t answer the question,” Lankin said as Santomauro continued to talk over him. “You went off on a really big tangent. Sir, sir. I’m the moderator. .... We talked about this on the phone.”

Santomauro promised to abide by the rules.

“There will be no more of this or I’ll ask you to leave,” Lankin said.

Seven candidates are vying for the nonpartisan position. The general election will be held Nov. 6.

Highlights from the forum included:

  • Santomauro said that the island is too densely populated, and that he would “place a moratorium on residential and commercial development.” He also said the island has too many tourists, and that the over-development of the island is caused by “greed.”

  • Native Islander Rochelle Williams called for the removal of Town Manager Steve Riley. “I think that’s why we can’t get anything done now because of the town manager,” Williams said. “I think he needs to be removed so we can move on. Williams also said she hopes to focus on building up new areas of the island, saying “the south end has been developed. Now it’s time to develop the north end of the island.”

  • Town Council member John McCann called for the town to repurpose unused space on the island for affordable workforce housing. He also defended fellow council member and mayoral candidate Kim Likins’ defamation lawsuits that have been funded by taxpayers, saying “it was money well-spent on our behalf,” which he said protected Likins and council members in the future. McCann also said “the majority of the money that we paid for (her) legal bills was out on a contingency basis and we’ll get it back when Kim and the town win the suit.”

  • SunTrust sales manager and longtime islander Alan Perry responded to a question about the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, which receives town accommodations tax money. Perry said the chamber should show the public how they are spending the money given to them, and agreed that the chamber “has done a great job marketing our island.” He also said a lack of cooperation between the mayor and Town Council means that “we’re losing what we used to be, and that was a big family.”

  • Sandon Preston also called for the chamber to release spending information to the public, he said “it’s clear that they have to tell us how they’re spending the money. It’s millions of dollars.” Preston also repeated earlier calls for all rental bikes to be outfitted with lights for cyclist safety.

  • Town Council member Kim Likins discussed the town’s mission to place affordable housing developments on the island. She explained that Hilton Head does not qualify for tax credits to help with these developments, “the good news is that our public planning committee has been working with the governor’s office, as well as the department of housing at the state to begin to change those laws.” She also said it “is possible” there are too many tourists on the island, but that Hilton Head’s tourism economy “is the major industry on our island.”

  • Real estate agent Barry Ginn said he wanted to see stark improvements in pedestrian and bicyclist safety. He said, “I’m tired of watching people get run over and killed on this island” when it comes to unsafe intersections. Ginn also said he supports Riley, and that he “needs a mayor behind him that can stand with him.”

Other forums are in the works for the coming weeks, and the first public debate will be held at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 15 at Hilton Head’s Town Hall building, 1 Town Center Court.