In their advertisements, the candidates vying for the 1st District seat in the Suffolk County Legislature are portrayed as very different men. Republican Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter’s ads show him taking a sledgehammer to downtown Riverhead and vowing to shake up the Legislature. Ads from his Democratic opponent present Al Krupski as a farmer and small businessman with a tireless work ethic.
In front of a packed house at Martha Clara Vineyards, Mr. Walter again vowed change during a Monday night debate sponsored by Times/Review Newsgroup, while Mr. Krupski touted his ability to collaborate effectively with other elected officials.
The January 15 special election is being held to fill the nine months left in the term of former county legislator Ed Romaine, who vacated his post in November after being elected Brookhaven Town supervisor. The 1st District runs west from Southold Town and Shelter Island to Riverhead Town and parts of eastern Brookhaven.
If Mr. Krupski were to be elected, county Democrats would have a veto-proof majority in the Legislature, which Mr. Walter said would be an unhealthy outcome. Mr. Krupski pointed out that, as the only Democrat on the Southold Town Board, he had a long history of bipartisan cooperation.
“Once you get elected, you don’t worry about party. You worry about people,” Mr. Krupski said. “I don’t buy into Democrat versus Republican, east versus west. You’re never going to go anywhere in government if you toe the party line.”
Mr. Walter said politics at higher levels of government don’t work that way.
“I’d love to believe that’s true, but it’s not,” he said, adding that county Democrats have “strings attached” to the $50,000 they’ve invested in Mr. Krupski’s campaign.
“I don’t understand what Mr. Walter is saying,” argued Mr. Krupski. “That certainly hasn’t been my experience in 28 years in government.
Both men counted quality of life as their most important issue, but while Mr. Krupski touted his record on land preservation, clean water and controlling development in Southold, Mr. Walter said quality of life is a balancing act.
Times/Review Executive Editor Grant Parpan, who moderated the one-hour debate, asked the candidates if the district’s legislator should be a member of the Shelter Island Ferry Study Group, a committee Mr. Romaine opted out of.
Mr. Walter said the 1st District legislator should be part of it for the remaining year, at least. Mr. Krupski was unequivocal, saying the county has always been involved in oversight of ferry rate hikes, so it is essential the legislator of whatever district he/she is in sit in on the discussions.
Mr. Parpan noted during the debate that he received several questions from the public about whether the county should play a role in gun control. He asked the candidates to weigh in.
Mr. Walter said he was appalled at politicians’ attempts to politicize gun control in the wake of the December 14 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
“I’m disgusted,” he said. “I’m not answering your question.”
Mr. Krupski said there should be clear leadership from one level of government on the issue.
“If the state is going to take it up, that’s the way it should be,” he said. “There should be only one layer of government taking the lead on that.”
Mr. Parpan asked Mr. Walter if he really believed the county Legislature should be abolished, as he has publicly stated in the past.
“Most of New York State is run by a board of supervisors,” Mr. Walter said. “Only the metropolitan area has the legislature system. I agree with Mr. Krupski on reducing the layers of government. We don’t need the legislature.”
In closing, Mr. Krupski addressed that issue, but with a slightly different view.
“I want to represent the East End,” he said. “I’m not the sort of person who, when something’s broken, you smash it. I like to take it apart, fix it and make it better.”