“You stomped me bad.”
Those were Sean Walter’s words Tuesday night after he crashed the Democrats’ Election Night party to deliver his concession remarks personally to Legislator-elect Al Krupski.
The handshake and smile the Riverhead Town Supervisor shared with the man who had so easily defeated him was a classy and unusual move in Suffolk County politics, where typically a phone call is placed or no concession is made at all.
“I’ve never seen that before,” said deputy county executive Jon Schneider, a behind-the-scenes player on every major Democratic campaign in Suffolk County for nearly a decade.
Certainly the move, similar to one Phil Cardinale made after his defeat in 2009, was made possible by the close proximity of the two headquarters: While the Democrats laughed the night away in a private room at the Dark Horse Restaurant on Main Street in downtown Riverhead, Republicans drowned their sorrows in pint glasses filled from the taps of neighboring Cody’s BBQ.
For the past month, we’ve all heard the sledgehammer ads on the radio and listened as Mr. Walter painted himself as the loudest elected official on the North Fork, a man who’s not afraid to stand on someone’s desk to get the job done.
He’s a politician who keeps his friends close and his enemies on another continent.
In some ways, that frank approach in politics is refreshing, like an ice cold beer on a 100-degree day. Have too much of it though, and you’re left feeling dizzy.
The heads at Cody’s were certainly spinning late on Election Night, where Riverhead GOP insiders were contemplating next steps as if their guy were the one moving on. And he just might be.
“I’m not sure where this leaves Sean,” said Republican Councilman Jim Wooten, who could very well run a primary for Riverhead supervisor this year. “The party should maybe take a lesson from this to preserve [itself].
“The party is certainly going to have to sit back and evaluate where it is today.”
And Riverhead’s Democratic leader Marjorie Acevedo was quick to point out that Mr. Walter could face competition from more than just Democrats.
“He’s on very shaky ground,” she said. “Even in his own party.”
The voting breakdown in Riverhead says it all. Mr. Krupski, the first Southold Town resident elected to the Legislature, won all but three election districts in Mr. Walter’s hometown.
The only districts Mr. Walter won in Riverhead were in Glenwood Village; along West Main Street, where only 34 votes were cast; and in Calverton, where he prevailed by just one vote.
Even the folks cutting their lawns next to Mr. Walter’s in Wading River sided with Mr. Krupski.
Particularly interesting Tuesday night was the way Republicans didn’t seem to have a bad word to say about Mr. Krupski or hardly a good one for Mr. Walter.
Of Mr. Krupski, former Riverhead councilman Vic Prusinowski said, “He’s a nice guy, people voted for the guy they liked.”
Suffolk County Democratic chairman Rich Schaffer told supporters Tuesday night that the likability of the two candidates was evident from the beginning of the campaign. He said that during one endorsement screening, a union leader told Mr. Krupski that after seeing Mr. Walter earlier in the day, meeting with Mr. Krupski was like having “a cup of coffee with a friend.”
So who are Mr. Walter’s friends?
Anthony Coates, who has served as a political adviser to the supervisor for the past several years, was speaking Wednesday as if the political faction he and Mr. Walter belong to is unrelated to the local GOP.
“The national Republican party doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo that it lost handily in November; the local party cannot make that same mistake,” Mr. Coates, himself a declared candidate for Riverhead Town Board this coming November, said in a statement. “True change comes by humbling oneself, taking inventory and acting decisively. Riverhead Republicans need to understand that they need to change their ways to keep the public’s trust.”
Mr. Coates’ remarks certainly signal that Mr. Walter is prepared to move on without the help of his “friends” if he’s going to be re-elected come November.
While it might be true that the local and national GOP is in need of some real reform to keep up with the times — the crowd at Krupski headquarters was certainly much younger than at the Republican event — it’s hard to believe they’ll be taking suggestions from Mr. Walter and Mr. Coates.
True change, as Mr. Coates said, certainly does come by humbling oneself. Hopefully, Tuesday night’s handshake was a starting point for Mr. Walter.