More than a dozen candidates vying for open seats in public office to represent Riverhead and the North Fork lined up at Polish Hall Monday night to introduce themselves to voters and answer questions posed by the audience members as part of a “Meet the Candidates Night.”
The event — which was co-hosted by the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce and the Long Island Farm Bureau — featured the candidates running for the offices of town supervisor, town council, assessor, highway superintendent, state assemblyman and county legislator.
Farm Bureau executive director and event moderator Joe Gergela set the tone early in the night, reminding the candidates the event wasn’t a debate and that they should only answer the questions they were asked.
But many of the roughly 50 audience members were connected to political campaigns of the candidates in the room, and Mr. Gergela later admitted that he had to screen questions from the audience that were too inflammatory.
Some questions posed to the candidates were focused on the town’s economy, specifically concerning development at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, as well as agritourism.
Incumbent Supervisor Sean Walter said that while he was disappointed by delays in getting EPCAL developed, he was confident that pending state legislation to allow the town to fast-track developement applications would “provide an incentive like no one else has.”
“That’s a game changer, folks,” Mr. Walter said.
Mr. Walter, a Republican, said he was confident that by subdividing EPCAL, the town would be able to earn back enough money to balance its budget and make smart reinvestments in the town.
Both Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman John Dunleavy agreed that subdividing EPCAL would be the best way to earn revenue for the town.
“You can’t sell what you can’t subdivide,” Mr. Dunleavy said.
But Angela Devito, the Democratic challenger for supervisor, said there was still “a lot more work to be done” on getting EPCAL producing revenue for Riverhead. She warned that speculators may purchase the land but stall development, and said the town would need to invest in infrastructure at EPCAL to make it feasible for industry.
“[Developers] are not going to cover all that cost,” she said. EPCAL’s distance from major metropolitan centers also makes it difficult and not cost efficient for industries to transport goods to the site, she said.
Democractic challengers for town council, Bill Bianchi and Millie Thomas, said the town could induce more industries to move to EPCAL by negotiating for lower fuel and electricity prices.
Legislature candidates Al Krupski and Albie DeKerilis were asked about balancing the need for agritourism and farmers to flourish with traffic concerns by residents.
Both Mr. Krupski, who was elected in a special election in January to complete the term left by former legislator Ed Romaine, and Mr. DeKerilis agreed farms need customers to survive and that the agritourism market is an important portion of the region’s economy and identity. But both men also said traffic is a concern.
Mr. Krupski said he’s begun working with state officials to promote the North Fork during the “shoulder seasons” like the early winter to alleviate the burden of traffic in the fall. Mr. DeKerilis said he would look into providing more trains or buses if elected to get some cars off the streets.
The Assembly candidates — Democrat John McManmon and Republican Anthony Palumbo — were asked their opinion on the state SAFE Act, a gun control law which passed by the Legislature in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings.
Mr. Palumbo said the legislation was “certainly a political move,” and that he believes the SAFE act would not prevent another school shooting and needed to be tweaked. He also questioned whether the law was intended to boost Governor Andrew Cuomo’s potential presidential bid.
Mr. McManmon, a Riverhead High School graduate, said he would have supported the SAFE Act, noting that he knows his view may not be politically popular in the area. He argued that laws should target reducing gun violence and not focus on gun control.
Both Mr. McManmon and Mr. Palumbo said they would be interested in joining the Assembly’s education committee if election, with Mr. McManmon saying retaining Long Island’s educated youth with quality jobs was key. Mr. Palumbo said he would seek to eliminate “unfunded mandates” handed down by the state’s education department.
One question posed by the audience specifically focused on Mr. Dunleavy and the clear cutting of the Costco property on Route 58. Mr. Dunleavy pointed out that the Costco developers didn’t break the town’s code in clearing the land, saying “everything was done legally.”
Assessor candidate Greg Fischer also spoke at the event, stating his “revolutionary” plan to use the powers of the assessor’s office to assess certain businesses at a more favorable rate, to encourage “the right kind” of growth. The other candidate for assessor, incumbent Laverne Tennenberg, was unable to attend the event.
After the event, Riverhead Chamber of Commerce executive director Mary Hughes said she was pleased the candidates turned out and remained respectful throughout the event.
She also said she had hoped more residents would have attended.
“I don’t know if it’s … [because] it didn’t get promoted enough, or is it just lack of interest by the public?” she said. “I don’t know.”