Riverhead GOP leader threatens to sue Republican supervisor

05/13/2014 5:42 PM |
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO  |  Riverhead Republicans celebrate their victorious sweep Election night in downtown Riverhead. From left: committee chairman Mason Haas, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman John Dunleavy.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Republicans celebrate their victorious sweep Election night in downtown Riverhead. From left: committee chairman Mason Haas, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman John Dunleavy.

Riverhead Republican Committee chairman Mason Haas has retained legal counsel and is asking WRIV 1390 radio to save a copy of an interview Republican Town Supervisor Sean Walter did with the station Friday for “possible litigation” against Mr. Walter, according to Mr. Haas and WRIV general manager Bruce Tria.

During his weekly Friday interview with Mr. Tria, Mr. Walter questioned a new Republican committee policy that requires elected officials and candidates to contribute one-third of their fundraising to the committee, beginning Election Day 2014.

Mr. Walter also said Town Board members are now banned from attending committee meetings.

Sean Walter

Sean Walter

He went on to say that three people who attended the meeting at which the policy was approved later told the supervisor that when someone asked what would happen to candidates who did not contribute a third of the campaign fundraising to the party, an attorney in the committee, whom Mr. Walter didn’t name, stood up and said, “Then they won’t get our support.”

Mr. Walter — who, along with Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman John Dunleavy won re-election last fall with Mr. Haas at the helm — said the party is “asking us to buy our future nomination.”

He said in an interview with the News-Review later that day that this policy sounds illegal, and that he believes Mr. Haas — who screened for supervisor in 2012 against Mr. Walter — might be looking for the committee to fund another run for supervisor.

Mr. Haas says the new GOP policy, which was approved by close to 90 percent of the vote among committee members, makes no mention of punishment for candidates who don’t give a third of their fundraising to the party.

George Harkin, the committeeman who made the statement at the committee meetings, claims he said those candidates won’t get his support, personally — not lose the support of the committee as a whole.

Mr. Haas, meanwhile, continues to insist that he is not fighting with the supervisor, although Mr. Walter has accused Mr. Haas of “tearing the committee apart.”

Nonetheless, on Monday, Mr. Tria had a news items on his station reporting that Mr. Haas’s attorney had sent him a letter asking Mr. Tria retain any recording of Friday’s conversation, for “possible litigation.”

The letter was from attorney Lane Bubka, according to Mr. Tria.

Asked for comment from the News-Review, Mr. Haas responded later in the day with a written statement that read:

“Yes, I have retained counsel. The supervisor’s remarks are an attack on me as a public servant to the residents of Riverhead. It is an attack on my personal character, my ethics, and my morals. It impacts not only me, but my wife and my children and my relationship with the community in which I live in and volunteer my services.

“The attacks on me are without merit.”

“I’m not sure what to say,” Mr. Walter said in response. “Mason’s a public figure as an assessor and as an elected committeeman so there is really no basis in litigation that can be had. If you’re going to be involved in politics, you can’t be thin skinned. People are going to say things about you all the time that you don’t agree with. They say things about me and the Town Board all the time.

“That’s why when you’re a public official, the standards are so difficult for a slander or libel suit that it’s almost an impossible hurdle to overcome,” Mr. Walter continued. “If he doesn’t like people talking about him, maybe he should step aside as town leader, or step aside as assessor.”

As for the Town Board members being banned from committee meetings, Mr. Haas says the committee meetings are only open to committee members or invitees,  and currently, none of the Town Board members are on the committee.

tgannon@timesreview.com