Incumbent Riverhead Councilman George Gabrielsen, whose term expires in November, announced by email Tuesday that due to work and family commitments, he will not run for re-election.
“With the obligations of our family farm operation and other new business commitments, I am unable to devote the time that the Town Council position requires and the residents of this town expect and deserve,” his email stated.
Mr. Gabrielsen said Wednesday morning that between his Town Board position, his Jamesport farm and a farm and other land he’s developing in upstate New York, “something had to go.”
“Between now and October, I’m literally working 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “And you can drive by the farm on a Sunday night and see me with the lights on my tractor on.”
His decision guarantees that there will be a change in the makeup of the all-Republican Town Board for the first time since 2010.
Mr. Gabrielsen won a special election to the board in 2009 to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of then-councilman Tim Buckley.
“I was kind of shocked,” Councilman Jim Wooten said of the decision. “He told me last night after the Town Board meeting. But I can certainly appreciate his reasoning. This job, albeit part time, does put a lot of strain on your regular life, your family life and your personal life.”
“I’m going to cry,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said. “George has been a very productive member of the Town Board and he will be sorely missed.”
Supervisor Sean Walter said he’s had some conversations with Mr. Gabrielsen in recent weeks in which the councilman gave an indication that he might not seek re-election.
“Honestly, I’m very sorry to see him go,” Mr. Walter said. “He’s been a wonderful ally on the Town Board and a hard-working Town Board member. But I understand his decision completely. We sat down and we talked a couple times last week and when he told me yesterday, I wasn’t surprised, because time is precious and you don’t ever get time back.”
The supervisor said Mr. Gabrielsen generally works with him and finance administrator Bill Rothaar in developing the town budget, and has also been an advocate for a proposed energy park at EPCAL. One of the town’s bids championed by Mr. Gabrielsen was accepted by the Long Island Power Authority last December. Revenue from the lease was projected by Mr. Walter at the time to bring in at least $750,000 by the end of the year; that remains to be seen, however.
Mr. Gabrielsen said he is willing to continue working on the energy park proposal as a volunteer after he leaves office.
In his resignation letter, which was released to the media, he cited the opening of Veterans Memorial Park at EPCAL and the opening and rebuilding of many smaller new parks throughout Riverhead among his proudest accomplishments.
The Riverhead Republican Committee plans to interview supervisor and council candidates Wednesday night, according to vice chairman Vic Prusinowski, who heads its screening committee.
He said the screening committee had interviewed Mr. Wooten and Mr. Gabrielsen for re-election, as well as other prospective council candidates, including two recently retired town police officers, Bob Peeker and Tim Hubbard. Terri Davis Sweeney, a town employee who is president of the town’s Civil Service Employees Association unit, was also interviewed.
Mr. Walter is facing a challenge from Ms. Giglio, whose council seat is not up for re-election this year.
The Republican committee’s nominating convention, at which members will vote on which candidates to place on the November ballot, is set for May 13, Mr. Prusinowski said, adding that other candidates could still come forward before that date.
“It took us by surprise,” Mr. Prusinowski said of Mr. Gabrielsen’s decision. “We didn’t have any clue this was happening.”
As a former councilman himself, Mr. Prusinowski said he understands Mr. Gabrielsen’s reasoning for not seeking re-election.
“I think it’s good news for the Democrats, since George has always been a top vote-getter,” said John Stefans, chair of the Riverhead Democratic Committee’s candidate search subcommittee.
The Democrats have screened Glenn Friedman, Tony Coates, Angela DeVito and Greg Fischer for supervisor and Laura Jens-Smith, Denise Lucas, Edward Knoedler and Neil Krupnick for council. Mr. Coates, Ms. DeVito and Mr. Fischer may also consider running for council as well as supervisor, Mr. Stefans said.
The Democratic convention is set for May 26, he said.