At times during this year’s three-way race for Riverhead Town supervisor, both challengers have used the same analogy.
Republican Councilwoman Jodi Giglio conjures the image of a car being driven in the wrong direction, with incumbent Supervisor Sean Walter behind the wheel and his former political adviser — Democratic candidate Anthony Coates — in the passenger’s seat.
Mr. Coates argues, though, that it’s been Ms. Giglio — who first took office in 2010, the same year as Mr. Walter — who’s riding shotgun.
Mr. Walter, who has been relegated to the Conservative Party line this November after failing to get the support of the Republican Party at a nominating convention and in a primary, appears to be so far removed from reality that he thinks this car has been driving along just fine the whole time.
A fundamental fact that both challengers in this race fail to recognize is that all three of them have been in the car together the whole time. Unfortunately for the taxpayers of Riverhead — the only passengers who really matter — the town will be stuck with one of these disappointing candidates in the driver’s seat for the next two years.
If forced to endorse one candidate this year our editorial board agrees it would be Mr. Walter — not so much because he’s earned it, but because neither Ms. Giglio nor Mr. Coates offers enough to justify a change in leadership.
To his credit, the supervisor has trimmed the $4.5 million budget deficit his predecessor left him and some slow progress has been made at the Enterprise Park at Calverton. But his behavior is frequently dismissive, surprising, off-putting and, at times, simply childish. And the town’s reserves have been almost entirely plundered in an effort to balance the budget — which is still shaky.
We have spent the past two years railing against the supervisor and Town Board for their poor management of town finances, naive position on medical marijuana dispensaries (which, coincidentally, has suddenly switched in recent weeks), lax code enforcement, inability to make downtown a safer place and overall failure to behave like leaders. Under those circumstances, it’s hard to support anyone who’s spent the past six years in a position of leadership in this town.
We’re talking to you, too, Ms. Giglio.
Since taking office, she has provided — at times — a useful yin to Mr. Walter’s yang, attempting to keep the supervisor in check. Unfortunately, she has largely failed at that. In six years, despite her best efforts, she has not earned enough votes on the board to make any notable changes to Mr. Walter’s budgets, against which she now campaigns. Because of their testy relationship, the supervisor flatly refused to sign off on what could be the most noteworthy piece of legislation Ms. Giglio was able to pass: a new computer system for the town’s file-heavy code enforcement department.
The result is a fiery conflict on the Town Board on which the two have continued to pour gasoline. And for what, really?
It’s Sean’s fault. Jodi did it. He said this. She said that.
They can sling all the mud they want, but the reality is that Mr. Walter and Ms. Giglio have occupied two of five seats on a Riverhead Town Board (an all-Republican one, mind you) that has ransacked its reserves, will be forced to pierce the state property tax cap to balance next year’s budget, has been unable to use the town-owned portion of the Enterprise Park at Calverton for any tax relief and has failed to bring real stability to the downtown business district.
Instead these so-called leaders argue about police union promises that may or may not have been made, misdemeanor arrests that happened in another state more than 25 years ago and whether a party leader can hold an office to which he was democratically elected.
At a time when this town needs leadership, no candidate appears to fit the bill.
We haven’t spent much time on Mr. Coates in this editorial because, frankly, there isn’t much to say. The supervisor’s former (or current, we’re not exactly sure) political ally is a mystery man blessed with the gift of gab but has a résumé that’s light on details and accountability. He fairly points out that among the three candidates, he’s the only one who hasn’t had a vote on the Town Board in the past six years. But that’s about all we can be sure of.
He’s a Republican. He’s a Democrat. He’s a friend. He’s a foe. He’s a political adviser. He’s a business adviser. He’s essentially Jay Gatsby without the fun parties. It’s a shame the Democratic Party couldn’t find a fresh face that very well could have offered voters an alternative to the bickering we’ve witnessed on Howell Avenue over the past six years.
When The Washington Post famously declined to endorse a presidential candidate in 1988, it began its editorial by stating it does “not have a candidate in this campaign. Neither man running has established a claim to the office that we find compelling. So far as endorsing either of their candidacies is concerned, each is, by our own standards, too deeply flawed.”
The final paragraph of that non-endorsement called the campaign a “national disappointment,” accused the eventual winner of taking “cheap shots” and said his opponent suffered from “alarming deficiencies.”
“Collectively, as an institution, this year The Post abstains,” the closing sentence read.
So, too, does the News-Review.