In the end, it wasn’t about how many, or which, political parties endorsed him. Or which didn’t endorse him. It wasn’t about how much money he raised or how many outside dollars were — or weren’t — spent through political action committees to back his campaign.
As with any election, it was about how many votes he received.
And incumbent Supervisor Sean Walter — relegated to the Conservative Party line, which boasts only 614 of Riverhead’s 21,017 registered voters — took home more votes on Election Night than either of his two challengers.
After a tough three-way race, Mr. Walter will retain his seat on Howell Avenue for another two years.
It was the first time since in at least the past century that a supervisor won a seat without the backing of either major party.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio defeated the sitting supervisor in a fall primary for the Republican line after the party backed her over Mr. Walter to lead the ticket this fall. Both races were close.
Preliminary Tuesday results showed Mr. Walter with 2,874 votes to Ms. Giglio’s 2,438. Democratic candidate Anthony Coates, who also ran under the Working Families and Women’s Equality lines, trailed with 1,720.
“This has been a tough race,” said the supervisor, a former Conservative Party chairman, from the downtown restaurant Mazi. After thanking God, Mr. Walter said, “He put me through the paces on this one and I’m not gonna tell you I wasn’t curled up on the couch after that primary.”
Ms. Giglio, who also ran on the Independence Party and Reform Party lines, beat Mr. Walter in the mid-September primary by just 46 votes: 1,155 to 1,109. As of Wednesday morning, 399 absentee ballots had been received at Suffolk County Board of Election headquarters. While speaking to the Republican Party Tuesday night at the Birchwood of Polish Town, Ms. Giglio initially said she wanted “the ballots to be counted to see what the end count is.” However, she conceded her bid for supervisor during a television appearance later that night.
“I’m looking forward to serving the taxpayers as a town councilwoman for the next two years,” Ms. Giglio told News12. She echoed those sentiments Wednesday morning in an interview on 1390 WRIV.
The race between Mr. Walter, 52, and Ms. Giglio, 47, had been simmering for years. Both screened for supervisor with the Riverhead Republican Committee in 2009 to face off against Democrat Phil Cardinale. While Ms. Giglio was given a spot on the ticket for a Town Board seat, Mr. Walter was chosen to run for supervisor. He snuck past Mr. Cardinale by less than 250 votes while Ms. Giglio cruised to victory for her council seat.
Since then, the two have often been at odds in Town Hall. And for much of Tuesday night, it appeared unclear who would win what has appeared to be — and still could be — a battle of wills between them.
After results from five of the town’s 22 election districts were reported, Ms. Giglio trailed by just eight votes, 531 to 523. With six election districts left to be counted, the incumbent held a 129-vote lead, still leaving it anyone’s race. But one of those districts was Mr. Walter’s own neighborhood in Wading River, and the gates soon blew open.
The supervisor turned on the heat in the final weeks of the campaign, slamming Ms. Giglio for being the beneficiary of a substantial advertising campaign by the Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation, a super PAC funded by the Suffolk County Police Union. Eight days before Election Day, Mr. Walter held a press conference outside the police department to call attention to the matter. He said he feared Suffolk County police wanted to take over the Riverhead police department, a move he said could hurt taxpayers in the long-term.
“The Suffolk County PBA has entered into the race in a very large way,” Mr. Walter said at the time.
During his victory speech Tuesday night, the supervisor reiterated what he’d been saying for the past couple weeks.
“Integrity matters,” he said. “It’s all right to make mistakes in the past, but you don’t hide them.”
Mr. Walter was referring to Ms. Giglio’s failure to inform the town about modifications to her Baiting Hollow home, which kept her tax bill lower than it otherwise would have been, as well as a 26-year-old arrest warrant he brought up during his Oct. 28 press conference.
Ms. Giglio maintained all along that she opposed the police merger and, at the time, called Mr. Walter’s mention of her previous warrant “desperate.” The charges against her, which were never revealed, were dismissed in 2009 — just before her first run for public office — after she paid a $438 fine.
Mr. Coates, meanwhile, after holding several press conferences earlier in the race to outline his platform, stayed largely in the background during the final stretch, though he admitted to leaking information about Ms. Giglio’s warrant to the supervisor.
The councilwoman, who said during the campaign said that both Mr. Coates, 54, and Mr. Walter had been working together to steer the town in the wrong direction, called Mr. Walter’s claims about the police merger unfounded.
“There were a lot of scare tactics brought up and a lot of untruths,” she said Tuesday night. “Maybe we didn’t reach out to the people we needed to to relieve them of their fears that Riverhead PBA was going into Suffolk County, even though I vowed it at every debate.”
WITH JEN NUZZO, TIM GANNON AND NICOLE SMITH
Caption: Sean Walter gives a toast to his supporters on Tuesday night. With him was assessor Paul Leszczynski and councilmen Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy at Mazi restaurant; Jodi Giglio speaks to the Riverhead Republican Committee at The Birchwood on Tuesday. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)