10/26/11 1:00pm

The old bank robber Willy Sutton, protesting his innocence when caught red-handed, once said, “Are you going to believe me or your own eyes?”

I get that same feeling when I read Phil Cardinale’s weekly rants that attempt to rewrite history and malign my record as Riverhead Town supervisor. Each week, Mr. Cardinale pens an angry column that out and out bends the truth to the breaking point. Frankly, this tactic has gotten tiresome to the point where I don’t even feel like responding to his silly charges, but to allow a lie to go unchallenged would only make people believe the lie.

The fact of the matter is in 2004, when Phil Cardinale became supervisor, downtown was filled to the brim with stores like Sears, Discount Auto, Fauna, the grocery, East Enders coffee, the New York State Department of Labor building, Bagel Lovers, Crave Computer, West Marine and others. Those stores are all gone. Under Mr. Cardinale, downtown Riverhead never saw a new store open.

The fact of the matter is at the EPCAL property, during the greatest real estate market Long Island has ever seen, Mr. Cardinale never sold even one acre of land at the former Grumman property. His vision for economic growth was a ski mountain to be built by an unknown Scottish developer.

The fact of the matter is Mr. Cardinale personally signed more than $40 million dollars worth of checks to fund a landfill run amok in the biggest boondoggle project this town has ever seen. Mr. Cardinale’s signature is in the lower right-hand corner of every check.

Finally, the fact of the matter is that despite Mr. Cardinale’s Jack Benny routine about how frugal he is, town spending increased on average of 7.24 percent each year he was supervisor. I have prepared two budgets, and town spending increased on average .65 percent in my budgets — less than 1 percent.

You see, Mr. Cardinale has nothing he can point to to support why he should return to Town Hall. Like a lost wanderer in a corn maze, every time Mr. Cardinale attempts to talk about an issue like downtown, or town finances, or economic development, he bumps up against his own record. The Cardinale years were not years of accomplishment. We had a great national economy during the Cardinale years. Those should have been the best of times for Riverhead. They weren’t.

So Mr. Cardinale huffs and puffs and gets louder and louder because in politics, if you have nothing to say you just keep saying nothing louder. Mr. Cardinale gets frustrated and angry. Mr. Cardinale rewrites the facts and he runs from his record. I believe that we cannot build this town up by tearing each other down. We cannot build Riverhead’s future by screaming. We build it by listening and caring.

My campaign slogan is “Positively Riverhead,” and the reason I selected that theme is that I see good things happening in town. I see a downtown with new shops and restaurants and events and concerts. I see a new Suffolk Theatre and a new Hyatt. I see budgets that return us to fiscal sanity, I see a new course for EPCAL, I see a town that is striking the proper balance between creating tax base and preserving our rural heritage, and in the greatness of our people I know we will create a new Riverhead, a special place that we will be proud to pass on to our children.

I’ll let Mr. Cardinale bluster. I will stay positive about Riverhead.

Sean Walter, a Republican, is Riverhead Town supervisor and is seeking his second term in office. He is being challenged by former Democratic supervisor Phil Cardinale of Jamesport. Mr. Walter lives in Wading River.

09/29/11 4:23am

To hear Phil Cardinale tell it, during his time as supervisor, Riverhead was the Land of Oz, where all was good and the people prospered.

As in every column Mr. Cardinale writes, there are words and they run together to make paragraphs but there is also of a lot of revisionist history, half truths and just plain wishful thinking. Last week, Mr. Cardinale, in what has now become his regular tall tale column, explained that during his tenure as supervisor all was well here in Riverhead and we never had it so good.

Consider the facts:

During his entire six years as supervisor, Mr. Cardinale employed one-shot gimmicks to artificially make Riverhead’s finances look good. Make a deal that will never close at EPCAL? Use the deposit check to make the town budget look better. Ski mountains? Housing developments? Unrealistic, never going to happen, pipe dreams? No bother, as long as there is a deposit check to be collected and as long as that check could make Mr. Cardinale’s next campaign easier then “book it, Dano.”

Unfortunately, that pitifully cynical, self-centered approach to “economic development” is exactly why Mr. Cardinale did not sell even one acre of town land in Calverton during Long Island’s biggest land boom. Mr. Cardinale may feel that cashing the checks of rag-tag developers that have no chance of closing deals is good policy. I say that offers nothing more than wasted time, empty promises, needless expense and that squandering of opportunity is exactly why EPCAL floundered under Mr. Cardinale.

In his Sept. 22 News-Review Guest Spot, Mr. Cardinale called me “hysterical” about town finances and bemoaned the fact that I have reduced staff levels in Town Hall. The last I checked, our economy is in shambles and the public likes the idea of smaller government. After all, Mr. Cardinale, wasn’t it you that proposed cutting all of Riverhead’s emergency dispatchers? I seem to remember, Mr. Cardinale, in one of your final “Supervisor’s Reports” on local radio you said that considering salaries are about 70 percent of the town budget, that realistically we need to cut staffing to hold the line on taxes, and then you joked that it’s easy to say that as a lame duck supervisor.

That’s kind of the point, Phil. In government you have to have the guts to make tough choices … you didn’t.

Mr. Cardinale, you also fail to come clean that on your watch Riverhead wasted more than $40 million dollars at the landfill. And while Mr. Cardinale is busy straining muscles patting himself on the back for submitting thrifty budgets, he neglects to say that those budgets were always political documents that left out critical town services and had no chance of being adopted. It was the responsible members of the Town Board that rose above partisan politics to add back vital services to keep Riverhead running.

After 10 years in office, Phil Cardinale disappeared entirely from town government for two years. Mr. Cardinale claims that he sort of went into the woods, found himself and has come back a wiser man to offer a “better way” for Riverhead, according to his campaign slogan. Mr. Cardinale, your “better way” sounds like your same old way. As I have termed it in the past, your way is “the illusion of progress.” It sounds good, it looks good, but it isn’t real.

You presided over Riverhead Town Hall during the best of economic times; it didn’t work. Downtown was empty. Our finances were false. No sales at EPCAL. Little land was preserved. It’s time for Riverhead to move on. We’ve been there. We’ve done that.

Sean Walter, a Republican, is Riverhead Town supervisor and seeks his second term in office in November 2011. He is being challenged by former Democratic supervisor Phil Cardinale of Jamesport. Mr. Walter lives in Wading River.

08/10/11 8:59pm

I read with sadness former supervisor Phil Cardinale’s Guest Spot column last week talking about what this town needs at the EPCAL property in Calverton. I was sad because Mr. Cardinale is so out of touch with where this town is headed.

Mr. Cardinale offered tired clichés about EPCAL. He talked about his tenure in office; he waxed poetic about what can happen at the former Grumman property. Yet, the facts under Phil are a different reality. Mr. Cardinale offered us the Wilpon deal, a false promise that would have brought a housing development to Calverton and not the “economic engine” Mr. Cardinale talks about. Under Mr. Cardinale, we heard volumes about the “Pulte project,” another housing deal that would have brought a glut of students to our schools and cost Riverhead nothing but tax dollars.

Mr. Cardinale also offered the mother of all ridiculous pipe dreams, “Ski Mountain,” a silly endeavor that never should have even seen its way past the drawing board. Ironically, the former supervisor sees his failures at EPCAL as a positive, stating that, at least under his administration, Riverhead received forfeited deposits on lame projects that the town put in its pocket, but the “transactions” never came to fruition.

I believe in a world where reality reigns and we actually develop what we say we will. Because, what is the cost of missed opportunity?

Mr. Cardinale, you fiddled while the last decade went on. During the biggest land boom ever to hit Long Island, you did nothing at EPCAL. While this Island went through the best real estate market we have ever experienced, you didn’t sell even one acre of land at EPCAL. Your vision may be one of deposits that get submitted to the town for projects that will never happen and are ultimately forfeited. I believe in a town that will build and move forward. You instead liked to hold press conferences talking about projects that were “coming soon.” Sorry, Mr. Cardinale but your administration was about PR. Your track record is one of failure.

Lights, Camera, Inaction.

My administration is about getting the job done.

Come to downtown, Phil. Let the butterflies land on you at the expanded aquarium. Bring you wife, Susan, and stay overnight at the new Hyatt Hotel there. Have a meal at Dark Horse at the corner of Main and Peconic. Browse at the Red Collection; buy a painting from Sandi at the Blue Door Gallery. Have a rack of ribs at Cody’s Barbecue, visit Dennis at The Riverhead Project restaurant. Listen to the sounds emanating from the Suffolk Theater, a project you squashed, as we restore that landmark building. See my friend John “the Greek” at Athens Grill and look at the wonder of his renewed restaurant. Enjoy the investment made by Liz Strebel at Riverhead Grill; try her meat loaf. Stop by for a libation at Long Ireland Brewery on Pulaski Street and you are invited as we soon break ground at the “Summerwind” project.

Phil, your politics are old, tired and of the past. Your campaign slogan sounds strikingly similar to “The Better Way” from the old movie “The Candidate,” starring Robert Redford, circa 1972. Talk about old politics.

Phil, you were rejected two years ago by the voters. The people sought a new direction for this town. They saw a Riverhead that could. Not the Riverhead that didn’t, under you.

Developing our downtown, getting this town on firm financial footing, shrinking the cost and size of government, a new direction at EPCAL, solving our debt at the landfill debacle; that you helped create; that’s the “better way.”

A leader in your party, Bill Clinton, once said, “Politics are about the future, not the past.”

Phil, after 10 years in Town Hall, you had your chance. You didn’t get it done.

Sean Walter is the Riverhead supervisor and a Republican seeking his second term in office in November 2011. He is being challenged by former Democratic supervisor Phil Cardinale of Jamesport. Mr. Walter lives in Wading River.

01/25/11 10:03am

As a child you probably have memories of turning over your Etch-a-Sketch and shaking it to get a blank screen so you could draw new pictures. That is, in essence, what the Riverhead Town Board is about to do at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, or EPCAL. The former Grumman property has been at the core of many bad plans and dreams. We had the failed Wilpon housing proposal and talk of a movie studio and a full-time carnival. Most recently, two transactions fell by the wayside as the Rechler deal became a housing proposal and the ski mountain folks could not meet their contractual deadlines.

So now the slate is clean and we begin anew. With EPCAL unencumbered let’s craft a real plan that will tap the site’s true potential as a high technology economic generator for our region — one that is tied to the institutions we know, such as Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The wonderful part about this is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to get such a vision accomplished.

Recently, the Town Board and I visited Devens, Mass. Devens is a stretch of land cut across four towns and is the site of the former army base, Fort Devens. Upon the fort’s closing, the land was sold to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for reuse. What we saw in Devens were attractive, well-maintained buildings housing companies like Bristol Myers and a host of other clean employers. Unlike Riverhead, Devens got it right, and local and state officials have turned their land into a productive parcel that creates clean jobs and tax base.

Why did Devens do it right and we are floundering? I think for two major reasons.

One, we tend to politicize EPCAL. Each campaign season brings with it new gimmicks and schemes for projects that “might be coming soon” to the former Grumman site, all of which have no real backing, plan or prayer of ever coming to fruition. For all too long, EPCAL has been the place you go if you have a dollar and a dream. That might make for good headlines but it doesn’t make for sound development and tax base.

Two, our approach to EPCAL has not been all that comprehensive. Right now if a potential developer has a project they’d like to bring to Riverhead they have to visit our planning department, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State Department of Transportation, Suffolk County Department of Health and Human Services and myriad other agencies before the developer can receive approval to stick a shovel in the ground. This is a two-year process loaded with red tape. There are too many competing agencies and too many voices in the mix, and the approval process is too cumbersome.

So how do we put EPCAL on a path that will yield results and create clean, well-paying jobs that will create tax base for

Riverhead? I think we need the following simple action plan:

One, we need to update our reuse plan for EPCAL that will once and for all make certain what uses shall and shall not be permitted, along with a defined set of development criteria . Once we have put the use debate to an end we can begin to recruit businesses that match our vision for the land, a vision I believe should be tied to hi-tech innovation clusters.

Two, we need to create a clearinghouse agency that will unite all the voices in the permitting process under one roof. At Fort Devens, a potential business owner can go from the concept stage to obtaining building permits within 75 days. It is a sad day when New York State cannot even compete with Massachusetts.

I am not advocating that the town lose control over development at EPCAL, but, look, we have been at this for 12 years and we have not even come close to recreating what the town lost when Grumman left. The streamlined approval process will allow developers certainty as they look to invest in these tough economic times. If a CEO knows he or she can receive approval for a project by a definite date, that will go a long way toward the selection of Riverhead as a future home.

There is nothing unique in Massachusetts that means the people there can develop Devens and we in Riverhead and in New York cannot develop EPCAL. It simply takes a vision and follow-through. Recently, I met with Senator Charles Schumer to discuss his plan to unite the strength of Brookhaven National Lab, Stony Brook University and Cold Spring Harbor Lab under one roof to create a “Silicon Valley East.” Given our resources and people, there is no reason such a plan cannot become a reality. These are the kinds of projects we should be angling for at EPCAL so that our valuable land brings us wealth, tax base and prosperity — and is not just a field of dreams.

Mr.Walter is the Riverhead Town supervisor and an attorney. He lives in Wading River.

10/27/10 4:02pm

Our town is in bad financial shape. I didn’t cause the problem. In fact, the day I took office I warned that our tax rate was about to soar because over the years we have employed nothing but one-shot gimmicks to balance our town budget. Why are we in such bad financial shape? Well, obviously the American economy isn’t helping, but here in our hometown our woes can be directly tied to our landfill. Our landfill costs this town more than $6,000 every business day in interest payments alone. If we are ever going to balance our budget we have to pay the piper for this huge mistake of attempting to reclaim the landfill.

Believe me folks, these have not been pleasant times at Town Hall. I have had to cut back; we’ve cut everything from paper clips to town vehicles, overtime and everything in between. Amid the downdraft of a bad economy, I have recognized that our taxpayers have had enough. As supervisor, I have to submit a town budget. My budget calls for a modest tax increase and it calls for cutbacks in staff. In fact, rather than cut staff, I offered our town’s principal labor union (CSEA) a plan to avoid layoffs by utilizing lag payroll, which means withholding some employee pay until a later date. That offer was rejected by union leaders.

How fitting it is that we are in an election season during which near everyone thinks we are taxed too much. Everyone talks about shrinking the size of government. Everyone talks about hard choices and tough solutions but no one really wants to be the one to make those decisions. I will and have made those tough choices.

The budget battle has begun in earnest. Last week there were fire trucks and protestors at Town Hall. I am sure I will be burned in effigy a few times this month. The unions are mad at me and if I were them I’d probably be mad at me too. It is easy to talk about cutbacks until you are the one with your belongings in a box. However, if we are serious about reducing the size of government and getting out of debt then we must swallow some bitter medicine.

The easiest thing for an elected official to do is to promise things, rack up debt and hope the public doesn’t notice. I could take more money from our fund balance to bring down taxes and pray the economy improves quicker than it is. I won’t do that. I could overestimate revenue and pretend we will collect more in taxes and fees than we will to artificially make the tax rate go “down.” I won’t do that. I could “paper over” the debt and roll it out to a future supervisor. I won’t do that.

Maybe I’ll be re-elected next year or maybe I’ll be run out of town on a rail. But I want you to know, whatever my personal fate is, as long as I am supervisor I am going fight to reduce the cost of government, hold the line on taxes and be honest with the public about my budgets.

I take seriously the displacement that staff cutbacks cause. We are diminished whenever we lose a town employee but I also recognize the day-to-day struggle that each taxpayer has, making ends meet here in Riverhead. The question before us now is this: Do we mean what we say when we talk about cutting the size of government and balancing our books? I believe the public is crying out for Town Hall to live within its means; I am going to fight to do just that.

05/20/10 12:00am

Last year, when I was campaigning for Town Supervisor, I received some criticism when I said we should not be spending China’s money to pay for our mistakes. That might not have been the best phrasing, but the overall point remains: I am not a fan of bailouts. I don’t like deficits. I am a supporter of the private sector and I like small government. I am frugal with the public’s money. When it comes to spending the taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars, I am more like Jack Benny than I am like Paris Hilton.

For those of you following the story, the people behind Great Rock Golf Course in Wading River say they are on the verge of getting ready to throw in the financial towel. They say they can no longer afford to keep the doors open. The ownership of Great Rock is floating a plan to build “golf villas” at the site and they claim that development is necessary to stay afloat and to keep the golf course functioning. More than one hundred residents adjacent to Great Rock signed a petition, delivered to my office, asking that the town hold a public hearing on the construction of villas at Great Rock. Great Rock is an attractive amenity for our town. Blackwell’s Restaurant, which is located at the course, is a popular eatery. If Great Rock decided tomorrow to close its doors, Riverhead would lose nearly $200,000 per year in tax revenue and a whole neighborhood would sit next to a closed, untended golf course.

As supervisor, I have offered no opinion on the villa plan, nor have other members of the town board. I will say, however, that as your supervisor I am at least willing to listen to ideas because we as a town want to do all we can to promote job growth and because you, the residents of this community, requested a meeting.

I am in favor of having an open dialogue about what we can do at Great Rock. That’s it. Plain and simple.

As we progress towards a community forum on this subject, I do believe we should be guided by the following principles:

* We in government are not here to bail out businesses gone bad. You have heard me describe our town’s financial shape as dire, and it is. Town Hall is here to listen to any reasonable proposal. We are here to be business-friendly, but we do not have the resources, nor is it our place, to fit square pegs into round holes.

* When it comes to zoning we should be guided by our town’s Master Plan. With that in mind, zoning ordinances are living, breathing documents. They aren’t meant to sit on a shelf, making the assumption that circumstances and needs of a community never change. Planning should be flexible and malleable for projects that provide a “public benefit.” However, in general we should respect the wisdom that went into the Master Plan.

* Should the community wish to allow the development of villas, we should make it a top priority to preserve the golf course and open space at Great Rock as best as we can so we keep the course as an amenity for future generations. One possible way to preserve the golf course would be to require that the owners convey title of the golf course to the town.

I was elected to listen to the community and act in the best interests of the people of Riverhead. When it comes to Great Rock or any other project in town, I will do exactly that. When our citizens request a meeting, I will listen. That is not only what my job as supervisor calls for, but it is also common sense among neighbors and friends.

Mr. Walter is the Riverhead Town supervisor. He lives in Wading River.