05/25/14 7:00am
Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Last year, as candidates for the Riverhead Town Board, we sounded the warning bell about public officials also serving as high political party officials.

Often, in the rough-and-tumble and prism of a political campaign, issues like this are seen as personal. But as the movie line goes, “It’s not personal … It’s strictly business.” (more…)

11/08/13 12:00pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead Republicans celebrate their victorious sweep Tuesday nignt in downtown Riverhead. From left: committee chairman Mason Haas, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman John Dunleavy. Mr. Walter said the team tried to stay positive during the campaign. He believes that approach resonated with voters.

In June 2012, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio filed a harassment complaint against Supervisor Sean Walter.

Months later, Mr. Walter put out a political hit on Ms. Giglio, which came in the form of a primary challenge from the supervisor’s friend and longtime political adviser, Anthony Coates.

During that contentious primary, Councilman John Dunleavy — perhaps sensing momentum building behind Mr. Coates — was continually found to be out campaigning without his committee-designated team, joining Mr. Coates in door-knocking efforts.

But blood is thicker than water, the saying goes, and as the outcome of the Riverhead Town elections began to crystallize before the family of Riverhead Republicans Tuesday night, judging by the hugs, kisses and high-fives — bygones were bygones. Despite their differences, the three incumbents on the Town Board had all won re-election.

Election 2013: By the numbers

“I’ve been involved in Riverhead politics for 14 years and I have never seen the Republican committee come together the way it has this summer and this fall,” Mr. Walter told a jubilant crowd of supporters at Cody’s BBQ & Grill.

Mr. Walter later said he believed the issue of in-fighting on the board was more media driven than anything.

“I think the residents didn’t focus on the fights or they wouldn’t have re-elected us,” he said. “They focused on the results, and if everybody got along all the time, I don’t think we’d have had the results that we had. We all add something to this mixture.”

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Assessor Laverne Tennenberg posting the election results Tuesday night.

But it wasn’t just the media. The Riverhead Democrats had been smelling Republican blood in the water for some time because of the in-fighting. Democratic challenger Angela DeVito’s campaign slogan, “Respect Riverhead,” was built on the promise she would bring courtesy and respect back to Riverhead Town Hall after four years of Mr. Walter and an all-Republican Town Board.

The voters favored staying the course.

Mr. Walter defeated Ms. DeVito with 56 percent of the vote, or 3,917 to 3,090, according to Suffolk County Board of Elections figures.

Ms. Giglio, who earned a second term, and two-term Republican Councilman John Dunleavy tallied 3,634 and 3,495 votes respectively, over Democrats Bill Bianchi, with 3,141 votes, and Millie Thomas, with 3,045, in the at-large election for two seats.

As it began to look like the election results weren’t going to break her way, Ms. DeVito — who led a team that came much closer than their Democratic counterparts in the 2009 and 2011 races for Town Board seats — told her supporters “we are still winners.”

She also said there’s still work to be done for the Democratic Party to make the sure the towns government, ruled by Republicans, is heading in the right direction and working for the people of Riverhead.

“Just because we aren’t in the driver’s seat, that doesn’t mean we can’t be passengers in the bus,” Ms. DeVito said from Democratic headquarters in a storefront behind the Riverhead Diner & Grill — and a short walk from Cody’s on East Main Street.

She then took that short walk, entering Cody’s back door and making her way through the crowd to congratulate Mr. Walter. The two candidates hugged and exchanged words as music pumped through the speakers. Ms. DeVito was also joined by campaign advisor Keisha Washington Dean.

Mr. Walter and party leaders attributed the Republican victories to a largely positive campaign.

“This town is moving in the right direction, no matter what Angela DeVito and Bill Bianchi say,” Mr. Walter said.

“I believe we’ve gotten our message across,” said Republican Committee Chairman Mason Haas, “which is that the town is moving in the right direction.”

In other town races, incumbent Republican assessor Laverne Tennenberg beat Democratic challenger Greg Fischer, 4,343 to 2,396, and Democratic highway superintendent George (Gio) Woodson beat Conservative challenger Michael Panchak by vote of 4,936 to 1,269.

Mr. Woodson and Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm are the only Democrats to hold an elected office in Riverhead Town.

A moral victory, so to speak, for Democrats in the town races came with the respectable showing of the council candidates.

The votes were much more evenly split than in the past two local elections, with Ms. Thomas, a Wading River realtor, earning 24 percent of the vote and Mr. Bianchi, a former state Assemblyman from the Bellport area, capturing 23 percent of the vote.

Ms. Giglio led the pack with 27 percent followed by Mr. Dunleavy with 26.

By comparison, in 2009, Democratic council candidate Kathy Berezny tallied 20 percent of the final vote for two seats, with 19 percent for Shirley Coverdale.

The Democratic council candidates fared even worse in 2011, when Marlando Williams got 16 percent of the vote and Matt Van Glad received 15 percent in an at-large race against incumbent Republicans James Wooten and George Gabrielsen for two open seats.

This election season, the Democrats also tried to capitalize on residents’ displeasure with the clearing of several properties along Route 58 to make way for commercial shopping centers. They had joined residents in a rally at the Costco Wholesale site, which was clear-cut right up to neighboring properties, and held their own press conference there, faulting the Town Board for granting an excavation permit for the project.

Mr. Dunleavy, who lives in Foxwood Village, one of the affected communities, also took heat from his neighbors during the campaign — not only for the clearing itself but for deflecting blame onto neighbors he said weren’t paying attention and attending town meetings.

He later apologized at a Town Board debate, saying no one was to blame.

On Election Day, even the election district that includes Foxwood Village voted for Republicans, including Mr. Dunleavy, according to numbers posted at Republican headquarters — though not yet available through the county — Mr. Dunleavy received 215 votes, with Ms. Giglio leading with 222 in Election District 11. Ms. Thomas earned 200 in ED11 and Mr. Bianchi, who came out on the attack against Mr. Dunleavy at the Oct. 24 debate, finished last in that district, with 196 votes.

“The few people that thought I was the sole person [responsible for the clear-cutting] for the Costco project, they were wrong, and the people that believed in me, voted for me,” Mr. Dunleavy said after the results came in and he was awarded a third four-year term.

For her part, Ms. Giglio told WRIV radio show host Bruce Tria that the election outcome could offer a renewed opportunity for the Republicans, who will now have to work together for at least another two years, the length of supervisor terms in Riverhead Town.

“We have to put things behind us and move forward,” she said, adding that she would reach out to Mr. Walter to perhaps talk over lunch.

Mr. Walter later told the News-Review he would be willing to sit with Ms. Giglio over lunch.

mwhite@timesreview.com

11/08/13 12:00pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Democrat Angela DeVito concedes to Republican Supervisor Sean Walter Tuesday night at Cody’s BBQ & Grill.

A breakdown of the election district totals that were posted at Republican headquarters at Cody’s BBQ Tuesday night shows that home field advantage only went so far on Tuesday.

• Democratic Supervisor candidate Angela DeVito did win her home district. She took Election District 8 in South Jamesport by a vote of 194 to 155. And Republican Supervisor Sean Walter took his home district, ED 17 in Wading River, by a vote of 209 to 148.

• Democrats Bill Bianchi and Millie Thomas both lost their home districts, with Mr. Bianchi coming in third of the four council candidates in ED 22 in Riverhead, where he lives, and Ms. Thomas coming in third in her ED 14 in Calverton.

• Incumbent Republican Councilman John Dunleavy came in second to fellow Republican incumbent Jodi Giglio in Mr. Dunleavy’s ED 11 in Calverton. Results were not immediately available for the breakdown in Ms. Giglio’s home district, ED 19 in Baiting Hollow.

• The districts in which Ms. DeVito bested Mr. Walter were mostly along the southern part of Aquebogue, Jamesport and South Jamesport, winning ED 6, 21 and 8, which together cover the bayfront from Hubbard Avenue to Laurel.

Ms. DeVito also won in ED 2, which covers areas in the heart of Riverhead, such as Industrial Boulevard and Pulaski Street.

• The only districts where two Democratic council candidates came in first or second place were ED 2, 10 and 17, the latter two being in Wading River, near Wildwood State Park.

• In the aforementioned ED 6 in Aquebogue, Ms. Giglio was the top vote getter, and Mr. Dunleavy and Ms. Thomas were tied for second.

• While Ms. DeVito won in her home district, her running mates did not. The GOP council candidates both won the top two spots in that district.

• The four council candidates also had varying second lines, which may (or may not) have played a factor in the final results.

Ms. Giglio gathered 3,219 votes on the Republican line and 415 on the Independence line. She did not receive Conservative party backing.

Mr. Dunleavy did get the Conservative nod, and received 813 votes on the Conservative line. He also got 2,682 votes on the Republican line, just less than the 2,685 votes Ms. Thomas received on the Democratic line. Ms. Thomas also received 456 votes on the Working Families line. Neither Ms. Thomas or Mr. Dunleavy appeared on the Independence Party Line.

Mr. Bianchi was the only council candidate with three lines.

He received 2,435 votes on the Democratic line, 348 on the Independence line and 262 on the Working Families line.

11/02/13 10:00am
11/02/2013 10:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Sean Walter and Angela DeVito on the Suffolk Theater stage.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Sean Walter and Angela DeVito on the Suffolk Theater stage.

RIVERHEAD SUPERVISOR
Two-year term, full time
2014 salary: $115,15

Sean Walter
Incumbent
Hamlet: Wading River
Occupation: Lawyer
Party lines: Republican, Conservative, Independence

About him: Mr. Walter, 50, grew up in Suffolk County and has lived in Wading River since 1992. He is seeking a third two-year term as Riverhead Town supervisor. Mr. Walter had previously served as a deputy town attorney for Riverhead Town. He is an attorney in private practice, which he runs out of Wading River. He is also a former chairman of the town Conservative Party.

His pitch: Mr. Walter says that while in office, he’s made great strides in three critical areas of concern: downtown, the Enterprise Park at Calverton and town finances. He points to the new restaurants, shops and apartments downtown, as well family-friendly events and an increased police presence on Main Street. At EPCAL, he’s proud that Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed fast-track development legislation into law. And on town finances, he says that as supervisor, he’s reduced the size of government, maintained a high credit rating and stayed under the tax cap.

In his words: “Each day I try to make Riverhead a better place to live, work and raise a family. Though we have come far, there is much more to be done and I ask for the chance to continue to move forward.”

 

Angela DeVito
Challenger
Hamlet: South Jamesport
Occupation: Retired
Party lines: Democrat, Working Families

About her: Ms. DeVito, 65, is a longtime workplace safety advocate with related degrees from Columbia University and the University of Utah. She retired in 2000 from a NYS health department occupational medicine program at SUNY/Stony Brook and then served as director of workforce development for the Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk counties. She is an active civic leader who has served on the town Industrial Development Agency and the Riverhead school board.

Her pitch: Ms. DeVito says her work experience, community activism and education make her a uniquely qualified for the supervisor position. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the public sector, with experience and skills that include public policy development and implementation; staff supervision and training; finance and budget; public testimony and lobbying; community-based coalition building; zoning and planning; finance audits; and application of public sector laws, rules and regulations.

In her words: “Everybody knows that Riverhead just isn’t working. If there is any doubt, watch Channel 22 for 15 minutes. We have a common goal: end dysfunctional government. When you are not happy with those elected to serve you, replace them.”

Read our endorsement for supervisor here

11/02/13 9:59am

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Supervisor Sean Walter

Democratic supervisor nominee Angela DeVito is without a doubt a formidable challenger to two-term incumbent Republican Supervisor Sean Walter. She’s intelligent, hard-working and has given much back to the town by way of public service and civic involvement. She’s built a long and impressive résumé that reflects a life of advocacy for worker health and safety and, as a former Riverhead school board president, oversaw a budget larger than the town’s.

Ms. DeVito has run a spirited campaign. But unseating a sitting supervisor is equal parts quality of the challenger and a referendum on the incumbent’s performance. (It can be argued that elections for executive offices skew toward the latter.) It was paramount that Ms. DeVito convince voters that Riverhead Town has been on the wrong track and would continue in the same wrong direction under Mr. Walter. We’re not sure she even believes this.

Ms. DeVito may take issue with Mr. Walter’s tone of voice, behavior and his overall treatment of people who oppose him but at last week’s debate she agreed that his administration seems headed in the right direction on his signature push to subdivide and fast-track development projects for EPCAL. She also offered no clear competing vision for downtown and failed to outline any realistic approach to solving the town’s financial troubles.

Profiles: Meet the candidates for supervisor

On the all-important issue of finances, Ms. DeVito is critical of the supervisor and his Plan B of potentially borrowing against town land at EPCAL to stave off a massive tax hike in 2015. But her only idea involves the unrealistic notion that a cash-strapped Suffolk County would fork over to Riverhead Town a portion of sales tax revenues collected within the town. While this might have been a handy sound bite when out knocking on doors, many in government recognize it would be next to impossible to achieve.

More than anything else, it’s Mr. Walter’s behavior, which at times can be smug and condescending, that makes him susceptible in this race.

While he admits to these faults — and even seems to embrace them, often speaking of “breaking eggs to make omelettes” — he’ll continue to be plagued by political onslaughts from all sides if he doesn’t learn how to speak to people with courtesy and respect.

Still, it’s hard to argue with his results. Since taking office in 2010, Mr. Walter has worked tirelessly to push legislation in Albany to help develop EPCAL, called on the state comptroller’s office to audit the town’s finances to improve its long-term financial health and has himself tried to attract new investors to a Main Street that’s on the upswing in no small part because of his efforts. With Gov. Cuomo’s signing of the EPCAL fast-track bill into law last week, it would seem Mr. Walter is just starting to hit his stride.

The jury is out, however. Main Street is still struggling. (And Ms. DeVito is right in saying the town needs to also focus on quality-of-life issues in surrounding areas, such as trouble-plagued Second and Third streets, and in neighboring Riverside.) EPCAL still sits undeveloped and the town faces a budget crisis and needs to find alternative sources of revenue, quickly. Even though it’s never seemed to be an outward priority of his administration, Mr. Walter should take his fighting spirit to the developers — whose main goals are always profit, often at taxpayer expense — to better protect the “small town” so many cherish here.

It’s not time to have someone else finish the job Mr. Walter started. He deserves another two years to advance his plans for the town.

10/25/13 12:51pm
10/25/2013 12:51 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Sean Walter and Angela DeVito on the Suffolk Theater stage.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Sean Walter and Angela DeVito on the Suffolk Theater stage.

Riverhead supervisor candidates Sean Walter, the incumbent Republican, and Angela DeVito, the challenging Democrat, took the stage on Thursday night at the Suffolk Theater for a debate co-sponsored by the Riverhead News-Review and RiverheadLocal.

The two answered questions about downtown, Enterprise Park at Calverton, Route 58 and more, even getting the chance to ask each other a question during the debate.

Check out their responses recorded here. And check back with us to check out video from the town board debate.

Candidates answer questions individually tailored to them:

Candidates speak about their vision for EPCAL: 

Candidates speak about their plans for avoiding a tax hike in coming years: 

Candidates on their plans for downtown: 

Closing statements: 

10/16/13 5:00pm
10/16/2013 5:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Supervisor candidate Angela DeVito was joined downtown Tuesday afternoon by town council candidate Bill Bianchi (left) and supporters. Ms. DeVito said the private sector is responsible for downtown’s resurgence, not politicians. Supervisor Sean Walter, in office since 2010, said he welcomes the criticism.

Democrats running for Riverhead Town Board seats say the incumbent Republicans don’t deserve credit for revitalizing downtown Riverhead, something Supervisor Sean Walter has frequently touted in his previous – and current – bid for re-election.

“The Sean Walter administration has made scant progress in efforts to improve downtown Riverhead,” Democratic supervisor candidate Angela DeVito said at a press conference Tuesday outside the former site of the Red Collection, which went out of business a couple of weeks ago. “What little progress has been made should be credited to town business leaders and not town government.”

Ms. DeVito was joined at the press conference by running mate Bill Bianchi, who is seeking a seat on the Town Board, and several supporters.

In a statement handed out at the event, Ms. DeVito said that “the opening of The Riverhead Project, reopening of the Suffolk Theater and the promotional activities of the Business Improvement District are the work of entrepreneurial business leaders and not Sean Walter or the lackluster Town Board.”

Mr. Walter saw it differently.

“If that’s what they want to campaign on, I welcome it,” he said in an interview. “Business owners are very happy with the help they got from my office to move things forward.”

He suggested talking to business owners such as Bob Castaldi of the Suffolk Theater, John Mantzopoulos of Athens Grill and Dennis McDermott of The Riverhead Project. All three have opened – or, in Mr. Mantzopolous’ case are reopening – since 2010, when Mr. Walter stepped into Town Hall.

“That’s nonsense,” Mr. Castaldi said of the Democrat’s claims. “When Cardinale was here, we went nowhere. When Walter came in, it was like somebody lifted a wet blanket off the town. There’s no question about it in my mind. When Cardinale was here we spun our wheels for three years.”

Former Democratic Supervisor Phil Cardinale had attempted to take back the Suffolk Theater through a reverter clause in the sales contract between the town and Mr. Castaldi. Mr. Castaldi then sued, the issue was tied up in court for several years and the restoration stalled.

Mr. Mantzopoulos, whose restaurant was badly damaged in a fire in July, said that a Town Board resolution to waive building fees for Athens Grill and the Rendezvous, which had a fire the same week, was approved by the Town Board — but not unanimously, as Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman Jim Wooten did not support the measure.

“There was a little opposition from two people, so I don’t know if you can put them all in the same box,” Mr. Mantzopoulos said in an interview Tuesday. “But overall, my personal experience is that the town government has been good to me. If there are state grants that I’m eligible for, they’ll notify me. I can’t really complain about Town Hall in the last four years.”

Mr. Mantzopoulos said he’s known Ms. DeVito for nine years and Mr. Walter for four.

“At the end of the day, they’re both good people and I wish them both luck,” he said.

Ms. DeVito said at the press conference that the Town Board should concentrate on things such as public safety and the condition of downtown sidewalks and businesses will come. She said the town still has police officers stationed outside the Suffolk Theater after shows and said town zoning allows areas such as Route 58 to kill downtown businesses.

“We need someone who is going to clean up Second and Third streets, and work with Southampton Town to clean up Riverside,” she said.

Mr. Bianchi said the revitalization of downtown “has a long way to go.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

10/10/13 4:30pm
10/10/2013 4:30 PM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, left and challenger Angela DeVito with moderator Sid Bail.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, left and challenger Angela DeVito with moderator Sid Bail.

When it came to issues like town finances, Route 58 planning, Town Board bickering, and redevelopment downtown and at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, Republican incumbents largely saw the glass half full at a candidates forum held in Calverton Wednesday night.

The Democratic challengers? Well, they saw the glass half empty.

The Greater Calverton Civic Association and the Wading River Civic Association sponsored the event at the Riley Avenue school in Calverton. Sid Bail of the Wading River Civic Association served as moderator.

Incumbent Republican Supervisor Sean Walter and council members John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio are being opposed by Democratic supervisor challenger Angela DeVito and council candidates Bill Bianchi and Millie Thomas.

Mr. Dunleavy was not present, due to a previously planned vacation.

Here’s what the rest of the candidates had to say about the issues:

TOWN FINANCES 

Mr. Walter said that when he took office four years ago, the town’s annual audits were many years behind. The town was bonding items that should have been funded by the general fund, it had no budget for road paving, and taxes were rising due to the debt associated with a failed landfill reclamation project, which has accounted for more than $4 million in debt service each year, he said.

Since then, he said the town has drastically cut its spending, the audits are caught up and the town is closing in on a plan to be able to sell land at EPCAL, which he feels will provide tax relief in the future.

“The revenue streams are trending in the right direction,” he said.

But Ms. DeVito said the town has been offsetting taxes with the use of about $3 million in surplus funds each year, and that money is close to running out.

She pointed out that a recent audit states that unless the town gets a big infusion of money by 2014, this approach “will result in a catastrophic tax increase in the next few years,” she said.

Mr. Walter said the landfill debt, which was accumulated by the previous administration, is the main reason for the town’s tax increases.

Ms. Thomas disagreed with the supervisor’s assessment of town financing.

“As far as I know, the town’s broke,” she said, adding that while downtown is improving it still needs to be revitalized.

Ms. Giglio says she’s saved the town $2 million by insisting that its garbage contract be put out to bid, and she initiated a phone audit that gained the town $75,000.

EPCAL

Ms. DeVito and the Democratic candidates said that while the EPCAL subdivision is close to happening, the redevelopment of EPCAL won’t bring the town any money until the land is actually sold.

“EPCAL still is pie in the sky until that first shovel goes in the ground,” Ms. DeVito said. “It could still blow up in our faces.”

Mr. Bianchi said he believes the town still needs to upgrade the sewer system and infrastructure at EPCAL, which could cost $40 million, and he says the industrial park at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton already has infrastructure and still hasn’t attracted many businesses.

Mr. Walter said he’s confident the lots at EPCAL will sell once the subdivision is approved. He said the town doesn’t need to sell all of the lots at once, since selling one or two per year will provide enough revenue to offset tax increases.

The state legislature has approved a proposal for development applications at EPCAL to be fast-tracked, so long as they meet criteria spelled out in the legislation, said Mr. Walter, who added that no other municipality in the state has such legislation.

But Ms. DeVito pointed out that the EPCAL legislation has not yet been signed into law by the governor.

TOWN BOARD BICKERING

Mr. Walter said people have criticized the all-Republican board for its infighting, but “the proof is in the pudding.” He said EPCAL, downtown and the town finances are improving under the current board, despite the fighting. The supervisor said that when Ms. Giglio first suggested trying to lure the Federal Aviation Administration’s new air traffic control center to EPCAL, he opposed it, but he says now it could be a reality.

“Don’t worry about us fighting,” he said. “It makes for good TV.”

Ms. DeVito said she’s heard from many people who don’t participate in government because “they are made to feel unwelcome and they don’t like the environment.”

Ms. Giglio, also said the board does fight a lot, but that they are a “spirited board” whose members come from diverse backgrounds. She said the board communicates with each other, debates issues and compromises.

ROUTE 58

The current condition of Route 58, where four large commercial projects have resulted in hundreds of acres of trees being cleared, was a topic where the Republicans acknowledged there were mistakes made, but vowed to correct them.

Democrats went on the attack.

“Route 58 looks like a war zone,” said Mr. Bianchi, who served 22 years in the state Assembly when he lived in Bellport. “It looks like Saudi Arabia, just a sea of sand.”

He said residents in Foxwood Village found their lives “partially destroyed” by the clearing near their homes.

“How anyone on the Town Board can allow that to happen boggles the mind,” Mr. Bianchi said. “Do you think East Hampton or Southampton would allow that to happen?”

Ms. Thomas said the town doesn’t need all the big box stores on Route 58, which are providing “minimum wage jobs” and not even increasing as much taxes as they should.

Mr. Walter and Ms. Giglio both argued that Route 58 does generate a lot of taxes for the town, and people’s tax bills would be a lot higher without that money.

Ms. DeVito said Route 58 stores are a major source of income tax revenue for Suffolk County, and the town doesn’t get any of that money. She feels the town should fight to get a bigger share of the income tax revenue it generates.

The town generates about $30 million in income tax revenue for the county, Mr. Walter said. But he feels it would be “pie in the sky” to think the county would give up that money.

As for the recent clearing on Route 58, the supervisor said the town Planning Board made a mistake and will fix it. But he said those boards are autonomous, and the Town Board can talk to them, but can’t tell them what to do.

tgannon@timesreview.com