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.