05/13/14 5:42pm
05/13/2014 5:42 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO  |  Riverhead Republicans celebrate their victorious sweep Election night in downtown Riverhead. From left: committee chairman Mason Haas, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman John Dunleavy.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Republicans celebrate their victorious sweep Election night in downtown Riverhead. From left: committee chairman Mason Haas, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman John Dunleavy.

Riverhead Republican Committee chairman Mason Haas has retained legal counsel and is asking WRIV 1390 radio to save a copy of an interview Republican Town Supervisor Sean Walter did with the station Friday for “possible litigation” against Mr. Walter, according to Mr. Haas and WRIV general manager Bruce Tria. (more…)

03/27/14 5:15pm
03/27/2014 5:15 PM
Councilman John Dunleavy (left) and Sean Walter at a recent work session. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Councilman John Dunleavy (left) and Sean Walter at a recent work session. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

“This board tore each other apart for the last two years on petty issues. And the lack of caucuses allowed that to happen.”

That’s how Riverhead Republican committee leader Mason Haas explained why he believes Riverhead Town Board members, all Republicans, need to meet in twice-monthly political caucus meetings — which are closed to the public.


10/22/13 5:56pm
10/22/2013 5:56 PM
COURTESY PHOTO | Supervisor candidate Angela DeVito (center) and other Democratic town candidates and supporters at the Costo site Tuesday morning.

COURTESY PHOTO | Supervisor candidate Angela DeVito (center) and other Democratic town candidates and supporters at the Costo site Tuesday morning.

A week after the Democratic candidates for Riverhead Town Board held a press conference criticizing the incumbent Republican board members on downtown issues, they held a press conference criticizing the Republicans over Route 58 issues.

Democrats Angela DeVito, Millie Thomas and Bill Bianchi called development on Route 58 “an economic, environmental and quality-of-life disaster,” and said the road should be renamed Sean Walter Way, after the incumbent supervisor, who is being challenged by Ms. DeVito.

The press conference was held outside Millbrook Community, a manufactured home park off Mill Road that abuts the Shops at Riverhead development, which will have a Costco Wholesale as its anchor store. The Shops at Riverhead developers were allowed by the town to clear-cut 41 acres right up to the property lines of the neighboring Millbook and Foxwood Village communities.

“Riverhead is the poorest town on the East End, with the highest debt and the taxes that just keep going up year after year,” Ms. DeVito said. “With this amount of commercial development, you’d think there would be a sufficient tax base to prevent the huge tax hike Walter now threatens. Mismanagement has become Walter’s ‘way of doing business.”

“Didn’t they already have this press conference?” Mr. Walter later responded in an interview, noting the Democratic candidates protested the Shops at Riverhead development just three weeks ago, joining neighoring residents for a rally.

Mr. Walter pointed out that just last week the Town Board adopted a code amendment that will fix the problems at The Shops at Riverhead by requiring a 50-foot natural buffer be planted between the development and neighboring homes. And, he said, the town’s budget problems were caused by the previous Democratic administration, during which a landfill reclamation project failed. The town is still paying more than $4 million per year in debt service from that project.

The Shops at Riverhead site plan, which called for the clear cutting of all vegetation, was approved by the town Planning Board last year, but the actual clearing permit was issued by the Town Board.

“I think the majority of the residents are going to be happy with the size and the scope of the berm,” Mr. Walter said. “The issue is over.”

In addition to Mr. Walter, the Republicans are running incumbents Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy for council.

Mr. Walter said “there’s obviously things that happened that the town has had to correct,” concerning the clear cutting. “We saw the problem, we corrected the problem, and now it’s time to move forward. It appears to me that Ms. DeVito really has nothing to say, and now she just keeps saying the same thing over and over.”

Ms. DeVito said she believes there’s “clear evidence that Riverhead residents are fed up with Sean Walter and his cronies. Last year he lost his bid for election to the Suffolk County Legislature [to Al Krupski] by a two-to-one margin.

“He didn’t even win his home district of Wading River.”


09/18/13 7:50am
09/18/2013 7:50 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO  |  Mason Haas in his office in Town Hall.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Mason Haas in his office in Town Hall.

Mason Haas was elected chairman of the Riverhead Republican Committee Tuesday night at Polish Hall, succeeding John Galla, who has held the post since March 2011 and did not seek re-election.

Mr. Haas is an elected town assessor and a member of the Jamesport Fire Department. He is also a former chief of the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

He defeated former GOP chairman Martin Keller by a slightly more than 2-to-1 margin in terms of gubernatorial votes. In this type of election, each committee member’s vote represents the specific number of the registered Republican voters from each election district who participated in the last gubernatorial election. The final tally Tuesday night was 2,255 to 1,119.

“I’m very pleased and honored that they gave me the opportunity to serve as leader,” Mr. Haas said. “We have a totally new executive committee and we’re going in a new direction.”

Mr. Haas chose former town councilman Vic Prusinowski as committee vice chair, Tammy Robinkoff as treasurer and Tracy Stark-James as secretary. Ms. Stark-James is the executive director of the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency and also serves as president of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce.

“I believe the committee has lacked structure, and that’s what I plan on putting in place,” Mr. Haas continued. “We have a lot of very dedicated committee members and we have some divisiveness. I plan on reaching out and bringing them together.”

Mr. Keller, who was a Riverhead Republican Committee chairman for about two years before stepping down in 2009 following the death of his son, said the main reason he sought to run for chairman this year was his belief that an elected official should not serve as chairman of a political committee — or be on party’s executive committee at all.

“I really strongly believe that elected officials do not belong on the executive board,” Mr. Keller said in an interview. “To me, that’s a conflict of interest and even though the town ethics board doesn’t prevent it, it should. Conflicts of interest can definitely arise, so why put ourselves in that position?”

Mr. Haas heard similar criticism during the recent Republican primary campaign from Anthony Coates, who ran a primary challenge for council and lost to party designees Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy, but said he doesn’t think there is any conflict of interest between his elected position and his position with the committee.

He said the argument that an assessor can alter someone’s taxes if they don’t back him or his candidates is not true.

“It’s illegal, I would go to jail and I would be brought up on charges by the state,” Mr. Haas said. “The taxpayers can rest assured, from my history with the town and my community service, that I’ve always acted in the best interests of the town and will continue to do so.”

Mr. Haas was also active in the fight to rid the downtown Riverhead area of the county’s homeless sex offender trailer that had been parked at the county jail.


06/18/13 6:06pm
06/18/2013 6:06 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Riverhead Republican nominees, from left,

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Republican nominees, from left, Mike Panchak, Laverne Tennenberg, John Dunleavy, Sean Walter, Anthony Palumbo and Jodi Giglio.

Anthony Coates, who’s running a primary for a Riverhead council seat, is accusing town Republican committee leadership of threatening members who carry nominating petitions for him.

Candidates in Riverhead Town need signatures from 380 registered Republicans in order to get on the primary ballot.

A letter from recently appointed Riverhead Republican vice chairman Mason Haas, which was sent to committee members and forwarded to the media by Mr. Coates, reads as follows:

“As per the Chairperson, all committee members are reminded that they are only to carry the petitions of those nominated by the committee. Anyone doing otherwise would face disciplinary actions by the county committee. Along with possible dismissal as a committee person.”

Ms. Haas confirmed he sent the letter, and said his comments reflect a policy of the county Republican committee.

But Suffolk County Republican chairman John Jay LaValle said in an interview Tuesday that this isn’t exactly the case.

“It’s not necessarily true that if a committee member is supporting one Republican over another Republican that this would be an actionable situation,” Mr. LaValle said. “If a committee person was carrying the petitions of a Democrat, or member of some other party running against our party, that would clearly be actionable.”

“Actionable” could mean that person’s removal from the committee, he said, adding that while it would be “frowned upon” for a committee member to carry petitions against the committee’s candidates, it wouldn’t necessarily involve disciplinary procedures.

But Mr. Coates says this is the type of thing he’s running against.

“Did that really come from Republican headquarters? Or was it Berlin 1941?” Mr. Coates wrote in a letter to local media.

The Republicans nominated incumbents John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio for the council seats, and Mr. Coates, who changed his registration to Republican only last year, is running a primary for one of those seats.

Mr. Coates says he began collecting signatures on June 4, the first day petition forms were available from the Board of Elections, and now has more than 500 signatures.

The Republican committee leaders, on the other hand, were “a little late” in handing out their petitions due to “unforeseen circumstances” and didn’t start until this week, according to town GOP chairman John Galla.

He said they usually hand out the petitions at their annual golf tournament, but that was rained out. In addition, he said, the petitions they received from Suffolk County didn’t have the voter enrollment books attached.

Mr. Coates called the delay in gathering signatures for nominees “sheer laziness” on the part of Republican leadership.

“This is an example of the type of complacency and right of entitlement and taking the voters for granted that I’m running against,” he said. “I want to be represented in Town Hall by the person who does their homework first. This is a metaphor for how they will govern.”

Petition signatures are dated and, under Board of Elections rules, if someone signs Mr. Coates’ petition first and then signs the Republican committee’s petition, which includes the names of all candidates nominated for town office, then the signatures on the second petition could be challenged and possibly thrown out, as least for the council nominees. In effect, although nominees for other offices would be unaffected, neither of the Republican council nominees (Mr. Dunleavy and Ms. Giglio) would receive credit for that signature because it would be unclear which of them the signer intended to support.

The BOE says they would only review such discrepancies if someone raised a challenge.

Because of this, Mr. Coates said, both Mr. Dunleavy and Supervisor Sean Walter are carrying blank petitions with only their own names on them, so they won’t be thrown out if the signer also signed Mr. Coates’ petition.

Mr. Walter gave a different story. He said he is carrying the petitions of the Conservative party, which endorsed the entire Republican slate except Ms. Giglio.

In order to carry petitions, one must be a registered member of the party for whom they are collecting petitions, or a notary public. Mr. Walter, a registered Republican, said he is also a notary.

Mr. Dunleavy also denied carrying petitions with only his name on it, but said he considered carrying petitions for the entire Republican slate with Ms. Giglio’s name whited out, but decided not to when he learned that these petitions would be counted separately from those with the full committee slate.

Mr. Dunleavy said he is now carrying just the petitions of the full Republican slate.

“He just wants to stir the pot,” he said of Mr. Coates.

Mr. Dunleavy said Tuesday that he only began collecting petitions Monday, in his own neighborhood. He said he knocked on two doors and both people said they had already signed Mr. Coates’ petition.

He got into a lengthy discussion about a town issue with one of the residents, he said, and had to go to a town function after that, so he never got any further.

“It’s harder to collect petitions when you’re in office,” he said, because of the town issues that need attention.


05/11/13 2:00pm
05/11/2013 2:00 PM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Board members (from left) Jim Wooten, John Dunleavy, Supervisor Sean Walter, Jodi Giglio and George Gabrielsen.

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Board members (from left) Jim Wooten, John Dunleavy, Supervisor Sean Walter, Jodi Giglio and George Gabrielsen.

Riverhead Town’s Democrats and Republicans will host their candidate nominating conventions at the same time in Polish Town later this month.

The Republican convention will be held at 7 p.m. May 23 in Polish Hall on Marcy Avenue, according to committee chairman John Galla. The Democrats will be at the VFW hall on Parkway Street, where it intersects with Hamilton Avenue, according to Democratic chair Marge Acevedo.

“It’s like the Yankees and Mets having home games on the same night,” Mr. Galla said.

The Repubicans hold all five Town Board seats but those incumbents are being challenged from within. Councilman James Wooten and town assessor Mason Haas are both challenging incumbent Sean Walter for the supervisor nomination, and incumbent council members John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio are being challenged by Anthony Coates, who has been an advisor to Mr. Walter. Mr. Coates has publicly supported Mr. Dunleavy, while criticizing Ms. Giglio.

The Democrats, meanwhile, have not released the names of any of the people they’ve screened, although some names have leaked out. In the supervisor race, Ann Cotten-Degrasse, the current president of the Riverhead Board of Education and a retired teacher and union president, has confirmed that she has screened for the position. Former Riverhead school board president Angela DeVito has already set up a campaign committee for her supervisor run.

In other town races, incumbent Democratic Highway Superintendent George “Gio” Woodson is up for reelection this fall, and the Republicans have screened Mike Panchak, who owns an asphalt company. He and Mr. Woodson are members of the Riverhead Fire Department.

The only other town seat up for reelection is the assessor seat currently held by Republican Laverne Tennenberg.


03/28/13 8:00am
03/28/2013 8:00 AM
George Harkin in Wading River

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | George Harkin in Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter’s law offices in Wading River in April 2011.

The Riverhead Republican Committee’s longtime vice chairman has had to resign from both that position and the Republican committee itself as a result of a new job he’s taken.

George Harkin, who has been a committee member or alternate member for at least 16 years and has been vice chairman of the committee for more than five years, submitted his resignation last week after taking a position in the state attorney general’s office.

“I took a new job in the attorney general’s office and there is a prohibition about being on a political party committee,” he said.

In his previous job as a principal law assistant for a state Court of Claims judge, he could not be chairman of a political committee, but he could serve on the committee and as vice chair.

Asked if he would still be able to work behind the scenes, but not as a committee member, Mr. Harkin said, “There are certain things you can do within the bounds of the job, because you still have rights as a citizen. As long as I stay in those bounds I will be OK, but I can’t be a committeeman or an officer of a party.”

“This is big loss,” said Republican committee chairman John Galla. “There’s no question, George’s talents and experience were second to none. I relied heavily on George.”

Mr. Galla said that, traditionally, the committee chair picks the vice chair, so Mr. Galla is searching for a new vice chair.

He said the position will probably be filled at the committee’s next meeting sometime in mid-April.


08/14/12 2:55pm
08/14/2012 2:55 PM


Days after Riverhead Republicans picked Laurie Zaneski as their candidate for tax receiver in this November’s special election, the Democrats on Monday tapped former assessor Robert Gottschalk of Wading River to run against her.

Except it won’t Republican vs. Democrats on the ballot.

That’s because both town parties missed the July 12 deadline for constituted parties to get their nominating petitions in.

The seat they are seeking to fill was vacated by longtime tax receiver Mary Ann Heilbrunn, who resigned June 30.

Had she resigned on July 6 or later, the parties would have been able to get a certificate of nomination to put someone on the ballot without petitions.

But since they didn’t meet that deadline, both parties have developed independent lines to run their candidates on, since independent party petitions have until Aug. 21.

So the Republican candidate, Ms. Zaneski, will be running on the the “Riverhead Taxpayers First” line and the Democrat, Mr. Gottschalk, a former town assessor, will be running on the “Riverhead Taxpayers United” line.

Mr. Gottschalk, 56, was appointed to a one-year term as town assessor in 1998 after Leroy Barnes resigned but lost the following election to Paul Leszcynski. He also unsuccessfully ran for assessor in 2007.

Mr. Gottschalk has lived in Wading River for more than 30 years, and has a background in computers, accounting and real estate.  He’s also worked for many years as a business representative and fund administrator for a projectionists’ union.

He’s also a former president of the Polish Town Civic Association and a member of the Wading River Civic Association. he also served as chairman of the Riverhead Democratic committee in 1994 and 1995.

“He’s a tremendous candidate,” said Riverhead Democratic Committee chairman Vinny Villella. “He was a great assessor and he’ll be a great receiver of taxes.”