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

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

09/18/13 6:00pm
09/18/2013 6:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A view of the Peconic Bay waterfront in Jamesport.

A proposal to limit home rentals in Riverhead Town for less than 30 days ran into some opposition at a public hearing Tuesday.

Some speakers said the limit will hurt the local economy, but town officials said that by renting homes in residential neighborhoods, homeowners are in effect operating a commercial venture while avoiding the state and county taxes that hotels and motels must pay. The legislation is also designed to prevent homes from becoming party houses on weekends.

“My biggest concern with the restrictions is the economic impact it will have on the North Fork,” said Simon Kahn, who said he has a house in Northville but doesn’t rent it.

Mr. Kahn said Long Island wineries attract more than a million people annually and many of the visitors to the North Fork  cannot procure short-term rentals, Mr. Kahn said.

“Many simply will not come, and that will have a far reaching economic impact,” he said.

Andrew Barrett of Aquebogue said short-term rentals create a homelike atmosphere for families.

“By staying in a house versus a hotel, these guests are able to be in a communal environment where they are not segregated into separate hotel rooms and can only gather in public places,” he said.

There are more than 8,000 such homes in New York and more than 300 on the North Fork, he said. President Barack Obama even stayed at a privately owned vacation home for a week on Martha’s Vineyard, and former President Clinton rented a home on the South Fork for two weeks, he said.

“They chose not to stay in hotels for the reasons I mentioned,” Mr. Barrett said.

Supervisor Sean Walter said President Clinton was in violation of Southampton’s regulations, since the proposal Riverhead is putting forward was taken from Southampton Town’s code.

“The issue for me is I wouldn’t want it next to me,” Mr. Walter told Mr. Barrett, who rents a home. “I’m choosing not to live next door to a commercial establishment. You’re a commercial establishment.”

The proposal defines transient as a rental period of 29 days or less and makes transient rentals of homes illegal.

Legally operating hotels, motels or bed and breakfasts are exempt from the proposed regulation.

The town proposed the regulations after hearing complaints from Aquebogue resident Ron Hariri, who said a home near him is constantly rented to multiple groups of people for one-night stays. He said there are issues with noise and security resulting from the house.

Amy Csorny of Wading River was the only speaker to support the proposal at Tuesday’s hearing. She said there are three rental houses on her block and they often leave their garbage out on Sunday night before heading back home. By Monday, animals throw the garbage all over the street before it can be picked up, she said.

Joe Stella of Aquebogue, who rents his house there, said the restriction should be on the number of people that can rent a home and not the number of days.

Mr. Walter said homeowners who do short-term rentals are essentially running a commercial business in a residential zone and questioned if they could even stay in business if they had to be pay the state and county hotel tax, as commercial establishments do.

Bruce Gephard, who rents a home in Aquebogue, said they’re addressing the wrong issue.

“This is not Hampton Bays,” he said. “Nobody is renting these houses to come here to party. Where would they party? There’s nowhere to party.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

08/29/13 8:00am
08/29/2013 8:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Apollo Real Estate Advisors has owned the Woolworth site since 2006 and may be in the process of getting it sold.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Woolworth site was one location Supervisor Sean Walter originally thought could work for a downtown movie theater.

Supervisor Sean Walter’s vision of a downtown Riverhead movie theater has gained little momentum as critics claim a Route 58 location would be more logical.

Mr. Walter said he still hopes to lure a movie theater downtown, but would be willing to consider alternate locations such as Route 58. He said he’s currently talking to representatives from two movie theater companies about coming to Riverhead but wasn’t optimistic.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence in getting one,” he said.

Councilmen John Dunleavy and George Gabrielsen said the idea of restricting a movie theater to only downtown Riverhead theater makes little sense.

They both said parking in downtown would be a problem. A theater would require 1,200 parking spaces, Mr. Dunleavy said, while there are only 500 currently downtown.

Mr. Gabrielsen said it’s all about location.

“We’ve really got to get that archaic idea of a downtown movie theater out of our heads,” Mr. Gabrielsen said.

Mr. Walter tried to lure Regal Cinemas to the former Woolworth building on East Main Street in 2011 before the deal fell apart in early 2012. One of the companies he’s speaking with now owns the Movieland Cinema on Route 112 in Coram, he said. The other “is a spinoff of one of the large cinema groups,” he said, although he declined to identify it.

“I’m trying to bring them here, the problem is, we’re not getting a lot of traction because that business seems to be a dying business,” Mr. Walter said.

With Regal, Mr. Walter insisted on trying to get the company downtown instead of Route 58, a preferred destination for theater companies.

Now he’s softened that stance because space in downtown may be  filling up with other uses, he said.

The Woolworth building, which Mr. Walter said was ideal for a theater, is now being developed with a gym, retail stores and apartments. The supervisor said the only property left that might be big enough for a theater is the former Sears building, but apartments are also being proposed for that building.

“I would much rather it be on Main Street, but if Main Street fills up, obviously I’m not going to lock them out if someone wants to bring one to Route 58,” Mr. Walter said.

Sheldon Gordon, a principal in Riverhead Enterprises, the company that owns the Sear’s building, said they tried to contact some movie theater companies about coming downtown, but the companies haven’t gotten back to them.

Mr. Walter acknowledged it’s beneficial for a movie theater to be in a commercial shopping center.

“[Theaters] don’t generate enough money to pay what other businesses pay, but shopping center owners like movie theaters because they are anchors and they bring hordes of people to the shopping center.”

A zoning change would be required for a movie theater to open on Route 58. In 2004 the Town Board voted to eliminate movie theaters as a permitted use on Route 58 in an effort to lure a theater downtown.

Mr. Walter said none of the theater companies he’s talked to recently have insisted on going on Route 58, but if one did, “it would be something we’d have to consider,” he said.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she would support a Route 58 theater if the developer agreed to put a smaller theater downtown, something a company she’s spoken with — but didn’t identify — has suggested.

Mr. Dunleavy suggested a movie theater near The All Star bowling alley, which is technically on Route 25.

One way or another, downtown wouldn’t work for a theater, Mr. Gabrielsen said.

“It’s got everything going against it,” he said. “I can’t see it happening. Unless you open up Route 58, you’re never going to get a movie theater.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

08/20/13 2:30pm
08/20/2013 2:30 PM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO |

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Riverhead Police Department’s newest ATV was unveiled today. On hand were: (from left) Town Councilman John Dunleavy, DA Thomas Spota, Police Chief David Hegermiller, PBA President Dixon Palmer, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, Police Officer John Morris, Councilman George Gabrielsen, PBA Vice President Christopher Parkin, Councilman Jim Wooten and Supervisor Sean Walter.

The Riverhead Police Department’s latest addition started at a fundraiser for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota two years ago.

Riverhead police officer Charles Cichanowicz was in charge of patrolling Iron Pier Beach, but was frustrated by having to drive back to police headquarters to pick up the department’s all-terrain vehicle when it was needed. He pitched an idea to Mr. Spota: use money seized from criminals in police raids to help the police department buy new ATVs and sheds to store them.

This summer, the county delivered. Riverhead police have been using the new ATV — worth about $6,000 — since June and it has already had a noticeable impact on how well the police can patrol the beaches and assist those in need, said Supervisor Sean Walter.

“We do beach patrols during the summertime so we’re really happy the DA provided us the money for the two sheds,” Mr. Walter said in an interview last week. ”It’s very helpful because it increases the protection on the beach. We used to get a lot of complaints.”

Police officer and Police Benevolent Association vice president Christopher Parkin said the shed and new ATV allows police officers to respond to emergencies on the beach faster. It used to take police about 20 minutes to return to base, pick up the ATVs using a trailer and return to the scene on the beach, town officials said. Now, police can respond in minutes.

“These are live-saving instruments,” Mr. Parkin said. “That time can be the difference between life and death.”

The two new sheds purchased using the asset forfeiture funds have been installed at Wading River and Iron Pier beaches.

Mr. Spota, who was at Iron Pier beach Tuesday with the Town Board and police officials, said he would expedite a request to get Riverhead police a second, new ATV. The police plan to then donate one of their older vehicles to the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

psquire@timesreview.com

08/14/13 11:30am
08/14/2013 11:30 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO  |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO  |  Weeping Willow Park will open Friday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The long planned Weeping Willow Park will officially open Friday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 1 p.m., Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter announced.

The park sits on the site of the former Weeping Willow Motel on West Main Street, which had been there for 58 years until the town purchased the property in 2009 for $1.25 million to transform the half-acre site into a park. The demolition of the building was delayed until 2011 because asbestos had to be removed, and earlier this year, the opening was delayed further by vandals driving on the grass.

In addition to creating a park with a canoe and kayak launching area, the removal of the motel also had benefits, Mr. Walter said.

“The project has removed a blighting influence in the downtown Riverhead business district and eliminated the significant discharge of wastewater and runoff from the site into the Peconic River,” he said.

Cornell Cooperative Extension provided picnic tables, trash receptacles and signage to the park through its “Creating Healthy Places in Suffolk County” grant awarded by the New York State Department of Health, according to Susan Wilk, Cornell’s  Creating Healthy Places in Suffolk County Coordinator.

The town purchased the property using money from the Community Preservation Fund, which comes from a voter-approved two-percent real estate transfer tax.

The town also received a $500,000 state Environmental Protection Fund grant for the project in 2007.

tgannon@timesreview.com