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.