Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter says he and Councilman James Wooten, a fellow Republican, will be huddling with Riverhead Republican Party leaders Tuesday evening in an attempt to “work out our differences,” and avoid a scenario where Mr. Wooten would try to unseat the sitting supervisor in a party primary.
“We’ll get through it,” Mr. Walter told the News-Review Monday, adding that the political challenge from the councilman stems from more than personality conflicts, as others on the board told the paper.
“I think there are forces [within the Riverhead Republican Committee] that are wreaking some havoc,” he said. “But we’ll get through it. We’re having a meeting and I think our executive committee is going to try to work through those issues.”
Mr. Wooten could not be reached for comment Monday, but over the weekend emailed the News-Review saying he would be scheduling a press conference to announce his intention to run for supervisor, “possibly Tuesday afternoon.”
Mr. Walter said the Republican meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The Republican group’s leader, John Galla, has not been available for comment.
“[Mr. Galla] is working hard to try to resolve these issues and I think he’s going to be able to do it,” Mr. Walter said.
Mr. Wooten, a retired Riverhead Police officer, was elected to the Town Board in 2007. His four-year term expires this year.
Mr. Walter, a lawyer and former Riverhead Conservative Party chairman, was elected to a two-year term in 2009 along with three other Republicans, making for an all-Republican Town Board.
Councilmembers George Gabrielsen and John Dunleavy, who were reached by phone Monday, both theorized that the potential political challenge stems from personality conflicts between the two men.
“Wooten’s a nice guy and he’s very community minded but I really don’t know where he’s coming from,” Mr. Gabrielsen said. “I think we got some really good projects moving forward with the supervisor and you have to put personality aside. I’m 110 percent behind Sean. I have nothing bad to say about Wooten. I’m just puzzled; I don’t have a clue what he’s thinking. I think personalities is what’s driving this. It’s almost bizarre to me.
“Believe me,” he continued. “Sean and I got at it sometimes, but the next day we’ll talk and we’ll get back [to work].”
Mr. Dunleavy said Mr. Walter’s management style can be off-putting. He also blamed the supervisor for a lack of leadership skills required to build more consensus on the current board — whose members have often disagreed loudly and publicly over issues — and said the supervisor also resorts to threats and scare tactics with board members.
‘Last week, he got mad at me and came into my office and said some threatening words to me,” Mr. Dunleavy said when pressed for details. “And I looked at him, and said, ‘What the hell did I do now?’ I had to talk to him after, when he was calmed down. As long as you haven’t done anything wrong he shouldn’t be able to come in and give you any threatening words, which he does. And I think that’s immaturity.”
When told of Mr. Dunleavy’s remarks, Mr. Walter described the board’s dynamics as being split, with Mr. Dunleavy and Mr. Wooten, —who served together under a former Democratic supervisor Phil Cardinale — often voting together on controversial issues, and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Mr. Gabrielsen often voting the other way.
“I’m the swing vote,” he said. “But I don’t know what John Dunleavy’s saying. We’ve built consensus on many different things. With the previous board, it was paralysis by analysis. We chart a path once we build a consensus of three votes. I told the board, we make a decision and move on. Sometimes the other board members are not happy because they don’t have the votes. In my opinion it’s better to make a decision and move forward than not make a decision at all.”
As for Mr. Dunleavy’s statement that Mr. Walter has threatened him, the supervisor said he’s “not threatening him.”
“In my family when you raised your voice; it was wasn’t a really a big deal,” Mr. Walter said. “But some families, if you raise your voices people think you’re angry or mad. I like to project. “
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, reached Monday afternoon, declined to offer specific comments on a potential primary.
“This is between party leaders and between my colleagues,” said Ms. Giglio. “Whatever comes out of this will, hopefully, be in the best interest of the taxpayers.”
Meanwhile, both the Democratic and Republican parties are getting ready to screen potential candidates for this year’s local elections.
Democratic chairman Vinny Villella said the GOP’s infighting could work to his party’s favor in November.
“It depends on how it plays out,” he said. “If Wooten gets the GOP [nomination] and Sean goes third-party line then I’m sure that would help us.”