Smiles — but no answers — after meeting of GOP rivals

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman James Wooten smiled and posed for photos after their meeting Tuesday night.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman James Wooten — fellow Republicans who could end up squaring off in a party primary this year — met for an hour Tuesday evening with town GOP leaders in an attempt to settle their feud.

Mr. Wooten said the meeting “went well” but he’s going to need up to 24 hours to let the party know if he’s going to make a run at the supervisor seat or go for a second councilman term.

“We talked about some commonalities we have,” Mr. Wooten said. “And we talked about what a primary would do and what could happen politically in the infighting. There was a couple of good suggestions made.

“I told them I would need at least 24 hours to decide what I would be doing.”

Republicans start screening for candidates on Thursday.

“We met as gentleman and we worked out some of our differences,” Republican Committee Chairman John Galla, who had not yet spoken to the media since Mr. Wooten’s announcement this weekend, said after the meeting. “We’ll have to take it from here.”

But the men did seem amiable as they posed for photos with a News-Review photographer inside Mr. Walter’s law offices in Wading River, where the meeting was held.

“Can we use these for the campaign?” Mr. Walter joked.

The trio was joined about 30 minutes into the 6:15 p.m. meeting by Republican Committee Vice Chairman George Harkin.

During that time, it was observed from outside the building that Mr. Galla did most of the talking and gesturing.

“There will an be announcement in the next 12 to 24 hours; that’s all I’m saying,” Mr. Walter said after the meeting.

On Monday, the supervisor expressed confidence the two men would work through their differences.

“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.”

Reached hours before Tuesday night’s meeting, Mr. Wooten didn’t seem so sure.

“I don’t really see much coming from this meeting,” he said. “My compulsion for this whole thing is I think Riverhead can do better. I see this dysfunctional board, which I think hinders government. I’ve always been a Republican and I certainly support the committee but I’m trying to do this the right way and convince others there’s other choices in government besides the incumbent all the time.”

Mr. Wooten, a retired Riverhead Police officer, was elected to the Riverhead 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. Members of the resulting all-Republican Town Board has since been involved in a string of public arguments over controversial issues.

Mr. Wooten had 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.”

But that event appeared to be called off in favor of the meeting in Wading River.

Mr. Walter said Monday that the Republican leader, Mr. Galla, “is working hard to try to resolve these issues. And I think he’s going to be able to do it.”

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Additional reporting by Barbaraellen Koch and Tim Gannon.