Three screen with GOP in hopes of replacing Wooten

If Councilman Jim Wooten earns the Republican nod for town supervisor, or falls off the ticket altogether, someone will need to fill his spot as councilman on the GOP slate in November.

On Thursday, three potential candidates stepped forward to screen for that opportunity.

The Riverhead Republican Committee met with a total of five Town Board candidates Thursday at the American Legion, including Mr. Wooten — who will have to fight to run for reelection as councilman if he fails to win the supervisor nod over incumbent Sean Walter — and George Gabrielsen, whose term also expires this year.

The three challengers who screened Thursday are Brian Mills, a financial adviser from Wading River who heads the Riverhead Republican Club; former deputy town attorney Mary Hartill of Wading River; and Bob Weir of Baiting Hollow, a marketing and design firm owner who screened for a Republican council nomination in 2009 as well.

Mr. Wooten said that although he screened to maintain his council seat, he still has his eye on the supervisor’s office.

“I’m seeking the nomination for supervisor,” he reiterated.

Mr. Wooten said he received applause from the Republican committee after he addressed them Thursday night.

Mr. Walter, meanwhile, has said that if Mr. Wooten doesn’t get the committee’s nod for supervisor, he shouldn’t be considered for the council seat either.

Mr. Walter said before the screenings that Mr. Wooten might have trouble running on his record as a Town Board member.

“He’s had one signature issue for 3 1/2 years, and that’s the animal shelter,” Mr. Walter said.

In addition to Mr. Walter and Mr. Wooten, a third candidate, former Conservative Party leader Warren McKnight, screened for the Republican Supervisor nod Thursday night.

The Republican chair, John Galla, said the event, which was unprecedented in the local GOP group because it was open to all committee members, went smoothly without any yelling or shouting. He said a lot of tough questions were asked of those who wish to seek office.

Now, he said, it’s up to those who were screened to lobby individual committee members — some of whom have more gubernatorial votes than others — through phone, email or in-person before the May 11 nominating convention at the Elks Lodge on West Main Street.

What will happen to Mr. Wooten if he fails to win the supervisor nomination is still up in the air.

Mr. Galla admitted that much of what happens with Mr. Wooten will have to do with the order of which positions are voted on by the 40 committee members. If the group votes on the councilman nominations first, Mr. Wooten would have to step aside if he’s seeking the supervisor nomination. And if he doesn’t get the supervisor vote, he could be off the ticket.

“All I can say to you is,” Mr. Galla said, when asked about the order, which has not been determined. “I want to do what’s going to be the fairest thing. We’re obviously going to have to research our bylaws. And if there’s any sensitive questions, I would be the first one to say that it might be a long convention. It could be really contentious…it might be  long and cumbersome night. It might be a long eventing. But so be it.”

Reached by phone Friday, Mr. Mills, one of those who screened for councilman, acknowledged that his fate and all those who screened is tied to Mr. Wooten.

“Everything would depend on what happens with Jim,” he said. “And Jim’s a great guy as well. And I said to him, ‘I really believe you have what’s best for the town at heart.’ And I told him, ‘If you were to end up as the nominee for council, I obviously would support you. I wouldn’t run a primary.”

Democratic chairman Vinny Villella said his party won’t begin screening candidates for two more weeks.

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TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | John Galla (left) and Councilman George Gabrielsen after Mr. Galla was elected Republican chairman last month.

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