Republican supervisor showdown called off

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman Jim Wooten pose for a photo after last month's sit-down in Wading River to discuss their differences.

Riverhead Councilman James Wooten informed GOP leaders Friday that he would be standing down from his bid to unseat sitting supervisor and fellow Republican Sean Walter in November.

In an email issued Friday night to the Riverhead Republican Committee — less than a week before the party’s nominating convention tonight, Thursday — Mr. Wooten said he would instead run for a second four-year term as councilman.
“As a lifelong Republican, I have been dedicated to the ideals and the platform that our party stands for, and was gratified to hear the same from so many of you as I spoke with you individually,” Mr. Wooten wrote.

A press release issued Saturday by Mr. Wooten’s campaign manager, Jim Teese, said the councilman looked forward to a “Republican sweep in the November elections,” at which three of five Town Board seats, including the supervisor position, will be up for grabs.

Last month, criticizing Mr. Walter on certain issues — such as the supervisor’s handling of town dog shelter issues — and questioning his leadership skills, Mr. Wooten announced he would be seeking the GOP nomination over Mr. Walter to run for the town’s highest office.

He then agreed to meet with party leaders to discuss a possible compromise.

In turn, Mr. Walter targeted Mr. Wooten’s track record during the councilman’s four-year term, saying he had not accomplished much, and said the councilman’s indecisiveness of whether he wanted to run for supervisor or a council seat showed he wasn’t ready to lead.

But if the committee nominated Mr. Walter for supervisor, the councilman could have found himself off the GOP slate entirely.

Mr. Wooten addressed in his letter to the committee Friday the heated and very public back-and-forth between he and the supervisor. “The ‘bomb-throwing’ and ‘in-fighting’ must subside so we may harness that energy to deal with the opposition in November,” he wrote.

Republican Committee chairman John Galla, who played a central role in mediating the internal spat, said the resolution came as a product of constant communication between both parties.

“There wasn’t a day in the last few weeks where we weren’t talking to all the players in this thing,” he said.

Mr. Galla, who had organized a meeting with Mr. Walter and Mr. Wooten days after Mr. Wooten announced his intentions to run for supervisor last month, said a party primary, which he described as “mortal political combat,” would have been a blow to the party’s efforts in November.

“These last few weeks was a speed bump,” he said. “It wasn’t a brick wall or a pothole; we didn’t break an axle. We kept on talking.”
No political concessions were made to reach an agreement, Mr. Galla insisted. “There was never any discussions like, ‘Give me your support on this and I’ll do that,’ ” he said. “There was none of that.”

Mr. Wooten’s decision came just days before his chief political fundraiser Monday, the annual “Rootin’ for Wooten” golf outing at The Woods at Cherry Creek golf course in Riverhead. Political insiders had been saying it would be a challenge for Mr. Wooten to raise money if potential donors weren’t sure if he would even be running on a major party line.

Below is Mr. Wooten’s letter to the Republican committee, in its entirety:

Before our town convention this coming week – and before anything goes to the media — I wanted to take a moment to thank every member of the committee for their kind attention and the encouraging support I received after the screenings for our 2011 Republican slate.

As I said at the time, it has been an honor and a privilege to serve my hometown of Riverhead as Councilman for the past four years.  We have achieved a great deal, but much more needs to be done.  It was in that perspective that I asked you to consider a candidacy for Supervisor.  My intention, then and now, was an endeavor to strengthen our party.

As a lifelong Republican, I have been dedicated to the ideals and the platform that our party stands for – and was gratified to hear the same from so many of you as I spoke with you individually.  After truly listening to you, and reviewing our party’s challenges this November, I believe I can best serve our common interests by seeking re-election as Councilman.  I hope you will continue to grant me the support and friendship you have expressed during this process.

Much has been said about our town government in general, and the Town Board specifically, which Town Chairman John Galla has aptly described as a “no-rubber-stamp Town Board.”  In good conscience, I believe we must put aside personal feelings to ensure the best results for the GOP in what could be a difficult election season.

At this time, it’s important that we all stand together over the next few months and truly lead this town.  The ‘bomb-throwing’ and ‘in-fighting’ must subside so we may harness that energy to deal with the opposition in November.  Together with my Board colleagues, I look forward to returning to the Council to ensure our ability to realize our vision for the future of Riverhead.

I have worked hard to represent my hometown and our Republican Party with dignity and respect for our ideas and our ideals.  It has been a pleasure to forge many new relationships in government, friendships and relationships I will try and use to improve the Town for all of us, and for future generations.  Along the way, I will strive to be a voice of reason… even when things seem unreasonable.

While some of us disagreed about policies or the political process, I appreciated all of our conversations.  For the many of you who offered your support for my leadership, I remain grateful.

Again, I cannot thank all of you enough for your honesty and courtesy.

I look forward to seeking and receiving your designation for Town Council at the convention.  And I promise to work hard to represent you, the Party, and all the residents of Riverhead.


Jim Wooten