Five candidates are competing for two four-year terms in this at-large election.
Incumbent councilmen George Gabrielsen and James Wooten, both Republicans, are dedicated Town Board members who are responsive to their constituents and take their respective committee and department liaison work seriously.
Mr. Gabrielsen, who was elected in November 2009 and took office immediately to fill the remaining 2 1/2 years of former councilman Tim Buckley’s term, is a fiscal conservative who hasn’t been afraid to call out the supervisor, a fellow Republican, or other board members or employees when he suspects taxpayer money is being misused.
Despite his governing philosophies, he doesn’t lose sight of the things that are worth funding during a down economy, such as town parks, ball fields and playgrounds.
With his help, the multipurpose fields at Stotzky Park were finally rebuilt this year and are now open to youth leagues. And during a trip to the ongoing Calverton ball fields project, he recognized that a large portion of land there is ideal for soccer fields; the land just needed to be mowed down and striped. A contract has been awarded for work on gravel parking and road improvements at the Calverton park, but issues with the county health department threaten to further delay its opening. If he’s re-elected, Mr. Gabrielsen, we know, will make it a top priority to work with the new administration in Hauppauge, be it Democratic or Republican, to get the county approvals necessary to get the fields open by spring. The town has spent much money on the parks, and residents shouldn’t have to wait any longer, especially since adult leagues can’t use the new fields at Stotzky.
Aside from his work on the recreation committee, Mr. Gabrielsen is the liaison to the water district, and in his relatively short time in office he’s helped facilitate getting new pumps installed to increase the district’s water capacity after the system was almost tapped during the hot summer of 2010. The Suffolk County Water Authority has since backed off its push for a takeover, which would have resulted in the loss of local control and, consequently, potentially higher rates.
The parks and water district work has all been done without any major impact to the town’s general fund, Mr. Gabrielsen frequently points out.
Last, while Mr. Gabrielsen seems to get along better with Supervisor Sean Walter than do other board members, that relationship didn’t stop him from standing up for what he felt was right in the wake of the town code enforcement raid at the Wading River Motel, which saw social services recipients forcibly removed from their rooms on a Friday night — even though their names weren’t on a search warrant. While Mr. Walter was defending the raid, Mr. Gabrielsen was the only Town Board member to say publicly that the town should apologize to the shelter residents. We applaud him for that.
We enthusiastically endorse Mr. Gabrielsen for one of the two four-year Town Council terms up for grabs Tuesday.
Like Mr. Gabrielsen, Mr. Wooten is proud of his committee and liaison work. As highway department liaison, he’s been a steady advocate for highway superintendent George “Gio” Woodson, even though Mr. Woodson is a Democrat. If the councilman is re-elected Tuesday, we expect him to continue pushing, perhaps even harder, for Mr. Woodson’s much-needed resources. The highway department has performed admirably during some of the toughest weather events in recent memory, and that is in part a reflection on the councilman.
Aside from getting legislation passed that forced the removal of broken telephone poles throughout the town, Mr. Wooten’s work in office has not yielded the tangible results that Mr. Gabrielsen’s has. While some progress has been made with respect to the troubled and inadequate animal shelter, it’s long been Mr. Wooten’s intention to get the shelter into private hands. That hasn’t happened yet. Some can look at that as a failure of Mr. Wooten’s, but we believe the fact that the much-maligned head animal control officer stepped down this year opens the door for a private-public partnership at the shelter soon. Certainly no one could have worked harder on the animal shelter issue than Mr. Wooten.
In addition to his membership on the animal advisory committee, Mr. Wooten sits on the open space, handicap, youth services and other committees, and he brings his all to the job. He works hands-on with seniors and we like his approach to his role as what he calls “a listener” on the Town Board.
His vision for downtown includes condemning all those vacant East Main Street properties and clearing the land, while allowing for higher-story buildings north of Main Street. It’s a long-term plan his fellow Town Board members should be paying more attention to. Meanwhile, he’s taken the lead on working with the group behind the Vintage Square proposals for Main Street and Railroad Avenue, even while the supervisor seems to want nothing to do with the developers.
We endorse Mr. Wooten for four more years, but he’ll need to start influencing some noticeable changes in town if his second term is going to be deemed a success.
Democratic candidates Matt Van Glad and Marlando Williams are political newcomers, and it showed on the campaign trail. Mr. Williams’ background as a State Police trooper and union representative, as well as his civic involvement, certainly qualifies him for the Town Council position (James Wooten boasts a similar background). And Mr. Van Glad’s real-world experience as a home heating fuel truck driver would bring a certain level of sensitivity and knowledge to the ever-present power issues facing the town. But neither candidate used his specialized background knowledge to present any real-world, workable plans to Riverhead voters. They both often spoke in generalities at public debates. And while they had their complaints about their political rivals, the Democrats offered little by way of solutions.
Of the two men, we can see Mr. Williams, if elected, being the stronger minority voice on the Republican-dominated Town Board. Mr. Van Glad, while admirably polite, rarely offered effective criticisms of his opponents.
While challengers for public office are always at the disadvantage of not knowing the current inner workings of the job they’re seeking, the Democratic council candidates were not seen at public Town Board work sessions, where a lot of policy is initiated and hammered out. And if they had been attending the actual Town Board meetings — Mr. Williams was spotted at this Tuesday’s meeting — they never stood up and spoke out on the issues at hand. Not attending the work sessions is like a law student’s not visiting a trial to see how things work; watching on TV just isn’t the same. And not speaking up at Town Board sessions is just bad politics.
These two candidates clearly need more practice in campaigning, and they need to take care to do more homework should they seek public office again.
After having met and observed them, we do not doubt their love of Riverhead and concern for the future of the town and its residents. If they are not elected, we would encourage both men to bring that passion, as well as their own life experience, to the table in Riverhead Town Hall by getting involved in committee work or by seeking board appointments.
Ruth Pollack is running on the independent Riverhead First line on Election Day. Like the two Democratic candidates, Ms. Pollack has often spoken about her love of Riverhead and the need to preserve our way of life here, but she offered little in terms of solutions. And when she did advance some of the ideas championed by running mate Greg Fischer, she was not very articulate or effective in championing them.
Ms. Pollack’s answers lacked focus during the News-Review editorial board meeting, and she picked fights with her opponents over somewhat odd topics in such a forum, such as the quality of meals on wheels for seniors.
On the campaign trail, she did continually raise a good point — that it’s hard for the average person to navigate and understand the town budget, even though it’s published online. This is something the new Town Board should take to heart and consider doing something about. And if Ms. Pollack is elected, she should make that her pet project.