A co-owner of the Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport donated $4,000 to the campaigns of Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman George Gabrielsen in the days leading up to last month’s elections, according to campaign finance reports filed Thursday with the New York State Board of Elections.
The $2,000 donated by Lia Polites to each candidate was the largest either received in the final two weeks before Election Day, campaign finance records show.
Both donations came about one month before the Riverhead Town Planning Board approved a controversial site plan for a breezeway connecting two buildings on the Jedediah Hawkins Inn property to make way for more guest rooms on the property.
Several community members spoke out against the breezeway at the Nov. 15 Riverhead Town Board meeting, at which both Mr. Walter and Mr. Gabrielsen defended the plan.
“This is a family owned business,” said Mr. Walter, who records show received his donation from Ms. Polites on Oct. 25. “There’s been no public outcry except for the people that show up at board meetings.”
Mr. Gabrielsen, a Jamesport resident who records show received his donation from Ms. Polites on Oct. 28, said at the Nov. 15 meeting that the Jamesport community supports the breezeway.
Jamesport Civic Association member Angela Devito responded that wasn’t the case.
Ms. Devito said the civic group met with Mr. Walter and expressed support for the restoration of the Hawkins Inn, but its members were concerned about expanded uses at the site. She said people in Jamesport generally support the inn, but not the breezeway.
Mr. Gabrielsen responded by saying “nobody’s against it.”
State Election Law requires political candidates file campaign finance reports 11 days prior to, and 27 days after, a general election.
Records show the contribution given by Ms. Polites to Mr. Walter was received 14 days prior to Election Day and should have been disclosed in the report published 10 days before the election.
Mr. Walter said his campaign didn’t acknowledge the donation in its previous report since the campaign initially considered immediately refunding it, since it exceeded the legal limit for a political contribution to an individual candidate.
State election law prohibits a political candidate from receiving more than $1,034 from an individual donor per election cycle.
Mr. Walter said that when his campaign staffers had trouble connecting with Ms. Polites after receiving the contribution, which he believes was received via mail, they decided to cash the check.
He says they have since refunded the additional $1,000, and the refund should appear in his next campaign finance report.
On Nov. 2, Mr. Gabrielsen refunded $1,000 of the contribution he received from Ms. Polites, according to the financial disclosure report filed Thursday.
Mr. Gabrielsen said in a telephone interview Thursday that he made the refund after he learned it exceeded the legal limit.
“I refunded the money when I found out someone can only donate $1,000 [to an individual campaign],” he said.
When asked how he would respond to a cynic questioning the timing of Ms. Polites’ contribution, which came only three weeks before the Planning Board was initially set to vote on the breezeway, Mr. Walter was critical of the Hawkins Inn’s plan.
“The cynic in me says the breezeway is dumb,” Mr. Walter said. Under town code, two buildings connected by a breezeway can be considered one building, thus allowing more space for guest rooms.
“Inns of 15 rooms or smaller should be allowed to have two buildings,” he continued. “There’s a better way to go about it [than the breezeway.]”
Records show Ms. Polites hasn’t made any other donations in her name in the past six years.