Former school board rivals to face off in Democratic primary

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTOS | Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Angela DeVito
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTOS | Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Angela DeVito

After being passed over by the Riverhead Democratic Committee in her bid for a supervisor nomination Thursday night, Riverhead school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse said she will be running a primary against nominee Angela DeVito.

And she likes her chances.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse, a former Riverhead School District teacher and union leader, is also the founder and a past president of the North Fork Breast Health Coalition advocacy group.

“I’ve met a whole lot of people [in Riverhead], many of whom I’ve taught in the school district, so I’ve got a pretty good base,” she said. “Between that and the breast cancer coalition, I’m not too worried about how I’m going to fare in this primary.”

She was also the leading vote-getter in her re-election to the Riverhead school board in 2011, with 1,960 votes.

Reached Friday, Ms. DeVito said she didn’t think a primary would be too much of a distraction in the run-up to Election Day.

“I don’t think it’s going to put me off course in focusing on the target, which is Nov. 5,” she said. “I look at it as an opportunity for the people of Riverhead to vote for me twice.

“I respect Ann Cotten-DeGrasse greatly, she is right when she says she’s made a contribution to our community,” Ms. DeVito continued. “I, too, have made an equal contribution. I had hoped that last evening, when she saw the tremendous support I got from within the committee, she would have re-thought it.

“If the vote last night would have been close, then pursuing a primary would have made more sense.”

Ms. DeVito is a member and former president of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association and is retired from her position as director of workforce development with the Long Island Building Trades Council.

She served on the Riverhead school board from 2006 to 2011 and was board president in the 2009-10 school year.

She announced she would step down from the school board in 2011, a year before her term was set to end, during a public debate with Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse during a meeting.

On Friday, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said she had fully committed to run a primary before Thursday night’s convention.

“I didn’t go to the convention last night with the idea that I was going to overturn the screening committee’s recommendation [in Ms. Devito],” she said.

Ms. Cotten DeGrasse got only about 10 percent of the committee’s support for the nomination.

Between the two women, Ms. DeVito was the first to announce publicly she would run for supervisor, something Ms. DeGrasse said might have hurt her chances.

“I came late to the dance,” Ms. Cotten DeGrasse said. “I had really been thinking about this for about a year.”

She had been going back and forth on whether to run for supervisor, she said, when she was approached from people within the committee to run and finally decided to do so.

As for Ms. DeVito, she, too, had said she would not rule out running a primary if she didn’t get the nomination Thursday night.

But, she said, an overwhelming defeat at the convention might have changed her mind.

“It does create a distraction,” she said. “It weakens the party’s chances, but it is her right to do that, and I respect the process.” 

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