Parpan Column: What we learned on primary night

GRANT PARPAN PHOTO | Councilwoman Jodi Giglio celebrates her primary election win with fellow Town Board members James Wooten (left) and George Gabrielsen.
GRANT PARPAN PHOTO | Councilwoman Jodi Giglio celebrates her primary election win with fellow Town Board members James Wooten (left) and George Gabrielsen.

You get the clearest picture of a political landscape in the first couple hours after a contentious primary election. It’s the one truly honest time in politics.

Talk to candidates and their campaign supporters during a primary election cycle and most of what you’ll hear is loaded with style and thin on substance. The issues are rarely discussed in primary campaigns, as the candidates focus more on shredding opponents. Then, miraculously, by the time you get closer to the general election, everyone’s suddenly united.

It’s all about those first few hours after the primary. The emotions are still raw; the peace has not yet been brokered; and the gloves are off.

Tuesday night in Riverhead was a perfect example of that. Between now and November, Riverhead Republicans will pitch a united front. Even if it’s just on a piece of literature you carry straight from your mailbox to the recycling bin, you will be sent the message that Sean Walter, Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy will work together these next two years to cut spending, lower your taxes and grow the local economy.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But that’s a sales pitch. If you want to know how the players really feel, you’ve got to get to them while they’re still digesting primary results and before they’ve had a chance to sleep on them. With reporters tracking all six Riverhead primary candidates Tuesday — including myself, who spent the night with the Giglio campaign — we were able to capture some revealing takes on the current state of Riverhead politics.

Take Mr. Dunleavy, for instance. Sensing momentum for the Coates campaign during the primary run, Mr. Dunleavy aligned himself with Mr. Coates and Mr. Walter, who once called himself a “man without a party.” For the moment, after Mr. Coates failed to win the nomination, he finds himself in a political minority on the Town Board.

“As you can tell tonight, the Republican Party is with Jodi at Outerbanks,” Mr. Dunleavy said from his living room Tuesday night. “All I have is my supporters here.

“I’m going to continue what I’m doing. I’ll have my supporters and I hope I get the support of the Republican Party,” he said.

Despite what you’re told between now and Election Day, this all-Republican Town Board will always lack chemistry. In one corner is Mr. Walter. In the other are Ms. Giglio, James Wooten and George Gabrielsen and, based on Tuesday’s results, we’d imagine Mr. Dunleavy will find his way to their corner sometime in the near future.

At least until the general election in November, the new Giglio-Wooten-Gabrielsen majority was the big winner Tuesday. Don’t believe it? Just ask them; they’ll be more than happy to tell you.

“Tonight was almost a mandate from the public that they don’t like the way we have been treated by the supervisor,” said Mr. Gabrielsen, who along with Mr. Wooten is not facing re-election this year. “They like the direction of the board, but they don’t like the way our government is being run by a supervisor who’s constantly in attack mode.”

Even with Tuesday’s “almost mandate,” the supervisor seemed perfectly content to distance himself from the rest of the board. His post-primary comments indicate he has little interest in uniting the party, but rather wants to continue the battle Mr. Coates fought — and lost.

In a sense, it’s a relief to see a supervisor who has more of an interest in pursuing what he believes to be best for the town over party politics. But when things become as contentious as they have in recent months, you wonder if the town would be better served by a board that has the ability to find middle ground.

Mr. Wooten said he believes the political in-fighting of the Republicans has held the town back.

“We have a government that’s always at each other’s throats,” he said. “Things are getting done, but we should be getting even more done.”

Which brings us to the group of people who could just end up being the biggest winners of all this election season: Riverhead’s Democrats, who likely won’t take long to break their curious silence.

Even some Republicans admitted Tuesday that they believe the contentious GOP primary will help the Democrats.

“If I were a Democrat, I’d seize the momentum,” Mr. Wooten said. “I hate to say it, but it’s true.

“They have a real opportunity here.”

Mr. Parpan is the executive editor of Times/Review Newsgroup. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631-298-3200, ext. 266.