I’m generally skeptical of politics. So the good news is, I guess I’m in the right line of work.
The bad news is, I think my skepticism is justified.
We hear a lot about “gridlock” — whether it’s in Washington, Albany or somewhere else far, far away. And we’ve seen it; gridlock really does exist. We’ve read the stories about Democrats and Republicans knuckling down, trying to pull concessions from the other side and barely getting their jobs done. In reality, letting the government go into shutdown mode or not passing a budget would be considered not doing your job at all anywhere else.
According to Politico, a media outlet based in the nation’s capital, Congress passed 234 bills during its last session, the lowest recorded total in history. And a Gallup poll notes that the percentage of voters affiliated with either major party has continued to drop in the past decade. So maybe I’m not the only one who’s skeptical.
But politics doesn’t just inhibit progress in some faraway places. That happens — or, depending on how you look at it, doesn’t happen — right here in Riverhead, too.
Disagreements between Supervisor Sean Walter and Mason Haas, head of the Republican committee, aren’t exactly breaking news. Those two alone probably know when the blood between them began to boil. Did the supervisor not hold the door open for Mr. Haas one day? Did the Republican leader take Mr. Walter’s seat at a dinner table? Did one borrow the other’s American flag lapel pin and fail to return it?
However and whenever it started, the two have been butting heads publicly since Mr. Haas announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination two years ago for the seat held by Mr. Walter. And it hasn’t stopped since.
It should be noted that I didn’t write “Mr. Walter’s seat,” as we often do in the press. It’s a commonly used phrase when someone holds an elected office, but the fact is, Mr. Walter’s seat doesn’t belong to him, nor does the assessor’s chair Mr. Haas occupies have his name on it. They belong to the Town of Riverhead.
But one wouldn’t necessarily know that based on what we’ve seen over the past two years.
Granted, the feud between them isn’t the average political battle as it involves their roles both as elected town officials and within the party itself. So it’s not like they’re technically butting heads in their “supervisor” or “assessor” roles all the time — the turf battle is taking place within the Republican party.
Either way, though, it’s the same two guys. Two publicly elected officials in positions of power are spending all this energy trying to take control of a political party when all this time could have been spent working together to move the town forward.
Part of me is surprised this has dragged on as long as it has. I’ve spent time with both men off the clock. This isn’t an assault on them, and I don’t doubt that part of each of them wants to do good for the town.
But let’s look at all the countless stories written about the punches and counter-punches they’ve directed at each other. Our own Town Hall reporter Tim Gannon even asked me not to write this column for fear he’d have less to write about! Could “As the World Turns in Riverhead” possibly come to an end? I don’t think he has to worry about that one.
To the insiders, I probably don’t have a clue — and of course I don’t claim to know everything. But as much as the Mason/Sean soap opera fills a lot of space in the paper, I think we can all agree that for the long-term future of Riverhead it would be a lot better to write about how the town improved its financial standing, or passed forward-thinking legislation that helps out residents or businesses or the environment — instead of printing another article about political infighting.
Too many individuals who put their egos first are at play in town politics at the moment. And it’s worth noting that the supervisor and Republican chair aren’t alone in that category — they’re just the most visible examples. The larger vision for what Riverhead should be is getting lost amid petty, personal squabbles between leaders who aren’t working together to bring Riverhead to its full potential. But it’s not Riverhead’s fate; it doesn’t have to be that way.
And don’t tell me all the infighting will determine the person who eventually propels the town to greatness, while the other side is simply holding up progress. I hear plenty of that from politicians in Albany and Washington when the fact is that both sides are at fault.
Unfortunately, there seems to be little indication that politics won’t continue as usual. The world will continue to turn. And as for my skepticism? Well, until someone gives me reasons to believe otherwise, it will remain.
Joseph Pinciaro is the managing editor of the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. You can reach him at [email protected] or 354-8024.