With just about a week before Election Day, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter held a press conference to once again claim that his Republican opponent, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, is backed by the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association for supporting a merger of the Riverhead Police Department with the county police.
But that wasn’t all he had to say.
The supervisor, in a move Ms. Giglio described as “desperate,” also brought up a settled, 26-year-old arrest warrant against the councilwoman he said illustrates her lack of qualification for public office.
While Ms. Giglio admitted to the arrest, the merger claim is one she has continued to deny, though Mr. Walter estimates the Suffolk police union has spent $100,000 to $125,000 on campaigning for Ms. Giglio, complete with a collage of political flyers the Suffolk PBA put out backing her and criticizing him.
“The Suffolk County PBA have entered into the race in a very large way,” he said.
The president of the Suffolk PBA, Noel DiGerolamo, says his organization is not trying to merge with Riverhead and couldn’t do so without a public referendum.
And Ms. Giglio says she doesn’t support merging the Riverhead Police with Suffolk County, doesn’t support having a referendum on that issue and is supported by both the Suffolk County and Riverhead Town PBA for other reasons, something the presidents of those organizations confirmed.
“The reason why we backed Jodi is because we feel that she’s going to be the best thing for the police department as far as bringing safety to our members and to the residents of the town,” said Dixon Palmer, the Riverhead PBA president.
“She’s also told us that she’s not going to shut down sectors, which is being done now by the current administration.”
Ms. Giglio also promised to replace police cars sooner, he said.
Mr. DiGerolamo was more direct, calling Mr. Walter a “liar” running on scare tactics.
“He’s a one-issue candidate because he has no personal accomplishments to run on,” Mr. DiGerolamo said. “He’s trying to run on fear and lies because the only thing he can say he’s done for the Town of Riverhead is raise taxes and not properly fund the police department.”
“I have made it very clear, every time I’m asked: The Suffolk PBA has no intentions of merging the Suffolk Police Department with Riverhead,” Mr. DiGerolamo said.
“In fact, it cannot happen, absent a public referendum, where the people would have to see they want this before it could happen,” he said.
Mr. Walter said the Suffolk County PBA wants to merge with Riverhead because it would get more dues from its members and it would spread the tax base out, so there will be more people to pay the big salary increases in their current contract.
He said the Riverhead PBA wants to merge because they would get more money and better benefits.
Mr. Palmer acknowledged the salaries and benefits are better in the county police, but he said Riverhead PBA members have had only informal discussions with the Suffolk PBA and he said he thinks the majority of his members oppose a merger.
“It would have to go to a public referendum of the people, and we would have to find out if it saves money for the town,” Mr. Palmer said. “If it’s not gonna save money for the town, I’ll tell you right now, the politicians aren’t going to put it up for a referendum. That would be the only reason why they would. If it would save money.”
It’s also not certain the residents would support it, he said, pointing out that Riverhead residents overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to merge dispatchers with Suffolk County a few years ago.
But at Monday’s press conference, it appeared that the Suffolk PBA wasn’t the only item on the sitting supervisor’s agenda.
About nine minutes into his press conference, Mr. Walter broke out a piece of paper showing that Ms. Giglio had an arrest warrant out for her for 26 years ago in California.
Ms. Giglio, who actually walked out to attend the press conference about 25 minutes into it, later acknowledged that the warrant existed.
“I was a kid. I made a lot of mistakes and I learned from my lessons and that made me the person that I am today,” Ms. Giglio said after the supervisor had left, which was right as she arrived.
Mr. Walter said the incident “comes down to truth, honesty, integrity and character.”
The supervisor said a private investigator, whom he declined to identify, had found the information.
The arrest took place on Jan. 22, 1988 at midnight in Clovis, Calif., according to court documents from Clovis that Mr. Walter presented.
The case was dismissed and the warrant recalled on Jan. 20, 2009, when Ms. Giglio’s attorney, Roger Vehrs, paid a $432 bail amount in court, according to the documents, which said the warrant was issued on Sept. 29, 1989.
Ms. Giglio was elected to a town council seat in 2009 and still holds that seat.
“It’s very troubling to me that Ms. Giglio, who could potentially be the town supervisor and the police commissioner…had an active bench warrant for her arrest for 20 years,” Mr. Walter said.
She had said she planned to issue a formal statement, but later called a reporter to say that the incident in question was a minor traffic infraction from 26 years ago and has no bearing on issues pertaining to the election.
“This has nothing to do with me or who I am, or with my business experience or how I can govern and get this town in the right direction,” she said. “This has to do with a failed supervisor who is so desperate to keep his job that he will throw a minor traffic infraction in my face.”
Caption: Supervisor Sean Walter, with a collage of mailers paid for by the Suffolk police union, outside of Riverhead Police Department. (Credit: Tim Gannon)