GOP candidates won big — but not all had party support
Democrat Diane Wilhelm ran unopposed for town clerk. Republican Supervisor Sean Walter retained his seat, though he ran on the Conservative Party line.
But aside from that, Riverhead Republicans swept the local ballot Tuesday night.
Incumbent Councilman Jim Wooten held onto his seat and Councilman-elect Tim Hubbard earned his first term in office, finishing as the top vote-getter in a four-way race for two open Town Board spots.
“I’m overwhelmed,” said Mr. Hubbard, 55, who will step in for Councilman George Gabrielsen after he opted not to seek re-election. “I’m really proud of the voters of Riverhead looking for a fresh face. They are going to get one and I’m going to work myself to the bone to make Riverhead a better place.”
In the race for an open Town Justice seat, Republican Lori Hulse handily defeated Democratic candidate Jeanmarie Costello.
Republican incumbents Mason Haas and Paul Leszczynski held onto their assessor seats and Tax Receiver Laurie Zaneski ran unopposed.
But while all local candidates on the Republican line won — with the exception of supervisor candidate Jodi Giglio — not all of them had the party’s backing in May.
“It was kind of a split committee since we didn’t endorse Sean, Lori or Jimmy,” said GOP chairman Remy Bell, who took over for the previous party chair, Mr. Haas, in September. “But the process worked and voters made their choice.”
Neither Mr. Wooten, 56, nor Ms. Hulse, 48, earned GOP backing at the party’s nominating convention this spring. The incumbent councilman — who has said that this will be his final term on the Town Board — was passed over for retired Riverhead police Lt. Robert Peeker, and town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz was the party’s pick over Ms. Hulse. Both Mr. Peeker and Mr. Kozakiewicz lost their primaries.
“I’m glad people realized that my heart is in the right place,” Mr. Wooten said Tuesday night. “I want to do the right thing for the people and the right thing for the community. Obviously, that message got out there. It wasn’t about whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or a blank. It’s about integrity.”
Mr. Wooten garnered 3,124 votes, while Mr. Hubbard was a clear favorite with 4,198 votes. Democrat Laura Jens-Smith earned 2,575 votes and fellow Democrat Neil Krupnick had 2,250. Ms. Jens-Smith hinted that she may run again in the future.
“We had a great team,” she said. “We ran a strong race. I believe we’re going to be back again if you’ll have us to run again.”
Ms. Hulse will become the second female Town Justice ever elected by Riverhead voters, following in the footsteps of Syrena Stackpole, who became the first female elected official in New York State when she took the bench in 1932.
The justice-elect took 60 percent of the votes in Tuesday’s race after winning the Republican, Conservative and Independence lines in primaries in mid-September. She said her status as something of a political outsider may have actually helped her.
“I guess the way the politics worked, I wasn’t a committeeman, I wasn’t active in the local political scene. I think that’s the reason why I wasn’t selected at the convention,” Ms. Hulse said Wednesday. “But I think in this position, you want someone who is just the most experienced and most qualified … This shows democracy really does work. The voters really won the day.”
Mr. Bell said he looks forward to unifying the party, which is no stranger to challenges from within.
“It’s up to me now to get my committee back on the same page,” said Mr. Bell. He added that after leaving the Birchwood, where the town GOP committee gathered, he “reached out to Sean to congratulate him.”
He wasn’t sure if Ms. Giglio had. She did not return a call seeking comment on Wednesday.
In the county Legislature, where Al Krupski was elected to a third term, fellow Democrats held on to a nearly decade-long majority. If results hold up after all absentee ballots are counted, the Democratic caucus will retain a 12-6 majority. County Executive Steve Bellone, a Babylon Democrat, won a second term with 57 percent of the vote over Republican challenger James O’Connor of Great River.
Captions: Lori Hulse, who defeated party pick Bob Kozakiewicz in a September primary, gives her victory speech on Tuesday night (Credit: Jen Nuzzo); Tim Hubbard was the top vote-getter in the four-person race (Credit: Jen Nuzzo); Jim Wooten celebrates his victory with his wife, Rebekah (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch); Laura Jens-Smith finished third in Tuesday’s town board race (Credit: Nicole Smith).
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Ms. Giglio ran a primary two years ago. Ms. Giglio had the nomination of the Riverhead Republican Committee. It was Mr. Coates who ran a primary.