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Ken Rothwell appointed to fill vacant Town Board seat as community members object to selection process

The Riverhead Town Board on Tuesday appointed Ken Rothwell of Wading River to fill the vacancy created by longtime Councilwoman Jodi Giglio’s election to the state Assembly.

Mr. Rothwell’s appointment is only for one year, as the position comes up for reelection in November.

The board chose Mr. Rothwell despite comments from a number of speakers urging officials to appoint Marylin Banks-Winter of Riverhead to that post. 

The three Republicans on the board — Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, Councilmen Frank Beyrodt and Tim Hubbard — voted for Mr. Rothwell, who was recommended by a Republican screening committee.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent, the board’s sole Democrat, supported Ms. Banks-Winter, but chose to abstain on the vote for Mr. Rothwell when there was no support on the rest of the board for Ms. Banks-Winter.

Ms. Kent said she knows the Rothwells and would have no problem working with whoever the board majority picks. 

Ms. Banks-Winter is a longtime resident of Riverhead, a local business owner, a U.S. Army veteran, and an elected Trustee of the Riverhead Free Library, according to Ms. Kent, who proposed the resolution to appoint Ms. Banks-Winter.

Ms. Kent said Ms. Banks-Winter also has been a member of the Town’s Downtown Revitalization Committee, the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, the Riverhead Central School District’s Diversity and Cross Cultural Task Force, the Hauppauge Industrial Assoc. (HIA), and East End Arts, among other groups. 

Mr. Rothwell owns funeral homes in Wading River, Southampton, Hampton Bays and Westhampton. He has served as captain in the Southampton Fire Department, Exulted Ruler of the Southampton Elks Lodge and Financial Secretary to the Knights of Columbus. He is a member and Lector at the Basilica Parish of the Sacred Hearts in Southampton, according to the bio on his funeral home website.

Mr. Rothwell said his business is in Southampton. In an interview after his selection, he said he was grateful to be selected and to be able to give back to the community he loves.

“Riverhead has been very good for me,” he said. “I love the community; it’s where my children have grown up. I’ve been here for almost 25 years. It’s a great opportunity to give back. Sometimes when we are younger and have to work multiple jobs, we don’t always have the time.” 

He said he did not know Ms. Banks-Winter but looked forward to working with her in some capacity. He also said he would run in November for election to a full term on the board.

Several speakers Tuesday said that Ms. Banks-Winter would be the first African-American on the board since the early 1990s, and would give that section of the community representation. 

Chip Williford, a visual artist in downtown Riverhead who lives in Mastic Beach, said “systemic racism is alive and well in Riverhead and, unfortunately, I’ve been the recipient of some of that treatment.”

He said Ms. Banks-Winter has worked in the community for several years doing several good deeds. “It’s very important that the Town Board be reflective of its residents and serves all in the community,” he said. “It’s apparent we do not have a voice for African Americans on the board, which needs to happen.”

Angela DeVito said it’s apparent that there is “tremendous support” for Ms. Banks-Winter to fill the vacancy. She said there are questions about the transparency of the board’s process for filling the vacancy. She said the board should let all people participate in the process and not just members of a particular party. 

“We said we want to make America great again but continue to divide locally,” said Justin Winter, Ms. Banks-Winter’s husband. “I know Marylin will be a perfect candidate to fill the Town Board seat. Her credentials are outstanding and she is an outstanding citizen and caring person.”

Mr. Hubbard said Ms. Banks-Winter is a “hard working person who cares about the town,” and that he hopes she runs for office.

But he said “this is a Republican seat” and should be filled by a Republican. He said if the shoe was on the other foot, the Democrats would do the same. (Ms. Banks-Winter is not registered with any political party)

Ms. Aguiar said her vote was based on interviews she conducted and not on political party.

After the vote, John McAuliff of Riverhead, who spoke at the meeting, said that none of the speakers at the meeting urged the town to appoint Mr. Rothwell, and yet the board appointed him and not Ms. Banks-Winter. Kathy McGraw, who spoke at the meeting, sent a letter afterward to Ms. Aguiar and Councilmen Hubbard and Beyrodt, that read: “You had the chance to do something significant and meaningful for Riverhead today. Instead you let politics destroy what could have been a real step forward for unity. By not selecting Ms. Winter, such a worthy candidate, you slapped people of color in the face.”

Others speakers were critical of the board majority’s decision to let a Republican committee screen the candidates rather than the Town Board. The Republican committee interviewed 18 people for the position.

“The board seemed to have subcontracted its responsibilities,” said Mr. McAuliff. “Instead of the town interviewing people and receiving resumes, it was the Republican committee” that did so, he said.