Election 2023: Stark, Kent to face off for county legislature seat

The Democratic and Republican candidates for the Suffolk County legislative seat currently held by Al Krupski have been selected.

Former Riverhead Town councilwoman Catherine Kent will be the Democratic candidate and Catherine Stark of Riverhead will be the Republican candidate to fill the 1st District seat. Mr. Krupski has said he will run for Southold Town supervisor this fall.

Ms. Kent was elected to the Town Board in 2017 and then ran for supervisor in 2021, where she lost to incumbent Yvette Aguiar by a wide margin. Prior to that, she was a teacher in the Riverhead School District for 33 years.

“I’m very excited to be running for the Suffolk County Legislature’s 1st District,” she said. “I’m a lifelong resident of the North Fork, I grew up here and I raised my family here. I care very deeply about preserving the specialness of our community.” 

Ms. Kent said her parents were both teachers. “I graduated from Riverhead High School, then I got a Bachelor of Science degree from Central Methodist University in Missouri. After that, I went on to get a Master of Liberal Arts from Stony Brook University,” she said. 

She said that immediately after she retired, she went to Haiti and worked at a school there. In Ms. Kent’s last year on the Town Board, she was the only board member who opposed the proposed EPCAL sale of 1,600 acres for $40 million to Calverton Aviation & Technology, headed by Triple Five Group. 

“I did not support the sale and I still don’t,” she said. “I don’t think it’s in the best interest of Riverhead and the 1,600 acres is a great asset to the town.” 

Other board members have criticized the proposed sale, but none have called for canceling it. They say doing so would leave the town in a prolonged legal battle. 

Ms. Stark, 59, served as an aide to Mr. Krupski for the past 10 years, despite the fact that she is a Republican and Mr. Krupski is a Democrat. The Suffolk County Republican Committee formally nominated Ms. Stark as its candidate at its nominating convention in Ronkonkoma last Thursday night.

“Catherine Stark brings a wealth of experience in assisting and helping and working shoulder to shoulder with the people and stakeholders of the first legislative district,” county Republican committee chairman Jesse Garcia said in an interview last Thursday.

“As the next legislator in the 1st District, she will hit the ground running, and the people of the North Fork will not even miss a beat,” he added. 

“I feel very honored,” Mr. Stark said in an interview Friday. “I have been working for the county for 27 years, so I feel like I can do this with my eyes closed and with my hands tied behind my back.” 

Ms. Stark is the daughter of the late Riverhead Town Supervisor Jim Stark. She said she’d leaned a lot from working with Mr. Krupski for the past 10 years. 

“He and I care very much about the same things, which is farmland preservation, open space and clean water,” she said. 

Prior to working with Mr. Krupski, she also worked with former county executive Robert Gaffney and former county legislator Jay Schneiderman.

“She knows county government from the ground up, and we are excited about her candidacy and for the first legislative district being returned to the Republicans,” Mr. Garcia said.

As for Ms. Kent, she said, “I formed Riverhead’s first environmental committee and they continue to do great work. I also formed the Riverhead downtown revitalization committee.”   

Ms. Kent said she admires the way Mr. Krupski worked to bring people together on the legislature. 

“I thought Al had a knack for bringing people together in a nonpartisan way to get things done,” she said. “District 1 is a very large geographic district and it’s a beautiful area,” Ms. Kent said. “I intend to hit the ground running. I want to get out and hear what folks have to say, find out what their concerns are. I love my community, and I want make it a better place for my children and their children and for generations to come.”

The 1st District will see some changes in 2023. It will still cover all of Riverhead and Southold towns, but it will also cover Shelter Island and a portion of Flanders.