2013 0827 debate giglio coates
Anthony Coates, left, arguing with Jodi Giglio during a candidates debate 2013, when Coates, challenged Giglio for the Republican town council nomination.

Candidates for town supervisor and town council in next month’s primary election went head-to-head on local issues last night at the Suffolk Theater before a crowd of about 200 people.

Democratic supervisor candidates Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Angela DeVito and council candidates Anthony Coates, John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio answered questions posed by local news editors in the first of two debates being presented at the theater by the Riverhead News-Review and RiverheadLOCAL.

The preliminary bout last night was between Cotten-DeGrasse and DeVito, the current and prior Riverhead school board presidents. Lingering tensions from their past disagreements on that board were palpable during last night’s conversation, but remained, for the most part, just below the surface.

On the other hand, tensions between challenger Coates and incumbent Giglio didn’t take long to bubble up and erupted multiple times during the back-and-forth of last night’s second session, culminating in Giglio’s closing statement in which she slammed Coates for his repeated attacks on her on his campaign website’s blog. She said he has posted 15 blogs attacking her, but barely mentions taxes or economic development or jobs. She accused her challenger of a vendetta against her for not supporting his appointment to a town job. When Coates referred to the home improvements on Giglio’s residence built permits, the councilwoman’s supporters in the audience began jeering and booing.

Watch the video recording of the full debate here.

Democratic town supervisor candidates

2013 0827 debate cotten-degrasse-devitoThe preliminary bout, was between Democrats Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Angela DeVito who, at times seem to be involved in a grudge match over things that happened when both were on the Riverhead School Board. It wasn’t Tyson and Holyfield and no ears were bitten, and both had their rooters in the audience.

Both agreed that maintaining services without raising taxes was an essential philosophy given the increasingly heavy debt load Riverhead has. Cotten-Degrasse preferred forming a committee to maximize what could be obtained from the EPCAL property, and wanted that committee composed of businessmen, environmentalists and real estate experts. DeVito, noting that was a good idea, suggested temporary workers in town to grow the work force to provide more service at a lesser cost. Both agreed the plan to subdivide EPCAL, could provide an answer to the town’s revenue generation problems, which Cotten-DeGrasse considered the preeminent problem facing Riverhead. DeVito was concerned of the possibility of the EPCAL subdivision plan falling prey to land speculators. “That’s why we need a committee, so it [EPCAL] ends up looking how we envisioned it,” said Cotten-DeGrasse.

2013 0827 devito angelaA mention of transparency in Town Hall drew first blood when both women traded barbs about school board transparency.

Both essentially agreed on how they would handle the town’s boards — Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Industrial Development Agency, etc. “We need to improve communication between all the town’s boards,” said DeVito. “That’s why we need an office of economic development within the town.”

As for the IDA, “They’ve never seen a proposal they didn’t love,” said Cotten-DeGrasse. “I’m opposed to giving tax abatements to companies that are coming here regardless of whether they’re getting a tax abatement.”

“They need to establish a criteria before giving out abatements,” said DeVito. “They should have to prove a need for the abatement.” An exchange of light blows ensued regarding tax abatements granted by the IDA when DeVito was a member of the IDA board.

“I’d like to know when my opponent had an epiphany about the IDA,” Cotten-DeGrasse said.

DeVito said she did not have an epiphany, and said Cotten-DeGrasse misrepresented her vote on the Atlantis tax abatement. She said she asked the school board to have itself removed as a special taxing district for IDA abatement purposes, but no one on the school board wanted to act on it.

2013 0827 debate degrasse annAs for developing downtown: “We need to partner with the south side and the county,” said DeVito. “As long as the south side remains blighted we’re going to have quality of life issues,” she said, adding, “and compare the taxes the small businesses pay to the shops on [route] 58. They need tax relief.”

‘We have to look at what we can do,” said Cotten-DeGrasse,” and what we can afford to do. We have to prioritize. The bridge should be a very low priority,” although “the” bridge hadn’t been mentioned.

“I’m running for Town Supervisor for the same reason I became a teacher,” said Cotten-DeGrasse, “I want to positively affect the lives of the people in this town. “

“The town government isn’t working. It’s bickering, fighting and cronyism,” said DeVito, calling for an end to “dysfunctional government.” She advocated the appointment of a town manager to professionally and efficiently run town government.

DeVito argued that she is the only candidate who can defeat Sean Walter in November.


Republican town council candidates

2013 0827 debate dunleavy johnThe first question, addressed to Dunleavy, asked what he has accomplished in two terms of office. Noting that his second term was more productive than his first, the councilman said the subdivision of EPCAL and the revitalization of Main Street were his two proudest accomplishments. Giglio agreed on both points.

“You want to ask me about my first term?” asked Coates, drawing laughter. “Look. We’re the highest taxed and poorest town on the East End. I’m running for town board to bring a new voice there.”

“We may have the highest taxes,” countered Dunleavey, “but that’s because of the landfill.”

The bout the audience had come to see started taking shape when Coates was asked, “How do you earn a living?”

Displaying some admirable footwork and lightning-like bobbing and weaving, Coates said he has been involved in politics since age 16 and worked for most of his adult life in the financial industry. He said he is a financial investment consultant.

“I’ve know Tony for a long time,” said Dunleavy, “there was a controversy about him going to Albany with the supervisor. Anyone who knows Albany should be volunteering to go to Albany and helping us out up there.”

2013 0827 debate giglio jodiQuestion for Giglio: You own a permit expediting business and your opponent has called for full disclosure of all your clients. Would you make that disclosure?

“Absolutely. I have recused myself from every vote on a client in Riverhead,” Giglio replied, noting she makes the annual disclosure required by town code every March.

“Your disclosure is Swiss cheese,” countered Coates. “We don’t know who you represent. I’ve seen you working in Brookhaven with engineering consultants and then they come to Riverhead and you’re dealing with them as a council member.”

“That’s character assassination,” said Giglio, “That accusation is simply not true.”

Councilmember Dunleavy seated between the two drew laughter from the crowd when he said, “I’m glad I don’t have to get into this. I don’t represent anybody but the people in the town of Riverhead.”

The subject of the recent clear-cutting by the builders of the Costco on Route 58 came to the fore. Both councilmembers showed off their own fancy footwork, explaining the machinations of how the incident occurred. Both essentially said they approved it because it was to code. “The Architectural Review Board felt a natural buffer should have been left,” admitted Giglio. “I think it’s clear we’re not happy with what happened.”

2013 0827 debate coates anthony“This is like the scarecrow on the yellow brick road,” countered Coates. “They ask him which way to go and he points in both directions. I think Riverhead’s citizens are bewildered by the number of boards and committees. I think the citizens aren’t being well served.”

A brief flurry of transparency accusations between Giglio and Coates ensued, before the bout returned to EPCAL.

“The problem with EPCAL is we’re not thinking big enough,” said Coates. “We need to get on the radar of all the money people. And the other thing. Let’s make money the good old fashioned way. Let’s steal it,” he added. “Let’s get pharmaceutical companies, computer companies, those types of companies and literally bring them here.”

“The town board has been working very hard on EPCAL,” Giglio said, “and I think we’ve been doing a great job.”

Term limits for ZBA, Planning Board, and IDA were discussed.

“We should all have term limits,” said Giglio. 

“Our code says members have to be appointed for five years. It’s made that way so they can’t be influenced,” said Dunleavy.

“I’m a big believer in getting new people. We need to reach out to businessmen, academics, we need to cast the net a lot further,” said Coates.

When asked to grade the Town Board, Coates was the only one to come up with a grade: a C.

“The problem [with getting things done] is you need three votes,” explained Dunleavy. “I couldn’t get three votes to get a senior assisted living facility in town.”

“The town board upheld the town code,” countered Giglio. “We had to uphold the master plan regarding the assisted living.”

As for the future of downtown, Dunleavey said he couldn’t see the pace picking up, though it has been steady. “We’ve picked up 17 establishments. It may take a couple of years to fill all the stores. We need a grocery store, we should rezone so businesses are on the first floor and the upper levels can be apartments, we’re working on it.”

Giglio had put forward the business/office idea, and described working with a building owner and a business owner to solve a rent issue. “I simply put the two of them together and they were able to work things out,” she said, adding, “I think the town board has been doing a great job downtown.”

Coates, who lives downtown, agreed, “I see and feel downtown getting better. We need residents who have feel for ownership.” He singled out one property owner, however. “I would make Shelly Gordon’s life a living hell. He knows it wouldn’t be smart to go for eminent domain in this economy. But I’d start enforcing everything in the books.”

A quick flurry ended the revitalization comments between Coates and Giglio and the Summerwind project Giglio is involved in, drawing applause, boos and some angry comments yelled by members of the audience.

2013 0827 debate audienceAs the bout drew to a close, Coates said, “We need to professionalize town hall. I can use my experience at the federal, state and county levels. There are a lot of things going to affect us in the coming years — sewer issues, EPCAL infrastructure problems and more. We need someone with new ideas and energy to move the ball forward.”

“We’ve got growth you can see in the last four years,” said Dunleavy. “Not speculation, but visible growth. “

Giglio used her closing remarks to pound Coates’ campaign. “Summerwind was approved before I became a town board member,” she said, “He [Coates] has waged a campaign of innuendo and attack on me. I have always worked to improve your quality of life in Riverhead. I may have made some mistakes, but I always think of the taxpayers of Riverhead.”

2013 0827 debate moderatorsThe debate, sponsored by the Riverhead News-Review and RiverheadLOCAL, was moderated by RiverheadLOCAL editor and publisher Denise Civiletti, Riverhead News-Review executive editor Grant Parpan and News-Review editor Michael White.

The two local news organizations will host a second debate at the Suffolk Theater on Thursday, Oct. 24, prior to the Nov. 5 general election.

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.