2013 0917 haas keller

Update: Mason Haas won election at Riverhead Town Republican Committee chairman at the committee meeting tonight at Polish Hall. He beat former town leader Martin Keller by a gubernatorial vote of 2,255 to 1,119.5. The committee meeting was still going on behind closed doors as of 8:15 p.m.

Original story:

Former Riverhead Republican Committee chairman Martin Keller is challenging vice chairman Mason Haas for the committee chairman post in a Republican committee vote to be held tonight at Polish Hall.

Chairman John Galla, who took the party mantle in March 2011 following the resignation of former chairwoman Nancy Reyer, is stepping aside as chairman.

“I’ve got a significant following,” Keller told RiverheadLOCAL in a phone interview this afternoon. The decision will likely be made by committee members in a floor vote at tonight’s meeting.

Keller served as party chairman from April 2008, after longtime leader Bruce Stuke passed until he stepped down in July 2009, following the death of his son, New York Army National Guard Sgt. Jonathan Keller, a casualty of the Afghan war.

“I just couldn’t handle it,” Keller said of his decision to resign due to his family crisis.

He’s running again, he said, because “there are just too many issues that I don’t believe the leadership can handle.” He declined to elaborate.

“I have the experience to deal with with it,” Keller said.

Haas seemed unruffled by the challenge.

“If they want me they’ll vote for me,” he said in an interview this afternoon. “If they don’t, they won’t. We had good results in the primary,” he said, alluding to the defeat of town council candidate Anthony Coates by incumbents — and party designees — John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio.

Haas, an elected Riverhead Town assessor, has come under fire by Supervisor Sean Walter, who argues that an elected official should not serve on a political party’s executive committee. The town ethics code band appointed members of the town planning board and zoning board of appeals from serving on a party’s executive committee, but does not ban elected officials from such service.

Haas argues that there’s no conflict of interest. He says the state attorney general’s office and the state department of real property tax services both said “it wasn’t an issue” and notes that Brookhaven Town, which bans certain elected officials from serving as an officer of a political party, didn’t ban assessors from doing so.

Walter has asked the Riverhead board of ethics for an opinion. He said today they have yet to weigh in. The board is scheduled to meet next tomorrow evening, according to the calendar posted on the town’s website.

Haas challenged Walter for the Republican party’s supervisor nomination, but backed down just before the GOP’s nominating convention in May, in what political insiders say was a deal brokered to preserve party unity behind the incumbent Walter, with Haas to take the role of party chairman. Neither Haas nor Walter will confirm such an agreement. Walter says his objections to Haas as chairman of the committee — of which Walter, a former registered Conservative and former chairman of the Riverhead Conservative Committee, is not a member — have nothing to do with politics.

“It’s just not good government to have elected officials serve as party leaders,” Walter said. “In fact, I don’t think elected officials should serve on party committees at all.”

Riverhead Town Councilman George Gabrielsen is a member of the Riverhead Republican Committee. Councilwoman Jodi Giglio is an alternate.

There are more changes at the top for Riverhead Republicans. Longtime committee secretary Diane Stuke-Lanieri is stepping aside and will no longer serve on the executive committee, Haas said.

“She says she’s done her time,” Haas said. She is recently widowed. Her husband Robert died in June. “She needs to take time for herself,” Haas said. Stuke-Lanieri will stay on as a committee member, Haas said. Facing a primary challenge, she — along with Chairman John Galla — in July declined their designations as representatives of election district 20 in Wading River.

Both Galla and Stuke-Lanieri have now been reappointed to the committee to represent other election districts, Haas said. He said he could not recall which districts Stuke-Lanieri and Galla will represent, but Stuke-Lanieri’s new district is be near her South Jamesport home, he said.

Committee seats carry varied weighted votes, determined by the number of votes cast in the last election for governor. ED 20, formerly represented by Galla and Stuke-Lanieri carries 315 gubernatorial votes, the most of any election district in the town and therefore the most powerful seats. Just six of the 22 election districts control 1,588 of the total 1,689 gubernatorial votes needed to nominate a candiate for elective office.

Haas said both he and Keller have their own slates for executive committee slots. He declined to say who was on his slate.

“That will be for the committee to vote on tonight” at the party’s organizational meeting, Haas said. The committee meeting is not open to the public or the press, he said.

This is an off-year for the Democratic committee, which does not reorganize until 2014.

Party office holders are elected to a two-year term. The positions are not salaried, though the party chairman traditionally receives a small monthly stipend.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.