There was a sparse turnout for a candidates forum last night cosponsored by the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce and the L.I. Farm Bureau at Polish Hall, where most of the approximately 50 people in the audience were affiliated with political committees or the candidates’ campaigns.
Moderator Joe Gergela said people who sit home and throw bombs and don’t get involved in the process “have no credibility.”
Candidates for town offices, county legislature and state assembly — a panel of 13 in all — were each given an opportunity to introduce themselves in a three minute opening statement, followed by a period of questions from members of the audience, submitted to the moderator on index cards.
Supervisor Sean Walter said the town has made good progress on the three areas on which he’s concentrated his attention since taking office in 2010: downtown revitalization, pursuing the subdivision of land at the Calverton Enterprise Park, and straightening out the town’s fiscal condition.
“Everything is trending in the right direction and the bedrock of that is agriculture and commerce,” Walter said.
Supervisor candidate Angela DeVito said her professional background and community activism equip her for the job of town supervisor.
She called for more open space preservation in partnership with the county and better implementation of the farmland transfer of development rights program.
“We need to put in place a TDR plan that benefits the community as well as the farmers,” she said.
“EPCAL has been a promise and an albatross,” DeVito said. She said the town should be wary of land speculators buying up lots in the Cavlerton Enterprise Park.
Incumbent Councilman John Dunleavy said he is “all about” saving the taxpayers money. He said he took over the municipal garage after former financial administrator Jack Hansen passed away and reduced its budget by 20 percent. He also claimed credit for having Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota provide the town with two K9 dogs using the district attorney’s forfeiture funds. He said he was also involved in getting the DA to purchase an ATV and a shed to store it in with forfeiture funds. Dunleavy said he negotiated four cell tower deals for Riverhead, though only one was finalized due to the economic downturn. It has brought the town $130,000 in revenues, he said. He also said he got the town a free natural gas vehicle from Apple Honda.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio also took credit for for saving the town money. She said wouldn’t renew the garbage carter contract for another three years without a bid. Going out to bid, she said, saved the town $2 million.
“The contractor that was doing the collection bid half of what he was charging the town and he was not the lowest bidder,” Giglio said.
Giglio said she spearheaded the effort to audit the town’s phone system and discovered the town was spending $75,000 on phone lines it wasn’t even using, resulting in a $75,000 refund from Verizon.
Democratic council candidate Millie Thomas, a Baiting Hollow resident for 12 years and the owner of a real estate agency in Wading River, said her business sense and civic involvement have prepared her for a seat on the town board. As a business owner, she’s had to make tough budget decisions and she understands that the needs of her clients come first. As a councilwoman, the clients are taxpayers, she said.
“I know how to set goals and establish a time frame for completion,” Thomas said. “A good manager is accountable and we have to be accountable to the taxpayers.”
Residents, she said, are “tired of hearing about EPCAL.”
Bill Bianchi, a former state assemblyman from Bellport and a greenhouse grower in Riverhead, said he comes from a farm family and understands what it means to be a farmer.
His years of experience in the assembly also taught him about government, he said.
“Government doesn’t work well unless it’s a two-party government,” Bianchi said, talking about his experience as the only Suffolk Democrat in the state assembly then led by Republican Perry Duryea of Montauk.
Bianchi cited traffic on Route 58 as one of the “big concerns” he sees in the town.
“It’s bad and it’s going to get worse,” he said.
Highway Superintendent George Woodson said he has the highway department running smoothly since being elected in 2008. Voters since approved a four-year term for the office, so “I guess I’m doing something right,” he said.
He said he’s learned how to make do with a $200,000 equipment budget that should be $600,000. He’s purchased $4 million worth of trucks and equipment for $80,000, by taking advantage of auctions where he buys used vehicles and equipment.
“I will let my accomplishments speak for themselves,” said Woodson, a veteran highway department employee who rose through the ranks prior to his election to the top post.
His opponent, Mike Panchak, owner of Eagle Asphalt, said he is running for highway superintendent because many people asked him to. He said coming from private industry, he has the fiscal knowledge to run the department. He knows how to estimate projects, budget jobs and communicate with people, he said.
Assessor candidate Greg Fischer, whose opponent, incumbent Laverne Tennenberg did not attend last night’s forum, noted that there were “mostly political insiders” in the audience.
“Regular citizens hate politics,” Fischer said.
Fischer said the economy is “at the 12th hour” and government needs to focus on revenues.
The assessor’s office has been “an absolute calamity” since the 1970s, Fischer said. The assessors have “broad discretion” that they have “used improperly,” he said.
County Legislator Al Krupski, running for re-election after defeating Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter in a special election in January, said he’s worked to learn about county government in his first months in office. He has visited more than 30 county departments to see how the county runs, he said. Krupski said he sits on the following committees: budget and finance; human services; environment, planning and agriculture; and public works and transportation.
Krupski said it’s important for people in government to “work together across party lines,” something he’s good at having served for many years in Southold Town government.
Albie de Kerillis, of East Marion, the Republican candidate for county legislator, is a military veteran who works for Riverhead Building Supply in Greenport, where he is a 20-year member of the volunteer fire department.
“We need to send a very clear message. We want our children here. We want our middle class here. That’s what I’m all about,” de Kerillis said.
The candidates for the vacant Second Assembly District seat, Democrat John McManmon and Republican Anthony Palumbo, are both lawyers who say they want to bring about change in Albany.
“A corrosive paralytic partisanship gets in the way of real solutions,” in both Albany and Washington, McManmon said. “Politics should be a conversation of ideas.”
“We’re ready for a new generation of leadership. We need people focused like a laser on things that really affect us,” McManmon said, citing the cost of living, job creation, changing the state education aid formula and adjusting the enhanced STAR program as examples.
He said he would work to facilitate public-private partnerships involving EPCAL, Stony Brook University, Suffolk Community College, Cold Spring Harbor and Brookhaven National Lab and companies like Computer Associates, aiming to create a “Silicon Valley” on eastern Long Island.
Republican assembly candidate Anthony Palumbo, a former trial supervisor for the five East End towns in the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, said he decided to run for office because “I’ve had enough yelling at the TV.”
The political newcomer said as a father and taxpayer he’s sick of the same old, same old. We are on the verge of economic crisis, Palumbo said.
“Complacency has gotten us here,” he said. “That’s why I’m running.”
Palumbo railed against “unfunded mandates” dumped on local government and schools. “Someone needs to go up there and stop with the unfunded mandates and I am that person,” he said.
Republicans in Democrat-controlled assembly have power, contrary to a popular misconception, Palumbo said. “We have our buddies in the [Republican-controlled] senate.”
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