2013 1015 downtown presser
Angela DeVito at a 2013 press conference on East Main Street. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Downtown revitalization progress is “scant” and “what little progress that’s been made should be credited to business leaders and not town government, according to Riverhead Democratic supervisor candidate Angela DeVito and her running mates for town board seats, Bill Bianchi and Millie Thomas.

The Democrats held a news conference Tuesday afternoon in front of the now-vacant Red Collection store on East Main Street.

DeVito said the opening of the Riverhead Project, re-opening of the Suffolk Theater and the promotional activities of the Business Improvement District “is the work of entrepreneurial business leaders and not Sean Walter or the lackluster Town Board.”

Progress reinvigorating downtown has been “pitiful,” DeVito said. High vacancy rates, continued crime, drug sales and prostitution in the downtown district make people fearful to come downtown, she said. She acknowledged that the perception is probably worse than reality but said she doubts the public “has all the information about what the reality is.”

“Sean Walter and his political pals would have voters believe that they’ve made downtown a thriving metropolis,” DeVito said. “Just look at it – downtown is a few bright spots of light in a sea of blight and the Walter administration is boasting about progress that a few positive-minded business leaders are responsible for.”

Walter disagrees and said he welcomes the Democrats “to go ahead an run on that platform.”

“Ask any downtown business owner about it,” Walter said. “We’ve not only actively assisted businesses who want to come downtown, we’ve removed barriers that previously existed,” he said.

“Of course, the credit for a business starting up and staying in business belongs to the hard-working entrepreneurs, not the government. I’m not claiming otherwise. It’s a question of whether government obstructs progress or helps it happen. We’ve reversed the past pattern of obstruction with assistance,” Walter said. He also said he takes seriously his role as a vocal advocate for downtown, and that means being positive about the district. “You’re not going to improve downtown by running it down,” he said.

When asked what a DeVito administration would do to turn things around downtown, the candidate replied that she would immediately, upon taking office, convene a meeting of downtown business owners and leaders of the BID and chamber of commerce to discuss what they believe is needed. She said it wouldn’t be “a Shelly Gordon feel-good session” like the “downtown summit” convened by Walter in February 2010, after he first took office.

DeVito said downtown would not improve until the surrounding residential blocks are cleaned up. She said there are too many landlords renting homes on Second Street and Third Street to “multiple tenants.” She also said she would increase police presence in those areas as well. Finally, DeVito said, she would actively work with Southampton Town to make sure efforts are in place to revitalize the Riverside area. Conditions in Riverside will hold downtown Riverhead back, she said.

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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.