Mason Haas at a hearing in 2013.

Embattled Riverhead Republican chairman Mason Haas has stepped aside as party chairman.

Haas announced his decision to the Riverhead Republican committee at its reorganization meeting last night at the Elks lodge.

The committee elected Remy Bell as its new chairman. Bell is the fifth chairman of the Republican committee since the passing of longtime town leader Bruce Stuke in 2008.

The outgoing chairman, also an elected town assessor, is currently embroiled in a lawsuit against the town challenging an ethics code amendment that bans elected officials from holding party leadership posts. Haas charges that the new law targeted him specifically, was “vindictive” and violates his constitutional rights.

The lawsuit is pending in State Supreme Court, Haas said this morning.

In a statement to the committee last night, which Haas forwarded to RiverheadLOCAL this morning, he referenced the ongoing battles he’s had with Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter since 2013, which culminated in the ethics code amendment that sought to force him from the committee chairmanship.

“It is with great disappointment that I have watched some who continually attack this committee of volunteers in an attempt for one’s own gains. These threats and actions must stop for this party to continue moving forward,” Haas said.

“I had already served faithfully as a committee member and as an elected official in our town, and when the call came, I happily rose to the challenge,” he said. “Would that I could say that we are as united as I had hoped we would be, come the end of my tenure.”

In an interview this morning, Haas reiterated his charge that the code change was a vindictive act.

“They asked the ethics board for an opinion and they got it. They didn’t like it so they didn’t follow it. Instead they are following through on the threat they made,” Haas told RiverheadLOCAL.

This morning, Walter said he was “happy to see new leadership in the Republican party.”

“If I win the primary, I look forward to working with Remy,” he said,

Bell, a Riverhead resident who’s been a Republican committeeman for five years, said he’s “looking forward to the challenge” of the chairman’s post. His main goal, he said in an interview this morning, is “to get my slate elected.”

The committee picked Bell in a unanimous vote. John Hogan of Wading River was elected vice-chairman. Diane Stuke and Tammy Robinkoff were again named secretary and treasurer, respectively.

Bell, a 30-plus year Riverhead resident, is no stranger to politics. He’s currently the Republican party candidate for county legislator, challenging Democratic incumbent Al Krupski. He’s made two prior unsuccessful runs for elected office, both times as a Democrat. He ran against Republican legislator Greg Blass in 1985 and against assemblyman Joe Sawicki in 1986. Having switched from Republican to Democrat to make those runs, he switched back to Republican afterward.

He currently works for the Suffolk County Board of Elections and has a part-time post as a traffic control officer for the Town of Riverhead.

Haas will remain a member of the town and county Republican committees, he said today. He said he is pleased with positive changes made in the committee during his two-year tenure at the helm. Committee people have been more active getting out into their districts, listening to residents’ concerns and bringing them back to their elected officials.

“Sometimes they relay things the elected officials don’t want to hear,” Haas said.

“While we elect a few who run our government, it is our group of volunteers throughout our town which complete us: ambulance members,  fire department member, little league coaches, PAL members, and let us not forget animal shelter advocates, along with many others,” Haas told the committee last night. “Their time and energy are what help mold our community into what this great town is.”

Below is the full text of a statement Haas sent to RiverheadLOCAL, which he said he read to the committee at last night’s reorganization meeting:  

It has been an extreme honor to have served as your chairman over the past 2 years. Although exhausting at times, my task has taking me to all corners of our town and county, where I have met many great people. At this time I will not be seeking a second term for the position of Committee Chairman.

I am honored to have served alongside you and to have done a service to the taxpayers and citizens of our town. It is with a heavy heart that I step down from this position, but it is a decision that I find is necessary at this time. For both my family and my reputation.

I have learned and experienced a great deal in my time as chairman, and I am thankful for the opportunity to have helped our party in both local and federal elections. I have seen the position of the Chairman go through turbulent times, now for past 4 years and am dismayed with some of the things I have witnessed, and heard. ***It is with great disappointment that I have watched some who continually attack this committee of volunteers in an attempt for one’s own gains. These threats and actions must stop for this party to continue moving forward. One must remember the pool of the people who have the time, energy, and interest to volunteer is not vast. We as a community must be careful not to put limits on the same.

When I took up the position I spoke with many of you and heard your voices asking for change. A change that would better us to serve our town and our party justly. I was unaware of the precarious situation on our horizon, and of the vast amount of time and energy that the post would take from me. Much of that time wasted defending my reputation and my name. **I had already served faithfully as a committee member and as an elected official in our town, and when the call came, I happily rose to the challenge. Would that I could say that we are as united as I had hoped we would be, come the end of my tenure.

While we elect a few who run our government. It is our group of volunteers throughout our town which complete us, ambulance members,  fire department member, little league coaches, PAL members, and let us not forget animal shelter advocates, along with many others. Their time and energy are what help mold our community into what this great town is.

I will continue to serve as a committee member for our party, and will offer assistance, advice, and council to whomever needs it or takes the reins. But because my constitutional right were being stripped from me in an attempt to force me to step down prior to my tenure ending. I was forced to file an action to protect my rights, and action that a portion of the taxpayers are not happy with. For the betterment of this committee, I feel I now must step back from the position of chairman.

And so, as I step down from this position, I want to thank you all, once again, for giving me the opportunity to lead our party. A special thanks to our county chair John J Lavalle for his respect and guidance. A second thank you to Marge Acevedo the Democratic Riverhead party leader, for a non turbulent relationship. It is a reminder that government can exist without the ongoing drama.  The two year term that I had agreed to fulfill has now come to an end.  I simply completed my term.  I have made many memories and met many people, and for that I am grateful. I urge you to put aside differences and unite behind our slate so we may serve the residents of our town.

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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.