Things got hot pretty quickly after the candidates for town supervisor took the floor at last night’s candidates’ debate in Calverton.

The evening started out uneventfully enough with the town justice and assessor candidates introducing themselves in brief statements to an audience of about 60 people in the Riley Avenue Elementary School cafetorium. Then the four town board candidates sparred for about 45 minutes on a range of topics, including the need for a master plan update and plans for a medical marijuana dispensary in Riverhead.

But sparks began to fly quickly once the three candidates for supervisor took their places next to moderator Sid Bail, president of the Wading River Civic Association, which hosted the debate with the Calverton Civic Association.

Incumbent Supervisor Sean Walter, in a three-way race for his seat with Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and his former adviser Anthony Coates, opened by asking the audience to view the election as one about character and integrity.

Declaring himself free of control by party bosses and special interests, Walter said a candidate of integrity knows right from wrong and doesn’t make excuses for his or her behavior.

“You own up to your mistakes,” he said. “If you have a building that you didn’t get permits on, you get the permits, you get your C.O.,” Walter said, addressing Giglio. “You pay your federal taxes. You pay your town taxes.”

Walter was referring to an $89,152 federal tax lien filed by the IRS against the councilwoman’s husband, Michael. The lien was filed in December 2010, according to the Suffolk County Clerk’s records access website.

Walter was also referring to the disclosure in 2013 that the Giglio residence in Baiting Hollow had several long-existing improvements — including an in-ground pool, a finished basement and a second-story addition — that had not been issued certificates of occupancy by the town until that spring. The councilwoman, who owns a permit expediting business, issued an “apology to the Riverhead taxpayers” in July 2013, obtained the required permits, paid the building permit fees and a portion of the town property taxes that would have been assessed on the home over several years while the improvements went without permits. This year, Giglio paid the school district $10,000 for back taxes associated with those improvements.

Walter next turned to Coates, who was once a close associate and paid political strategist.

“You know what?” he asked. “Mr. Coates, you also don’t stab one of your best friends in the heart after he saves your life.”

That remark drew gasps and some jeers from the audience.

Walter said a supervisor’s personal integrity and character is of utmost importance.

“It’s not rocket science. I’m not saying I don’t make mistakes along the way,” Walter said, “but the reality is, we learn from the mistakes and we move forward and we move forward as a team.”

Neither challenger responded to Walter’s statements last night.

Reached for comment this morning, Giglio dismissed the supervisor’s remarks.

“I knocked on 5,000 doors,” Giglio said. “People that I talk to are concerned about taxes, quality of life issues and development of the enterprise park. People have not asked about my husband’s business, Seans brother’s legal matters with the school district and his property, or Tony’s driving record and financial problems,” Giglio said in a text message. “Informed, concerned voters are interested in the issues that will help move Riverhead forward.”

The supervisor said he’s had the opposite experience as he’s canvassed the town during this campaign.

“People do ask about those things,” Walter said. “People do care. Character and integrity are everything in public office and elected officials should hold themselves to a higher standard. Failing to obtain permits for improvements to your home, avoiding property taxes, having a federal tax lien filed against your home, those are things that speak to one’s integrity. Integrity is foremost. All else flows from there.”

Coates said today Walter was trying to deflect attention from a poor record.

“We are the highest-taxed town on the East End, we’re Suffolk’s most indebted, lowest bond-rated town. Anyone who wants to talk about made-up personal issues is trying to take your eye off the ball.

“Every two years there’s a phony deal at EPCAL, there’s a flap about some phony personal nonsense, last-minute mailers that mean nothing and aren’t true. The voters are poorly served by all this nonsense,” Coates said.

Check back later for full video of the debate.

We need your help.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community faces unprecedented economic disruption, and the future of many small businesses are under threat, including our own. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family-owned operation, and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But today more than ever before, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we depend on you to make our work possible.

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.