Have you noticed how political signs keep getting bigger with each election season? We’ve got what what amounts to small billboards going up around town, urging us to vote for one candidate or another. They now come complete with larger-than-life, full-color photos of the smiling candidates. And this is in addition to the small “lawn signs” that litter our lovely landscape during the annual “silly season.”

civiletti_headshot_2015It’s a blight on our environment. I don’t know about you, but honestly, it makes me want to not vote for the perpetrator — except then I wouldn’t be voting at all, because it seems they’re all doing it.

This year, as the local election season reaches its frenetic climax, the sign-blight just got kicked up a few notches.

Now we have rolling billboards traversing Riverhead.

Two of the 12- by 21-foot double-sided billboards began rolling through our fair town this week. The trucks are owned by Billboards on Wheels, a Ronkonkoma company hired by the L.I. Law Enforcement Foundation, a super PAC established and funded — to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars — by the Suffolk County PBA.

One of the billboards driving around town implores voters to cast their ballots for Jodi Giglio on Nov. 3. It bears her larger-than-life smiling visage.

The other one (pictured above) depicts a man on his back being crushed by a boulder. “Sean Walter’s tax hikes are crushing Riverhead taxpayers,” it shouts. “Vote NO on Sean Walter.”

The rolling billboards state that they are paid for by the L.I. Law Enforcement Foundation and that they are “not expressly authorized or requested by any candidate or by any candidate’s political committee or any of its agents.”

These giant message boards don’t come cheap. Last year, the same super PAC spent more than $97,000 on them. This year, the super PAC has so far disclosed paying $40,700 to Billboards on Wheels. The PAC doesn’t have to disclose how much it’s spending on which races, but it does have to list which races it’s spending money in.

The L.I. Law Enforcement Foundation, according to its disclosure filings is spending campaign cash on nine county races and one town race — a town race not in the county police district, in a jurisdiction where the local police union is not a member of the PAC: Riverhead. The group’s disclosures list “Jodi Giglio Riverhead Supervisor- Support; Sean Walters [sic] Riverhead Supervisor-Oppose.”

Unless you’re truly brain dead, the question must cross your mind: Why?

And unless you’re completely naive, you will question what the union says: It’s come to their attention that Sean Walter is incompetent and just plain bad for law enforcement. So they’re spending tens of thousands of dollars to boot him out of office — on radio and internet ads, direct mailers, polls and phone calls and, now, Billboards on Wheels.

Yet, that’s what Jodi Giglio says she believes. She told me so herself. She had nothing to do with any of this, of course.

That’s the beauty of these so-called super PACs, these independent expenditure committees that can collect and spend unlimited amounts of cash, often to mount a negative campaign against a particular person or issue.

We can thank the U.S. Supreme Court for this.

But responsibility for the nastiness of this campaign and the inaccuracy of the accusations being made rests squarely with the Suffolk County Police PBA. And their favored candidate has to shoulder some of the responsibility as well. She can speak out against the negative campaign being mounted in an effort to get her elected. She chooses not to.

So we have Billboards on Wheels and a smear campaign delivered to our mailboxes on an almost-daily basis.

Again, it all begs the question: Why? To borrow a line from the ever-glib Tony Coates: Are we really expected to believe the Suffolk County PBA just woke up one morning and decided said, “Let’s bring good government to the Town of Riverhead?”

The supervisor fervently maintains that the Suffolk County Police union wants Riverhead. He says the union president told him so. When I asked the union president, he flatly denied it. But in fact there have been discussions, albeit informal ones, between the Riverhead town and county unions and between the town PBA and some members of the town board.

For Riverhead PD to become part of the county police force, the voters of the town must approve the change in a referendum. After what I’ve seen the county union do in these past two months, I can only just imagine how much the county police union would spend on that campaign.

This is what it’s come to. It’s a toxic environment, where just about anything goes — one where it’s now even acceptable for a political party chairman to heckle a candidate during a debate. A party chairman! A “leader” who should, by his example, set the tone befitting public discourse by candidates seeking the public trust.

Instead we’ve got boorish behavior befitting a beer-soaked boxing match.

And billboards on wheels.

Meanwhile, people running for office and people already there call each other names, smear each other’s characters, talk in circles, duck the issues and run for cover every time there’s a tough decision to be made.

And we sit by quietly as the Riverhead we’ve known and loved slips into the past.

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Denise Civiletti is an owner of East End Local Media Corp., publishers of RiverheadLOCAL. and SoutholdLOCAL. An award-winning reporter, including a “Writer of the Year” award from the N.Y. Press Association, she is an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman (1988-1991). She lives in Riverhead with her husband and business partner, Peter Blasl. The views expressed in her column are hers alone.
Send Denise an email.

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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.