He went it alone and won.
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, who was turned away by his own party in a squeaker of a primary election in September, won re-election Tuesday running alone on the Conservative line. Walter came out on top in a three-way race that pitted him against the Republican party pick, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, and Democratic challenger Anthony Coates — once Walter’s confidante and political strategist.
With all 22 Riverhead election districts reporting, Walter had 2,874 votes, trailed by Giglio with 2,438 votes and Coates with 1,720 votes, according to unofficial results posted by the Suffolk County Board of Elections.
“Integrity, character matters,” Walter told a crowd of jubilant supporters at Mazi, the downtown restaurant where they watched the results come in. “We talked about Main Street, EPCAL and delivering a balanced budget, but in the end, for me, character and integrity were key to this victory,” he said to cheers and applause.
Despite victory for the rest of the Republican ticket, which swept every contested race yesterday, Giglio’s loss at the top cast a pall over the crowd at the Birchwood restaurant in Polish Town, where the party faithful gathered for the results. As the numbers showed Walter’s lead mounting, the room grew quiet.
Conceding that her 436-vote deficit at the polls could not be reversed by the 400 outstanding absentee ballots, Giglio took the podium to thank supporters and “preliminarily congratulate Sean Walter because he ran a hard campaign and the numbers are in his favor.”
In an interview, she pledged to work together with Walter and the rest of the town board “for the good of the town for the next two years.”
Conspicuously absent from the Republican gathering in Polish Town was Councilman James Wooten, who, like Walter, was passed over by the party committee. Unlike Walter, Wooten won the Republican nod in the September primary battle.
Wooten was re-elected to a third term of office, placing second in a four-way contest with fellow Republican Tim Hubbard and ahead of Democrats Laura Jens-Smith and Neil Krupnick.
Hubbard won 4,198 votes to Wooten’s 3,124, Jens-Smith’s 2,575 and Krupnick’s 2,250, according to the board of elections.
Wooten’s absence from Republican election night headquarters underscored the deep fissure in the Riverhead Republican party after a long, bloody battle — first in a primary and then in the general election. Wooten spent the evening with Walter and his supporters at Mazi on East Main Street. They were joined by incumbent assessor Paul Leszczynski, who was re-elected yesterday, as well as council members John Dunleavy and George Gabrielsen.
When a TV monitor showed Walter, surrounded by Wooten, Dunleavy, Gabrielsen and Leszczynski, being interviewed by a reporter, some in the crowd at the Birchwood began booing and jeering at the screen.
“This has been a very tough race,” the embattled supervisor told supporters after all the election districts were reported and the returns showed him ahead with 4o.8 percent of the vote to Giglio’s 34.6 percent and Coates’ 24.4 percent.
“I’m not going to tell you I wasn’t curled up on a couch after that primary,” Walter said, referring to his 40-vote loss to Giglio in the Sept. 10 party primary. Walter mounted a hard-fought primary campaign after the nearly deadlocked GOP committee endorsed Giglio for supervisor at its May convention. She edged out Walter in a floor fight by one-half point.
Walter’s candidacy survived a brutal attack by the Suffolk County police union’s well-funded super PAC, which spent — as of October 19 — more than $100,000 to oppose him with radio and internet advertising, a dozen or so direct mailings and mobile billboards that castigated the supervisor as a politician whose policies are crushing local taxpayers.
Down the street at the Democrats storefront headquarters, where the party faithful watched as election district after election district went to the Republicans, the mood quickly grew somber.
Riverhead Democratic leaders had high hopes for success in this year’s race, but it ended with the fourth consecutive sweep of its legislative ticket. The last time Democrats elected a candidate to the town board in Riverhead was Supervisor Phil Cardinale in 2007. The Democrats have not elected a town board majority since 2003.
The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for Democratic committee chairwoman Marge Acevedo.
“This whole campaign was about truth,” Acevedo told the crowd of supporters. “Obviously [the people of Riverhead] just don’t want to hear that in this town – they just want the same old, same old.”
“We hoped for a brighter future in Riverhead,” said Coates, who dubbed his campaign committee Better Riverhead. “We hoped that this new government would constitute itself to move this town forward,” Coates said.
“It’s just one of those races where I can’t think of another thing we could have done,” Coates said. “Riverhead just didn’t respond to our message.”
In his only other bid for elective office, Coates had switched his party enrollment to Republican in 2012, in order to run a primary campaign in 2013 against Giglio, who was then running for a second term as councilwoman. Walter bucked his party and openly supported Coates in that bid, which failed miserably; he placed a distant third in a three-way race, where Giglio came out on top, followed closely by incumbent Councilman John Dunleavy.
Up until that point, Coates, a lifelong enrolled Democrat, had been Walter’s longtime ally and political strategist and had even worked as a paid political consultant to Walter and other Riverhead Republican candidates. Coates ended his brief stint as a Republican and switched back to Democrat last year, announcing his bid to unseat his old friend this spring. It was a move that stung Walter and surprised most political insiders.
Other local races of note
Republican Town Justice candidate Lori Hulse handily defeated Democrat Jeanmarie Costello, 4,216 votes to 2,421 voted.
Republican incumbent assessors Mason Haas and Paul Leszczynski easily overcame Democratic challenger Greg Fischer, who polled less than 20 percent of the vote in the three-way race for two seats.
Town clerk Diane Wilhelm and receiver of taxes Laurie Zaneski, were both re-elected running unopposed.
Incumbent County Legislator Al Krupski took 75 percent of the vote in his re-election bid against Riverhead Republican chairman Remy Bell.
Baiting Hollow resident George Harkin, a Republican, was elected Family Court judge.
See live blog of last night’s returns: reactions, interviews, photos and more.
Katie Blasl, Courtney Blasl and Michael Hejmej contributed reporting.