After 36 years at the Riverhead Highway Department, Superintendent George (“Gio”) Woodson has decided to park his plow truck for the last time.
Woodson, who will turn 60 in July, will retire at the end of his current term, which expires Dec. 31.
In an interview today, Woodson, a Democrat, said he’s not seeking re-election because he’s tired of the politics involved in government, which he says just keeps getting worse.
“Once you get elected, all Democrat or Republican things should go out the window,” said Woodson, one of just three Democrats who currently hold elective office in the Town of Riverhead. “You’re a team that works together. But we can’t seem to work together in this town. That’s why nothing gets done in government or takes years to get done.”
Woodson started working for the highway department in 1985 after his discharge from the military.
“I started as a laborer and worked my way up through the ranks,” he said.
Woodson was a crew leader in 2005 when he challenged his boss, then-incumbent Mark Kwasna, for the superintendent’s post. He lost by 133 votes.
He ran again in 2007. The incumbent had stepped aside and Woodson defeated Ed Densieski by a vote of 55% to 45%, becoming just the third African-American to win elective office in Riverhead Town government.
In 2009, as Riverhead voters approved a ballot proposition to increase the highway superintendent term from two to four years, Woodson was re-elected with 60% of the vote. He has since won re-election to two four-year terms.
Woodson says he feels satisfied that he’s accomplished a lot at the helm of a department staffed by a hard-working, dedicated crew.
“I give my guys the credit,” he said. “They work hard. We have a good crew that knows how to do what it takes to get the job done” — in spite of being short-handed, he’s quick to note.
“When I started we had 47 guys, now we’re down to 34 or 35,” he said. And there are many more roads to maintain and plow today than there were in 1985, he said.
Woodson said he’s tired of having to fight for everything he needs to run the highway department.
“Last year was probably the worst year I’ve ever had, as far as not being prepared for the upcoming snow season,” Woodson said.
“And you get disgusted, especially when you have money in your highway account and people are basically jerking you around, not giving you what you need. That puts people’s lives at risk,” Woodson said.
“I just said, enough is enough,” he said.
The highway chief said he’s proud of working with his crew to make the department run more efficiently and doing more with less. He said he tried to learn from highway departments around the country. For example, he said, he found auctions for purchasing good used equipment and vehicles, so that he could upgrade the department even though there was very little money to spend, especially when he first took office.
“I have no regrets,” Woodson said. “I love the job. If I had to do it again I’d do it the same way, only I’d try to do it better.”
Woodson said once he’s out of office, he plans to drive his Camaro and go golfing. He may move down south, because New York is getting “too chaotic,” he said. But he hasn’t made up his mind about that.
One thing he said he knows for sure: “I’m just tired of being in this circus. I want out.”
His deputy, Mike Zaleski, got the nod from the Riverhead Republican Committee last night to run for highway superintendent. He’s a good man, Woodson said, and has been a good deputy.
Woodson, one of just three elected Democrats in Riverhead Town government, said he expects the Democratic committee to nominate another highway department employee for the post when they hold their convention. Woodson declined to identify the individual.
Riverhead Democrats plan to hold a virtual nominating convention this evening via zoom, party leader Marge Acevedo said today. The meeting will not be open to the press or public, she said, because the Zoom format gets too “unwieldy” with a large number of participants.
Acevedo said the Democratic committee will elect a new leader this evening, prior to the commencement of proceedings to name a slate of candidates. Acevedo is stepping down after more than eight years at the helm. She plans to stay on as a committee member.
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