This year’s Democratic political candidates have almost exclusively talked about their opposition to the town’s deal to sell more than 1,600 acres of industrial land and runways at the Calverton Enterprise Park, making it their key selling point to voters in the upcoming election.
That is certainly an important — arguably the most important — issue this year, but if the EPCAL deal falls through, or if decisions about the fate of the site are finalized before Election Day, what then? Will anybody have a motivation or reason to vote for the Democrats — other than they’re not the Republicans?
While Democrats run on their concerns about the current deal with Calverton Aviation & Technology, including plans that would increase truck traffic in Riverhead and potentially have cargo planes landing in Calverton, that deal is not the only problem that the Town of Riverhead will face in the near future.
This election is — and has to be — about more than EPCAL. But the Democratic candidates are not treating it that way.
If you visit Democratic supervisor candidate Angela DeVito’s website, you’ll see a bunch of vague platitudes — almost indistinguishable from the words that come out of current Republican town officials’ mouths or get posted on the Republicans’ campaign websites.
The other two Democratic Town Board candidates don’t even have websites.
Simply put, the Democrats do not have a platform when they truly need one.
Our opinion isn’t in the interest of the Democratic candidates, it’s in the interest of good government and residents’ chance to have a say in how their town is run. How are voters supposed to make an informed decision? Democrats have had one press conference since the “campaign” — if you could even call it that — began. Voters should know candidates’ views on key issues — and the Democrats aren’t delivering that. Riverhead deserves an alternative to its Republican party, in all of its institutional strength.
The comprehensive plan is the perfect example of an issue that Democrats have failed to leverage. This is a project that costs a lot of money and will have long-term consequences for the whole town. Other than attending a few meetings during the current public input process, Democrats have said very little about the comp plan update, despite the fact that, if elected, they would be the ones adopting and implementing the plan.
Do the Democrats even have a vision for the future of the town? If they do, they certainly haven’t made a strong case for it. And if they don’t, how can they be trusted to lead?
Zoning is a tricky issue to speak on if you don’t know how it works, if you haven’t done your homework. But it’s arguably the most powerful tool in a municipality’s toolbox and the exact issue candidates need to be knowledgeable about if they want to be the people in the town government driver’s seat.
There are many important issues on the horizon that the incoming administration, whether Democratic or Republican, will have to address, including housing, the impacts of climate change and sea level rise, and the evolution of the town’s infrastructure and emergency services, to name just a few.
For some, taking the power away from the current Republican Town Board, which has made brash decisions and neglected the voices of a vocal constituency, will be enough. For others, maybe the EPCAL issue, and the potential of added truck traffic from warehouse and logistics center proposals, will be enough.
But the people of Riverhead deserve better in this pivotal election year. Better than candidates absent from the podium at almost every meeting. Better than platitudes. Better than what the Democrats have been doing if they intend to earn the support of voters in November.
To be sure, the local Republican Party is weak in many of the same ways. Despite having had a firm and nearly exclusive grip on the reins of power in Riverhead for decades, their “platform” is also short on specifics and long on generalities. For example, the platform posted on the RiverheadGOP website right now states:
“EPCAL PLAN: We will not be closed minded to options, We will look at all options that are Economically and Environmentally sensible and in the best interest of the people of Riverhead.”
And this from the party that engineered the sale of the EPCAL site to Triple Five/CAT to begin with! No mention of where they stand on the use of EPCAL for air cargo. No mention of logistics centers or battery storage facilities. No mention of the comprehensive plan update. Indeed, the Riverhead Republican Party hasn’t even bothered to update its website with names of and information about their 2023 slate of candidates.
From the looks of it, the political parties and their candidates don’t seem to hold the voters in high enough regard to even bother to try to sell themselves to you.
Democracy is broken in Riverhead — and it seems that’s exactly how the political powers like it. No meaningful public discussion of issues, no exchange of ideas. These are essentials to the meaning and functioning of the electoral process. Without them, how will you decide? After all, this is an election, not a popularity contest. You’d never know that here.
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