Democratic supervisor candidate Angela DeVito speaking at a press conference Sept. 6, as council candidate Andrew Leven looks on. Photo: Alek Lewis

Riverhead Democratic candidates unveiled their 2023 campaign platform on Wednesday, relaying several priorities if they take office in 2024 and continuing to attack their opponents on the Calverton Enterprise Park land-deal. 

Supervisor candidate Angela DeVito and council candidate Andrew Leven presented what the Democrats called “our plan that CREATES a better Riverhead.” CREATES is an acronym comprising the first letter of the following statements:

  • Complete the Comprehensive Plan to prevent overdevelopment, promote smart growth and preserve what we love about Riverhead
  • Responsible Town Board. Budget carefully, spend wisely and keep our residents safe by increasing our Police Force and Code Enforcement officers to keep pace with our population.
  • Energy and Environment. Explore safe, alternative energy sources and technology. Plan to protect against flooding and future climate challenges. Preserve natural resources, our farmlands and open space. 
  • Affordability. Hold the line on taxes. Stop the IDA tax giveaways. Work for affordable housing options that create a better Riverhead. 
  • Total respect. Listen to and act on what our community wants. Make decisions that reflect the residents’ voices, not political contributors or special interests. 
  • End the EPCAL/Grumman deal. Stop the cargo jet port and massive warehouses. Focus on safe and solid revenue for Riverhead. 
  • Save Riverhead.

The press conference Wednesday morning, where the candidates gathered under the shade of the F-14 Tomcat at Grumman Memorial Park in Calverton, surrounded by a dozen supporters, gave a glimpse into the views of the Democratic ticket beyond their opposition to the development plan and sale of town-owned land at EPCAL — which the group has made the central tenet of their campaign so far. 

“The question has been asked as to, what do we want to accomplish? What basic issues are important to our campaign and to our new administration in 2024?” DeVito asked. 

DeVito said the update to the town’s comprehensive plan, which has been in development since 2020, must be completed. The Town Board should stop amending its laws until the update of the plan — a long-term policy guide — is complete. The town is changing town laws to suit developers, DeVito argued, and it needs to stop. 

She said the town needs a “responsible Town Board elected that will serve with the interest of all the residents, that will put the communities and the hamlets first, budgets wisely and is held accountable for expenditures” and hire more police and code enforcement officers.

“We have to halt or stop entirely the corporate welfare program that our industrial development agency has created, where benefits are only for the developers,” DeVito added. “Stop the giveaway of these tax dollars once and for all.”

Residents should not be disrespected when speaking at a public meeting, DeVito said. Recent incidents, such as Council Member Frank Beyrodt yelling at a constituent to call him “councilman” should not be the way public officials interact with the public, DeVito said. 

“Listen and support the residents’ voices, involve them in the decision making process,” DeVito said. “Put an end to decision making that is based on campaign contributions only.”

“Cronyism and nepotism” in the town need to stop, DeVito said. “Appointment after appointment to town is based on what family, what party — not merit,” she said.

DeVito said committees and boards in town government need to be more diverse, something the current town administration has failed to accomplish. She said that when a new administration comes into Town Hall, the members of every board and committee should resign and new people should be appointed. 

DeVito said energy alternatives “must be explored” and the town’s current technology is “two decades” behind the rest of the world. 

The platform “focuses on attainable goals and smart solutions to issues residents have shared with us,” DeVito said. “We have been walking communities this summer and listening to people. 

“There are far more problems that our town government have been able to address or unwilling to address,” DeVito said. “But in the interest of what we must do first — as good government is an organized, measured, step-by-step process, if it is to be successful — this plan covers those key steps going forward.”

The candidates continued to attack Republican candidates on EPCAL, however, pinning the blame of the EPCAL deal on Council Member Tim Hubbard, DeVito’s Republican opponent for supervisor. The Democrats cast him as negligent and complicit in the plans of the buyer, Calverton Aviation & Technology, to develop the property to allow for air cargo logistics.

“Simply stated, our current leadership has proven … that they are not up to the job,” Leven said. “They may want to do better, but they can’t, it’s beyond their capability.”

Leven attacked Hubbard’s support of the local legislation in 2016 creating the Planned Development zoning district for the town-owned land at EPCAL, which allows “all uses that promote economic development,” with some exclusions. Hubbard was apparently unaware that the zoning district allowed flying in cargo as an accessory use, Leven said. 

MORE COVERAGE: EPCAL buyers work to distance themselves from air cargo hub plan, but residents remain skeptical

“He says he’s now against the use of these runways, that he authorized. In other words, he certainly didn’t write the law that he introduced, but he also apparently didn’t read it,” Leven said.

“Having not understood his own legislation, it is unsurprising Hubbard doesn’t know how to stop what he created. It’s sad, it’s bad, but it’s unsurprising,” Leven said. “And Hubbard is all in on the 10 million square feet of development, no matter what. Tim Hubbard should resign immediately.”

Republican candidates have, in advertisements and in public statements, put themselves publicly against air cargo at the EPCAL development, which the town is in contract to sell for $40 million. Hubbard has also tried to distance himself from the proposal and the deal with CAT, an affiliate of the Triple Five development group. Hubbard originally voted against the contract with CAT, but later cast the deciding vote in favor of finding CAT a “qualified and eligible” purchaser, letting the land deal continue.

Hubbard said in an interview in July that CAT’s plan to use the runways at EPCAL to bring in air cargo for logistics and distributions could comply under the Planned Development district, but said he would require covenants on the property to prevent the use. CAT representatives said the company is not allowed to develop buildings that use the runways to fly in air cargo, and what was said at a presentation last year was a mistake.

In a phone interview for this article, Hubbard called Leven a carpetbagger. He said the use of the runways are intended for “if an executive needs to fly in and land from one of the companies that are there” and the use of the runways have been allowed for years. 

“I stand completely by my record and by everything that I’ve done since I’ve been in office,” Hubbard said.

The idea he should resign is “ludicrous,” Hubbard said. “Based on what? Of course he wants me to resign. They don’t stand a chance in November.”

Leven said Denise Merrifield, one of the Republicans’ town council candidates, has not provided the public with a substantive statement on her opposition to the air cargo use at EPCAL. 

Leven criticized council candidate Joann Waski, singling out her deciding vote earlier this year as Planning Board chairperson to approve an application made by Riverhead Ciderhouse to legalize an expansion to its tasting room it originally erected without town permission.

“What does the cider house debacle tell us? That you can break the rules. build what you want, and then apologize with no meaningful consequence,” Leven said. “I ask Ms. Waski to please identify which parts of our ordinances she feels are important enough to actually enforce. We are entitled to know.”

During the press conference, DeVito could not answer several questions requesting details of several aspects of the platform presented by the candidates. 

In response to more details regarding how many additional police officers she would seek to hire and how she would pay for them, DeVito said she is not in office and does not “know what the budget looks like” and the current status of staffing at the police department. She said would add two additional full-time code enforcement officers and request the whole police department be trained to enforce the town. 

She did not have a specific plan to address flooding and future climate change challenges. “I would work with the Environmental Advisory Committee that has been established,” she said, and would seek to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which the town had previously engaged for a floodplain management study on the Peconic Riverfront. There are also wetlands within the town that have not been documented, DeVito said.

DeVito also did not have a solid plan for implementing affordable housing.

“We don’t know — there is no inventory in town. And we won’t know until we get into Town Hall… what it is,” DeVito said of the town’s affordable housing stock.

She said affordable housing should be looked at as a “regional issue.” 

“It isn’t just something that Riverhead has to solve on its own,” DeVito said. “It is something that we have to sit down with our brothers and sisters from the other four East End towns and say to them, hey guys, we all have a stake in this, we all have a future in providing housing, that is, where people would like to live and it’s safe and it’s affordable. What can we do about it?”

The comprehensive plan update has been formulated under the guidance of current town officials, including Waski and Hubbard, who both sit on its steering committee. Much of the plan is expected to be drafted by the end of the year, according to the timeline of the town’s consultants, and is scheduled to be complete for adoption early next year.

DeVito said the comprehensive plan is just “a set of recommendations” and a new Town Board has to choose whether or not to implement those recommendations. 

“I won’t know until I see their project,” DeVito said on whether or not she would go about adopting the plan. She added, “It’s not a question of that being satisfactory to me. I am basically a gatekeeper on that. That is all I am in my position. It is the citizens of this town and going to them and saying is this what you want? Is this what you need?”

Council candidate Rene Suprina was not present at the press conference due to an injury to her foot she suffered on Tuesday, DeVito said.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: