Let me begin by congratulating the Republican ticket on their victory. We all want them to succeed in meeting the responsibility they have been entrusted with by the voters. Because if they succeed then Riverhead succeeds.
As a recent candidate and a recent transplant, let me share a few other observations with you about our town. An obvious one is that running on a Democratic ticket in Riverhead as a Republican posed challenges that I did not overcome. Another – more important – thing that also did not happen is this: no one on the losing Democratic side weakened the bedrock of our system of governance by challenging the validity of the vote count. Indeed, it did not occur to any of them to do so. I ask all voters of all stripes to remember, and adhere to, that decision in the coming national elections. For all of our sakes.
A more subtle point is about what I encountered in the Democratic Party ranks. Yes, there were a few ideologues so dug in on the party label that they could not hear the words being spoken. But that was a rarity.
Virtually every Democrat I met was squarely in or barely to the left of center on the local issues Riverhead faces.
As to those issues, there are important places where all residents can and should meet. One is EPCAL. The uses now legally permitted on that parcel remain wide open. That needs to change. EPCAL must be rezoned to exclude once and for all uses that will asphyxiate adjoining residential neighborhoods and Riverhead writ large.
And there is a real appetite among residents for doing so. The EPCAL/CAT debacle that we faced – and very narrowly avoided – energized Riverhead in a way that I am told has never happened before. Hundreds of residents were personally invested in the outcome and plainly expressed their concerns, presenting an opportunity here for our newly elected officials to achieve that rarest of things: a win–win. But only if they embark on a real process that this town has never really engaged in to understand what the community actually wants. Instead of imposing what they want upon the community.
Another is the IDA. A recent three-part expose in this publication makes for very troubling reading. The IDA did the right think on EPCAL. But it seems clear that, more generally, the IDA has exacerbated Riverhead’s deep fiscal problems by granting large, unnecessary tax giveaways that reduce revenue and hamstring the community.
I started this letter with the hope that the new administration succeeds. For me, that success will be measured against how these two (and other) issues are handled. Many residents have recently demonstrated in unmistakable ways that they are not only willing, but insist upon, contributing to the new administration’s resolution of these issues — by being heard, and also listened to. More on that to come. Stay tuned.
Andrew Leven was a Democratic candidate for Riverhead Town Council Member in the November 2023 general election. He lives in Riverhead.
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