Riverhead's Republican Supervisor Sean Walter may have lost an emotional floor fight for renomination on Tuesday by a fraction of a vote, but it will not keep him from waging a primary for a fourth term.
Walter says he is reviewing possible legal action against the 1,687.5-to-1,687 convention vote and is putting together a slate to challenge GOP town board member Jodi Giglio, the party's supervisor designee, in a Sept. 10 primary.
"I think it's the first time in the history of Riverhead a town leader has kicked an entire slate to the curb," Walter said. "It's probably the most ridiculous thing in politics. The reality is this town leader wanted to keep me under his thumb."
He said Riverhead GOP chairman Mason Haas "is taking out a sitting town supervisor not for the good of the town, but for the good of the Republican Party."
Haas, also an elected town assessor, laughed when he heard Walter's comments. He said Walter has done a "good job" in the past, but the party committee believes a "change is needed" this year.
He said he told the party screening panel "to talk to their constituents and vote on what they heard back. I believe they did their job."
Walter, 47, a Wading River lawyer, has served as the $122,100-a-year supervisor for the past 5 1/2 years, and previously was town Conservative leader for eight years.
He touts cutting the town budget gap from $5.5 million when he took over to $1.5 million now, a shortfall he said he expects to close by 2016. Walter also said the town has increased its tax base by nearly 3 percent, Main Street vacancies have dropped from 80 percent to 20 percent, and the town has completed 95 percent of the work on a subdivision plan for redeveloping the former Grumman site, he said.
Critics say Walter's hardball ways have alienated residents, the town's bond rating has dropped and government has spun its wheels on all fronts. "Nothing's been accomplished in the last six years," said Marge Acevedo, Riverhead Democratic chairman.
Walter said he has had an "outpouring of support" since the convention, but acknowledged that "when you're making difficult decisions, you're not going to be liked by everyone."
Walter said his differences with the party leader date back two years to when Haas explored challenging him for supervisor.
Walter said Haas also opposed Walter's effort to put onetime tea party activist Frank Seabrook on Riverhead's zoning board of appeals.
The supervisor claimed he had votes for renomination two weeks ago when Haas delayed the convention. He also said one committee member who voted actually lives in Huntington, not Riverhead.
Walter also criticized Giglio, who in past elections has come under accusations of failing to meet town building rules and having tax issues.
Haas dismissed Walter's claims, saying Giglio dealt with the issues two years ago and won re-election.
He also said the supervisor never complained about the committeeman's vote when he backed Walter.
Haas said the convention was delayed only because one GOP town board member, George Gabrielsen, decided not to run and candidate screenings had to resume.
Tony Coates, once Walter's campaign manager and now the Democratic supervisor candidate, said the bickering "just reinforces [that] we need a grown-up in the room" to move the town forward.
"For six years, Republicans have been feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys," Coates said. "I'm running to do the people's business."