Candidates for Riverhead supervisor faced pointed questions and repeatedly attacked each other's qualifications to lead a town grappling with budget woes, development pressure and the task of attracting businesses to the 2,900-acre Enterprise Park at Calverton.
In the fierce debate in Jamesport on Thursday evening, candidates were grilled by moderator Larry Simms of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association, showcasing the high stakes in an unusual three-way race.
Supervisor Sean Walter, running on the Conservative line after he lost a Republican primary last month, is facing challenges from Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, the GOP candidate, and Anthony Coates, a Democrat who was once an ally and aide to the supervisor.
Giglio, under frequent attacks by Walter and Coates, appeared exasperated as she repeatedly denied she supported a merger between the Riverhead and Suffolk County police forces. Giglio, whose campaign is supported by the Suffolk PBA, said her opponents were "lying blatantly. . . . Suffolk County PBA put a lot of money into this campaign because they don't like Sean Walter," she said.
Questions sometimes veered into the personal. Coates was asked for evidence that he works in his stated job, as a financial adviser. Simms said Coates' company, Conscience Bay Strategies, is not registered with the state, has no website and has a mostly blank Facebook page.
Coates said he is a registered member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and his license is held by NYLIFE Securities LLC. "I make sound decisions on behalf of clients," he said.
Simms asked Walter why voters should believe he will solve the town's budget gaps and bring a major development to the Enterprise Park at Calverton in a fourth term, after promising to do so for five years.
Walter cited development on Main Street and Route 58, and the recent announcement that the high-tech drone company Luminati Aerospace LLC would conduct research and development at the park.
"The single biggest thing that is going to come to this county is what we've brought to EPCAL," Walter said, using an acronym for the park. "It's not time to change horses."
Among other topics debated in the 90-minute forum was the tax breaks granted to developers by the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency.
Coates said tax breaks were granted too freely, and he would reform the process. Walter and Giglio, in rare agreement, said tax breaks were vital to attracting businesses.
"Holy Christmas, Jodi, you and I agree," Walter remarked. "We should embrace this moment."