Republican candidates Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy will be challenged by Anthony Coates, also a GOP, in the upcoming primary.
The debate, called “Riverhead at the Crossroads,” was sponsored and moderated by two local media groups, the Riverhead News-Review and RiverheadLOCAL.com.
Coates, who said he was running for town board "to bring a new voice" to the town council, said, of his opponent Dunleavy, "I think the world of him. Every town needs a John Dunleavy." But, he said, he has a problem with the board "as a whole," and the direction the town was taking, as the "highest taxed, poorest town" on the East End.
"You called this event 'at the crossroads,'" he said. "Whether it's downtown or EPCAL, we have a lot of decisions to make and I want to be a new voice to do that."
In response to a question about concerns raised regarding what he does for a living, Coates said the issue had arisen out of a column published in the News-Review that stated he worked as for Port Jefferson developer and automobile dealer John McNamara, who was later involved convicted in a Ponzi scheme, according to the piece.
At the debate, Coates said that employment was 25 years ago, and he's had a great deal of experience since then as an independent investment advisor, as well as having worked in politics, in both the public and private sector.
"I've had a long career in both the public and private sector and I'm proud of it," he said.
Giglio snapped back that Supervisor Sean Walter had pitched an idea to the town board to hire Coates for an "$85,000 job," where he would act in his former role as a Democrat — Coates has switched political affiliations — to go and speak to Albany in ongoing discussions about the future of Enterprise Park at Calverton.
"However, it wasn't until we hired George Hochbrueckner and Councilman George Gabrielsen went with him to Albany that work started to happen," she said. She added it was "important to note" that Walter had wanted to hire Coates after the town had just laid off 13 employees.
Coates retorted that the job in question would have paid $65,000. "Your facts and figures usually don't add up," he snapped. He added that even without the job, he went to Albany, anyway, as a lobbyist. "There's nary a piece of evidence that you ever did — were you in Albany?" he asked. "Did you lobby?"
Responding to the question asking Giglio if she ever, as a business person, ever expedited permits for developers throughout Long Island, as Coates has alleged, Giglio responded that in March every town board is required to file a disclosure statement. On that form, she said, she listed all of her business affiliations.
"I am proud to have recused myself," from any vote involving any business associates, she said."That's just not accurate," Coates fired back. "Your disclosure statement is a piece of swiss cheese that says nothing."
He alleged that Giglio voted on matters involving Ray Dickhoff, her partner in the Summerwind project, and also on issues concerning Martin Sendlewski.
"Clearly you do have conflicts of interest," he said. "I've seen you in Brookhaven Town Hall with a team of engineers and hours later you are in Riverhead Town Hall with that same team. Who do you represent? When are you working for them and when are you working for yourself?"
Dunleavy broke the tension. "I'm just glad I don't have to get into this conversation," he said. "I don't represent anybody but the taxpayers of Riverhead and that's why I'm here, for the taxpayers of the town — to help our kids, our senior citizens, our normal people that have good jobs, and ones that don't have jobs, but you have to support them. I'm here for the people."
Giglio directed the topic back to Coates' charges. "When it comes to accusations about engineers in the Town of Brookhaven and coming back later to the Town of Riverhead, it's not true. It's just more of his bullying tactics and character assassination on me."
After Coates said he'd like to see more residents living downtown to promote foot traffic, Giglio said, "It's interesting that Mr. Coates is all for renting apartments downtown when he's been a constant critic of Summerwind."
"My wanting to see renters downtown has nothing to do with Summerwind," Coates said. "I don't support Summerwind, I support people moving downtown."
He also threw another barbed comment about Giglio's allegedly not securing proper permits for her home.Giglio countered that Summerwind was approved before she was ever a town board candidate or elected. "It frightens me that a town board member would turn business away. We all know politics can be a dirty business, but it doesn't have to be. It should be about public safety, improving the quality of people's lives."
Coates' blog, Giglio said, is filled with "gossip, name-calling, and bullying," and mentions her name 15 times. "He is obsessed with attacking me, and even my family. It's personal with him because I voted against him for the job," she said, referring to the $65,000 job with the supervisor.
"He almost ignores the issues," she said. On his blog, she said, "Taxes are mentioned twice, but Jodi Giglio is mentioned 15 times. Jobs are mentioned just once."