Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter will face off with opponent Southold Town Councilman, in a special election Tuesday to fill a Suffolk County Legislature seat vacated by Ed Romaine, who recently won an election for Brookhaven Town Supervisor.
Both candidates agreed to sit down with Patch for a Q & A before the race.
Bio: Walter attended college at Sullivan County Community College, where he graduated in 1986 with an Associates of Science degree. He transferred to the State University of New York at Binghamton where he earned a Bachelors degree in environmental science in 1988. After graduation, Sean worked in the Town of Brookhaven's department of waste management, where he helped implement the town's solid waste recycling program and was responsible for sampling and monitoring the groundwater in and around the town’s landfill. In 1992, Sean was hired as the environmental manager for the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard in Westhampton Beach. In 1996, Sean took a leave of absence from the Air National Guard Base to attend St. John’s Law School. He graduated St. John’s Law School cum laude in 1999. In 2000 Sean was hired as a Riverhead deputy town attorney by then-Riverhead Town Supervisor Robert F. Kozakiewicz, and, as farmland and open space manager, saw the town purchase almost 1,000 acres of farmland and preserve several critical wetland areas. In 2006, Walter opened a Wading River law practice.
He has served as Riverhead Town Supervisor since 2009, after winning the past two elections for the seat.
Walter lives with his wife Cathleen in Wading River with their three children, Zachary, Tmothy, and Gregory, and also serves on the Riverhead Rotary, the Knights of Columbus and is part of the children’s liturgy team at St. John the Baptist in Wading River.
Patch: What do you hope to accomplish on the county level that you can't, in the town post?
Walter: EPCAL: One of the largest things that’s happening both in the Town of Riverhead and all of Suffolk County is the subdivison of Enterprise Park at Calverton. I was at a meeting with the Republicans in Southold and everyone understands that not only does this affect jobs, but it affects property values. If you can bring high-paying, clean, high-tech jobs to the East End, property values will increase. But I've taken the subdivision of EPCAL, not quite, but almost, to the end of what a town supervisor can do. We need a pit bull on EPCAL, in the town supervisor's office, in the Legislature, and at the governor's office. We need to be taking it to the next level and getting the county's help with grant writing, planning. EPCAL will be an asset to the entire East End, not just Riverhead.
Farmland Preservation: I love my neighbors to the East, but Riverhead has so outperformed Southold in farmland preservation it's not even funny. I'm hoping to continue that legacy of farmland preservation and keep it going.
Dredging: The fact that Southold has to spend money paying the county overtime to get dredging done in the window that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation wants -- that's a huge problem.
It's all about balanced growth. My opponent is running on the platform, 'I don't like box stores.' I understand box stores don't belong in Southold, or in Manorville or Center Moriches. But they do belong in places such as Route 58 in Riverhead. We don't need any more service jobs. We need the high-tech, industrial jobs in places such as Cold Spring Harbor, Brookhaven, and Stonybrook. I'm hoping to bring that to the table. And it's sure not about deer management or goose management.
Patch: What is the biggest challenge facing the district?
Walter: Taxation without representation. We are controlled by the western end of Suffolk County and they ignore us. Ed Romaine and Jay Schneiderman both said that they have information that shows that we have 30 percent of county sales tax revenue coming out of the East End. We should have a much larger voice than we do. I intend to spend time lobbying in Albany for EPCAL -- and for a state law that requires that all sales tax revenues be reported by towns. You can do it, you just have to have the political will to do it. No one wants to know that Riverhead, Southampton, East Hampton are funding a huge portion of the county. I look forward to traveling to Albany to fight for those things. Right now, East End residents are getting short shrift.
Some county legislators are making fun of my sledgehammer (Walter's campaign ads show him with a sledgehammer). But my response is 'Don't be afraid if I walk into the Legislature with a sledgehammer.' People ask me what they do in the Legislature. I don't know what they do. And if that's the case, they might us well fold up the tent; we don't need 'em. People are going to know the East End is here.
Patch: How has your past experience prepared you for this position?
Walter: I think being the CEO of a town with a $90 million budget and huge problems that we were able to correct in three years was preparation. While the problems are not 100 percent corrected -- it will be bittersweet if I win, because I do believe I could use two more years to finish everything -- but we're so far along, we’re going to be fine. EPCAL, downtown -- and the budget’s done. The town’s financial house in order. Main Street will continue to grow once Bob Castaldi opens the Suffolk Theater.
Patch: What would be your first goal, upon taking office?
Walter: My first goal would be to familiarize the Legislature with the first legislative district. I'm not sure they understand it. I think it's time for a lesson -- a lesson, from dredging, to farmland preservation, is really in order. The second would be to garner full support for the state legislature to report sales tax by towns. I really hope I can get support at the state level.
Patch: What personal characteristics make you the best candidate for the county position?
Walter: No doubt, I’m an outspoken individual and I think you need that for the East End. Ed Romaine was the same way. I think you need that. You can’t have someone meek and timid, who is more interested in gettng along as he has. You don’t necessarily need that. Ask Ed Romaine how he got along with Steve Levy. He didn’t. Getting along is not the issue -- it's accomplishing things. You need to be outspoken. And, fair or unfair, 'outspoken' is my middle name.
Patch: Do you feel you will be able to work effectively with a Democratic majority on the Legislature to represent the East End?
Walter: Yes, this is the first step in taking back the Legislature for the Republicans. I think having a balanced government is always a good idea. Right now, all the power is concentrated in Islip and Babylon; that is wrong. I don’t care if Republicans control Riverhead or other towns -- all the power is not concentrated in one area of the Town of Riverhead or other towns. But in this county, all the power is concentrated in Babylon and Islip and that’s wrong.
Patch: Since you’ve spoken out about the negatives regarding a one-party Legislature, would you recommend, perhaps, a Democrat taking your place on the town board, should you win this race?
Walter: I'm hoping we can find someone as interim supervisor. The deputy supervisor (Jill Lewis) is planning to stay until a new supervisor is selected. I’m going to ask the town board to appoint her as supervisor until the November election. She has no desire to run; at least there will be an interim supervisor until November. But that’s only if they can’t find a clear candidate. If they find a clear front runner that's fine. If I can get the deputy supervisor to stay, and the board to appoint her in the interim, that would be my druthers. As for political party, I don't think it matters -- we don't see eye to eye now. I don't think it matters in politics at this level. We get things done, which is amazing. When the critical vote comes, we get what we need accomplished.
Patch: How do you feel the campaign has gone so far?
Walter: Very well. I did the first part of my campaigning in Southold, and I made a few guest appearances at the post office in Shelter Island. I've been to Brookhaven and now, I've come home to Riverhead. I've been very well-received everywhere. I think there's good energy, and good confidence. One issue, though, is that there are certain people that don't want to vote for me because they want me to stay as town supervisor -- and that's a very real thing. I'm doing this by faith, and with God, and if this is what I'm supposed to do, I'll get elected.
Patch: Any words of advice for your predecessor as town supervisor, should you win?
Walter: Continue with what we have started on the town board. Continue with the EPCAL subdivision. Please do not get side-tracked with any pie-in-the-sky subdivisions; continue on the path, continue with financial soundness and keeping audits up to date, and continue to support Main Street. Continue those three things.
Patch: In short, why should voters choose you over your competitor?
Walter: I think it comes down to experience. I don't want to sound like I'm bragging. But I look at what we have accomplished in three years -- bringing the town to firm financial footing, the subdivision of EPCAL, the revitalization of Main Street. We accomplished that in three years. If you look at Al Krupski's palm card, he outlawed big box stores -- and he's for clean water. Well, I spearheaded the largest reinvestment in the Riverhead water district's history -- almost $6 million in three years -- so I guess I'm for clean water. I'll take my three year track record over his 28 year track record to the legislature.