Declaring that their time has come and promising to bring professionalism and good government to Riverhead Town Hall, Riverhead Democrats vowed to "hit the ground runnning" and get out the vote to defeat the Republican incumbent supervisor and council members in November.
The Democrats last night nominated South Jamesport civic activist Angela DeVito for supervisor and chose as her running mates veteran former assemblyman I. William Bianchi and real estate broker Millie Thomas for town council.
"This is the year," DeVito declared last night, accepting the Democratic committee's nomination in a packed meeting room at the Riverhead VFW post.
"The thing that I learned from the Obama campaign and the Krupski campaign is that we, as Democrats, can win," DeVito said, making pointed reference to the special legislative election in January — a rout by Democrat Al Krupski over incumbent Riverhead supervisor Sean Walter, who won less than 33 percent of the vote.
"I can tell you, I got three calls from Sean Walter this week. He is scared," DeVito declared.
"He is worried," she said. "He's worried about the Democratic slate, because he knows that this year, we're coming out running from day one. We're going to hit the ground hard and we are going to bring together the people of Riverhead and bring them out of their homes to vote for Democratic candidates on November 5."
Devito, one of three supervisor candidates whose name was placed in nomination at last night's party convention, won the overwhelming support of the committee, of which she is a member.
Riverhead school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse received the support of five committee members in the roll-call vote, including former Democratic chairman James "Butch" Langhorn and former town council candidate Matt Van Glad.
After the vote, Cotten-DeGrasse told RiverheadLOCAL she intends to challenge her former board of education colleague — and predecessor as board president — for the party nomination.
"Congratulations to Angela, but I intend to run a primary," an unsmiling Cotten-DeGrasse said, before she and her husband, Antonio DeGrasse, left the meeting room.
As expected, incumbent Highway Superintendent George Woodson got his party's support, without opposition, for a third term of office.
But in a surprise move at the end of a long night, maverick Democrat Greg Fischer — whom early in the evening was threatened with expulsion from the room by committee chairwoman Marjorie Acevedo for speaking out of order — was tapped to run for town assessor.
Fischer, 56, who had been the third supervisor candidate in the mix, is a Democratic committeeman who in the past has mounted primary challenges against the committee's designated candidates — including supervisor candidate Phil Cardinale in 2011. He found virtually no support this year for a supervisor run.
After Acevedo asked the committee to authorize the screening committee to continue to seek and appoint a challenger for longtime incumbent assessor Laverne Tennenberg — an empty spot on the party's slate — former council candidate Marlando Williams put Fischer's name in nomination for the post.
"For many years Greg Fischer has been on the outside of our Democratic tent and he's been throwing stones at the tent. We invited him in and unfortunately he's still throwing stones," Williams said.
"I move that we consider Greg as our assessor candidate, that we ask him to accept the post and join us in unity as a committee," Williams said.
Fischer's nomination was seconded by Van Glad, who ran with Williams for council last time out.
Bianchi and Thomas both stressed the need for "professionalism" in town hall.
Bianchi, 82, served for 22 years as a state assemblyman from Bellport, his home of 50 years. An orchid grower and wholesaler, he established greenhouses in Riverhead and moved to Riverhead six years ago, he said.
Thomas, 62, of Baiting Hollow, owns Landmark Realty in Wading River, a firm she established 12 years ago, she said.
"This year is our year," Thomas said. "All of the residents that I talk to, most of them are really ready for a change. They are not very happy right now," she said.
"I promise you I will be fair, honest and professional," Thomas said. "Professionalism is something we need to have on the board."
Woodson, who has had many dust-ups with the incumbent supervisor, said he sees things go on at town hall that he just doesn't understand.
He pointed to the tattered covering of one of new sand and salt storage units built at the highway yard shortly before Hurricane Sandy hit. The storm shredded the cover.
"Six months later and this thing is not fixed... and it's warrantied and insured," Woodson said. "What does that tell you? Six months to get a canopy over a building. If we cant take care of our own stuff," Woodson said, "how can we serve the people?"
In a separate roll call vote taken at the beginning of the night, the Riverhead committee cast nearly all of its gubernatorial votes to assembly candidate John McManmon, 28, of Aquebogue, son of longtime committee members Jim McManmon and Jeanne O'Rourke.
McManmon, an associate with the NYC law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCoy LLP, is one of three candidates from Riverhead in a field that now numbers seven people seeking the Democratic nomination for the vacant Second Assembly District seat. He and the others all addressed the Riverhead committee at the start of last night's convention. The others assembly candidates are: East End Arts executive director Pat Snyder, of Jamesport; NYC real estate and landlord-tenant litigator Ron Hariri, of Aquebogue; Cutchogue winery owner Jim Waters; Rocky Point attorney Jennifer Maertz; Tom Schiliro, of Manorville, a Suffolk park police officer; and latecomer Glen Friedman, of Jamesport.
Suffolk County Democratic leader Rich Schaffer asked the Southold, Riverhead and Brookhaven town committees to vote on the assembly candidates during their nominating conventions. The candidate who wins the most gubernatorial votes will get the party designation, he said.
McManmon picked up 4,280 gubernatorial votes in last night's polling. Hariri emerged with 556.5 and Schiliro won 184.5.
Southold Democrats will hold their nominating convention on Tuesday, May 28 and Brookhaven Democrats will convene on Wednesday, May 29, Acevedo said.