The two candidates seeking to succeed Ed Romaine as county legislator for the First Legislative District faced off in a debate last night at Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead.
Southold Councilman and Deputy Supervisor Al Krupski, a Democrat, and Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, a Republican, fielded questions about land use and development, agriculture and farmland preservation, the role and structure of county government and what it takes to best represent the East End in the County Legislature.
Supporters of both candidates packed the Gallery One barn at the vineyard — with each camp filling the seats on separate sides of a center aisle — for the 7 p.m. debate hosted by Times/Review Newsgroup and moderated by its executive editor Grant Parpan.
Krupski emphasized his ability to work with others regardless of party affiliation, his track record as a pragmatic problem-solver and his fiscal conservatism.
Walter stressed his independence from western Suffolk politicians and the need, he said, to ensure that county government is not completely controlled by one party.
The two sparred over the influence of political party leaders, with Walter arguing that one-party rule and a North Fork legislator bankrolled by "western Suffolk Democrats" would result in weak representation of the 1st LD by Krupski.
"Once you get elected you don't worry about the party, you work for the people, you work for the taxpayers, you work for everybody," Krupski said. "If you're going to walk down that party line, you're going to be just like Washington. I don't believe in any of that. I don't buy into the Democrat versus Republican or east versus west," Krupski said. "We live in the same community. Suffolk County is a community," he said. "I'm a Democrat serving with five Republicans and they are some of the finest elected officials I've ever served with," Krupski said to applause.
"It pains me to say this. I'd love to believe that's true. But it's not," Walter countered.
"When Mr. Shaffer wrote Mr. Krupski a $50,000 check on Nov. 30 and gave it to his campaign fund, strings were attached to that," Walter argued. "That's a problem."
Walter said one-party rule by Democrats works against the interests of the East End because the Suffolk Democratic party is controlled by western Suffolk interests.
"When you have one party in control, you're going to end up with things like the MTA payroll tax. You're going to end up with things like the sex offender trailers. You're going to have to fight with county legislators that you're not going to be allowed to fight with over buying farmland and open space," he said.
2013 0108 legislative debateIt's a fact of life that political parties exert control over elected officials, Walter said.
"I've been an elected official for 28 years and what Mr. Walter said — I'd like to say that certainly hasn't been my experience," Krupski answered, to loud applause.
Walter repeatedly stressed the importance of the redevelopment of the former Grumman site as an economic engine for the entire county. Getting the EPCAL subdivision done — a task the supervisor characterized last night as nearly completed — has been a major goal of his as supervisor and one he would seek to further as a county legislator.
Walter also said he would continue to fight to preserve farmland and open space with county funding.
Krupski repeatedly returned to his theme of a measured approach to government and the need to understand how government services would be paid for. He said he favors examining county government "department by department" to see where savings can be achieved.
Walter advocated abolishing the county legislature and returning to a weighted board of supervisors, a government structure eliminated in Suffolk County in 1970. He even suggested perhaps county government should be eliminated altogether. "The five East End towns already do most of what the legislature does," Walter said. The town governments in the five western towns would have to "re-tool," he said.
"We need to start taking a hard look at ourselves," Walter said.
Krupski did not embrace the abolition idea and instead argued for looking at what services people want the county to provide and how those services will be paid for. He advocated looking for ways to make county government more efficient.
The two candidates differed on the hot-button subject of the county's policy of sheltering homeless sex offenders in trailers in Riverside and Westhampton.
Walter called for the immediate closure of the trailers and said that would be his first priority if elected.
"I will stand on people's desks if I have to to get that trailer shut," Walter said. He called for the implementation of a "voucher program" in Suffolk, which he said the legislature blocked when proposed by former county executive Steve Levy. "It's the only thing that works and the only thing used in other counties," Walter said.
Krupski said the sex offender problem is "unfortunately a human problem," that the county executive is working to solve in a way that's fair to all areas of the county.
"It's easy to say 'put them somewhere else' but anywhere you put them people will say 'not in my backyard,'" Krupski said.
A special election to fill the vacant legislative seat is set for Jan. 15. The seat was vacated by longtime legislator Ed Romaine, who was elected Brookhaven Town supervisor in November.