Former councilman challenges Russell for GOP supervisor nod

05/11/2015 10:00 AM |
Town Supervisor Scott Russell, left, congratulates former councilman Chris Talbot at the Soundview Inn on Election Day 2009. The two will return to the Greenport restaurant May 21 for a nominating convention that will determine who will get the Republican nomination for supervisor this year. (Credit: Tim Kelly file)

Town Supervisor Scott Russell, left, congratulates former councilman Chris Talbot at the Soundview Inn on Election Day 2009. The two will return to the Greenport restaurant May 21 for a nominating convention that will determine who will get the Republican nomination for supervisor this year. (Credit: Tim Kelly file)

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell is facing a challenge for the Republican nomination in this November’s town election.

Former councilman Chris Talbot, who served four years alongside Mr. Russell on the Southold Town Board, has also met with the GOP screening committee and a floor vote at the May 21 nominating convention is expected to determine who will get the nod. 

Southold Town Republican Committee chairman Pete McGreevy confirmed this week that both men have screened, but said no determination has been made.

Mr. Talbot, who did not respond to requests for comment this week, was first elected councilman in 2009 but did not seek re-election at the end of his only four-year term. At his final Town Board meeting, the Cutchogue resident was applauded by his fellow board members, including Mr. Russell, for his dedication to small business, conservation and working toward a more efficient government.

“Chris, I do want to tell you you’re a better man than me,” Mr. Russell said in December 2013. “Chris did exactly what he said he was going to do; run for office, step in, make a difference and then leave. You rarely see in politics someone who sticks to his word. His approach to everything was with his uncompromising values — sometimes painful, but that is besides the point — he is a real man of integrity.”

Mr. Russell, also from Cutchogue, wrote in an email Friday that he has been aware of Mr. Talbot’s desire to replace him on the ballot for several weeks, but added that he still aims to receive the nomination for a fourth term as supervisor.

“I hope that I can count on the full support of the committee, but recognize that Chris has received the support of the committee in the past to run as a councilman,” Mr. Russell wrote. “It certainly makes for an interesting nominating convention.”

The supervisor has experienced personal setbacks in his two most recent terms in office, even taking a brief leave of absence following a domestic disturbance at his home in May 2011. He also dealt with domestic issues in 2014 and was criticized after he fell asleep toward the end of a Town Board meeting last October.

But he has also been quick to point to several successes of the board during his latest term, including purchases of farmland development rights and environmentally fragile parcels, maintaining a strong credit rating, and guiding the town through several major storm events.

Mr. Russell — who won his first two bids for re-election in landslides in 2007 and 2011 — initially defeated Democratic candidate Bill Edwards in 2005 to succeed Josh Horton as town supervisor.

In April, Mr. McGreevy said the committee had “full faith and support in Scott Russell,” but that no official decision on which candidates to back had been made. This week he stopped short of committing to either candidate, only saying that the screening committee will meet again this week and the nominee will not be decided until the convention.

In his only campaign, Mr. Talbot earned a narrow victory as the second-highest vote getter (3,234 votes) behind Democrat Al Krupski (3,695) and ahead of Republican Albie De Kerillis (3,128) and Democrat Jeri Woodhouse (3,033). In his final year in office, he screened with county Republicans for the state Assembly but did not receive the nomination.

It is not unprecedented in recent years for the Southold GOP to pass over an incumbent candidate in a town election. In 2013, the committee did not support the re-election bids of Judge William Price and Trustee Dave Bergen. Mr. Price instead ran a successful campaign as a Democrat and Mr. Bergen was later appointed back to the Board of Trustees to fill a vacant seat.

Town Democrats are expected to nominate town plans examiner Damon Rallis for supervisor at their nominating convention later this month. They have not yet publicly released the names of others seeking spots on the ballot.

Eight town seats, all controlled by Republicans, will be up for grabs in the Nov. 3 election. Judge Rudolph Bruer and Trustee Jim King, both first elected in 1995, have both stated they will not seek re-election.

Mr. Bruer’s open seat is the only justice position on the ballot this year, but there are two trustee seats being decided, with Mr. Bergen seeking re-election for his seat.

On the Town Board, incumbent council members Jill Doherty and Bill Ruland will all seek re-election.

The terms of tax receiver George Sullivan and assessor Rich Caggiano are also up this year and both are seeking re-election.

Mr. Russell is not the only local town supervisor facing a challenge within his own party this year. Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter will square off with Councilwoman Jodi Giglio at their town GOP’s nominating convention later this month.

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