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Democrat Krupski crosses the aisle to hire Riverhead Republican Catherine Stark

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It’s not every day that a newly elected legislator crosses the political aisle to staff his office. It’s even more unusual when the new hire is someone who wanted his seat.

Democratic County Legislator Al Krupski has appointed Republican Catherine Stark, of Riverhead, to a key position in his office.

“Catherine knows the legislature. She knows county government. And she knows Riverhead,” Krupski explains. “She was perfect.”

She was also one of eight people who sought the Republican nod in the special election to fill the vacant seat in January. The GOP nomination went to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, whom Krupski beat in a landslide, becoming only the second Democrat in history to represent the First Legislative District. (The first Democrat, Joyce Burland of Sagaponack, served one term in 1976-1977 — a time when the district took in the entire East End.)

Stark, 49, is the daughter of former Riverhead supervisor James Stark, a Riverhead Republican committee member and a longtime legislative staffer who was working as chief of staff to South Fork legislator Jay Schneiderman. She said in an interview last week she’d considered a second try for the nomination in the upcoming November election, when Krupski must stand for election to a full two-year term.

“But I decided not to run against him. What are you going to run on? He’s a good guy, very sincere, well-liked, and doing a good job for the North Fork,” she said. “In the few months that I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve come to respect him a lot.”

“He needs someone that can help him navigate the political waters and county government,” Stark said. “He knows Southold. I bring Riverhead to the table.”

Krupski, who was an elected official in Southold Town for 28 years, said political party affiliation doesn’t matter to him and shouldn’t matter in government.

“Once you’re elected you serve everyone,” he said in an interview Friday. “When I first got elected [as Southold trustee] the first board I served on in 1985 was three Republicans, one conservative and me,” Krupski said. “They treated me with complete respect and we all worked together and that’s how I’ve always been,” he said.

Krupski said he did clear Stark’s appointment with the presiding officer of the Democratic-controlled legislature, William Lindsay. The legislator denied there’s been any backlash from party leaders over the decision.

Stark also said her decision to work for Krupski didn’t ruffle any Republican feathers. “I did resign my seat on the committee,” she said, “because that would be a conflict of interest. I couldn’t carry petitions nominating someone to run against Al.”

Though Stark may be the most high-profile Republican in Krupski’s office, she’s not the only one. His first appointment was a man he described as a longtime friend, John Stype, also a Republican. Rounding out Krupski’s three-person staff is former NFEC executive director Gwynn Schroeder of Cutchogue.

Stark started her new job on April 8.

Photo caption: Catherine Stark and Al Krupski at the Riverhead Lions Club St. Patrick’s Day dinner on March 16 at Polish Hall. RiverheadLOCAL photo by Denise Civiletti

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