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Jens-Smith elected as first female Riverhead supervisor

Laura Jens-Smith was attending a Town Board meeting, as she routinely has in recent years, when a discussion began with Supervisor Sean Walter. At one point, Mr. Walter suggested to Ms. Jens-Smith that if she wanted to see a change, she could run for supervisor.

“I said, ‘Well, you know, that’s a really good idea,’” Ms. Jens-Smith recalled.

She took the advice to heart and, on Tuesday night, the residents of Riverhead elected her as the 62nd supervisor in the town’s history, as she defeated Mr. Walter in his bid for a fifth straight term.

Ms. Jens-Smith, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for Town Board two years ago, becomes the first woman to win an election for Riverhead supervisor.

“I think people were ready for a change,” said Ms. Jens-Smith, 54, of Laurel, adding that she was excited to be the first female supervisor in a year that marks Riverhead’s 225th anniversary.

Preliminary results show Ms. Jens-Smith with 53 percent of the votes, 4,512 to 3,902, according to the Suffolk County Board of Elections. The turnout exceeded that of recent elections. The 8,543 votes cast for supervisor topped 2015 (7.513), 2013 (7,007), 2011 (7,512) and 2009 (8,429).

Laura Jens-Smith begins the celebration Tuesday night. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

Mr. Walter, who ran on the Conservative and Republican lines, announced just before 10:15 p.m. that he would go to Democratic headquarters and concede the race.

“I can’t say this doesn’t sting, but God has a plan for me,” said Mr. Walter, 51. “I’m proud of taking this town in another direction. I’m proud of the balanced budgets and all the downtown stuff we’ve done. I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my life.”

Mr. Walter was first elected in 2009, narrowly defeating Phil Cardinale, who was seeking a fourth term. In the 2015 election, Mr. Walter lost a primary to Jodi Giglio, but came back to win a three-way race for supervisor by running only on the Conservative line.

Two years later, Mr. Walter ultimately faced the end.

Ms. Jens-Smith finished third in Town Board voting in 2015, and said at the time that her team ran a strong race.

“I believe we’re going to be back again,” she had said.

She delivered in a strong way.

Catherine Kent was elected to the Riverhead Town Board. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

For Riverhead Town Board, with all 22 districts reporting, Ms. Giglio led among the four candidates with 26.8 percent (4,380), according to the BOE. Democratic challenger Catherine Kent (25.8 percent, 4,228) narrowly edged Republican Frank Beyrodt (25.3 percent, 4,133) for the second seat. Democrat Michele Lynch finished with the fewest votes (21.9 percent, 3,580).

Ms. Giglio retains her seat for another four-year term after first being elected in 2009, the same year as Mr. Walter.

“I’m very surprised at the outcome,” Ms. Giglio said. “I thought Sean and Frank would do much better. But I congratulate Laura Jens-Smith and Catherine Kent and I’m looking forward to working with them. Once you become an elected official, the party lines go away and you work together for the betterment of the town.”

Mr. Beyrodt conceded the race to Ms. Kent and said his first run for election was a great learning experience.

“I told my kids, sometimes in life you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone and do what’s right. I think I did the best I could,” he said.

There were still 505 absentee ballots yet to be tallied, according to the BOE. There were 205 Republican and 163 Democratic ballots among those.

Ms. Kent, 61, a retired teacher, said she was in shock and knew the council race would be tight. She said she’s appreciative that the people of Riverhead trust her with the job.

“I really want to work on the downtown revitalization,” she said. “I think that your Main Street reflects your whole town.”

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio watches as the votes are tallied. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

With Ms. Jens-Smith, Ms. Kent and Ms. Giglio in place, the Riverhead Town Board will now have a female majority for the first time ever. They will serve along with councilmen Tim Hubbard and Jim Wooten. It will also be the first time a Democrat sits on the Town Board since Mr. Cardinale.

Ms. Jens-Smith said she would resign from her role as president of the Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education.

For assessor, Republican incumbent Laverne Tennenberg defeated challenger Susan Ambro. Preliminary results showed Ms. Tennenberg with 57.5 percent of the votes.

George Woodson, running unopposed for re-election as highway superintendent, had a stress-free night, earning 6,405 votes, according to the BOE. While he ran unopposed, William Van Helmond of Jamesport made a late push as a write-in candidate. There were 205 write-in votes recorded.

Councilman John Dunleavy also pursued a write-in campaign in a bid for supervisor, having reached the end of his term limit as a councilman. As of presstime, the BOE reported 129 write-in votes for supervisor.

A breakdown of write-in votes would not be available until sometime next week, according to the BOE.

Ms. Jens-Smith’s election raises new questions about the future of the Enterprise Park at Calverton, where a pending sale of the remaining acreage to Luminati Aerospace could face new scrutiny.

She said EPCAL and the IDA were big issues that swung the vote. She said she’d like to put the brakes on Luminati but isn’t sure what will happen between now and when she takes office in January.

As part of a Democratic minority on the Town Board, she said she’ll have no problem working with the other party.

Supervisor Sean Walter lost his bid for re-election. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

In other races, Suffolk County police commissioner Tim Sini was elected as Suffolk County district attorney, earning an overwhelming majority of the votes (62 percent) against Republican Raymond Perini.

Mr. Sini said in his victory speech that his mission was to restore integrity to the DA’s office.

“We have a lot of work to do and this work begins immediately,” he said.

The race for sheriff showed Democrat Errol Toulon Jr. with a very slim lead over Republican Lawrence Zacarese. Mr. Toulon had 141,006 votes (49.41 percent) to 139,652 (48.93 percent).

In the Suffolk County Legislature, incumbent Al Krupski easily won re-election against Republican Remy Bell, taking 70 percent of the votes.

The proposal for a constitutional convention faced a steep backlash in Suffolk County, with 86.6 percent of voters turning it down. It failed statewide.

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