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Riverhead Dems select slate for town races; all-female Town Board ticket a first

There were no surprises Tuesday evening as the Riverhead Democratic Committee selected its slate of candidates in this fall’s town election.

The party’s ticket will include Laura Jens-Smith of Laurel for Supervisor, Catherine Kent of Calverton and Michele Lynch of Riverhead for council, incumbent George ‘Gio’ Woodson for highway superintendent and attorney Susan Ambro of Wading River for assessor.

The nominations were all unanimous.

The three female Town Board candidates — a first for Riverhead — will face incumbent Republican Supervisor Sean Walter, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and newcomer Frank Beyrodt in the Nov. 7 election.

Ms. Jens-Smith, a project coordinator for an organization that aims to reduce youth substance use, said the candidates have a lot of work to do in the coming months.

Upon accepting the nomination, she immediately launched into a criticism of Mr. Walter, voicing many of the same concerns she voiced when she announced her intention to run for supervisor back in January.

“The current supervisor believes he’s achieved financial miracles in Riverhead,” she said. “But instead, he’s earned us the dubious distinction of being the highest taxed and lowest bond-rated town on the East End. His budgets equate to a financial shell game which has led Riverhead to the brink of bankruptcy.”

She said there are just as many vacancies downtown now as there were when Mr. Walter took office

“His new plan is to cram Main Street with monstrous five-story eyesores with no parking and no character,” she said. “Mr. Walter also has yet to put the Enterprise Park at Calverton to use to benefit the town.”

She called the supervisor’s plan to sell land at EPCAL to Luminati Aerospace “another election year Hail Mary, big on bragging but nothing more than a housing development in disguise.”


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The Town Board is considering selling to Luminati more than 1,000 acres — of which about 600 can be developed — at EPCAL for $40 million.

Luminati founder Daniel Preston has said he has no plans to build housing at EPCAL, but thus far, town officials have been reluctant to take housing out of the permitted uses in the EPCAL zoning.

At the Republican convention earlier this month, Ms. Walter said he plans to run on his record, including the proposed Luminati deal and the five-story apartments and hotels proposed for Main Street.

Reached for comment Tuesday, Mr. Walter said, “Ms. Smith sounds an awful lot like Mr. Coates,” referring to his former campaign manager, Tony Coates, who ran against him two years ago.

“It’s the same tired campaign he ran two years ago, right down to the ‘most indebted town’ which you already disproved,” Mr. Walter said. “The bottom line is, by every measure, the town is doing well. My advice to anyone running for public office is you can’t win by tearing the town or your opponent down.”

Ms. Kent, a retired elementary school teacher, said she has been talking to people everywhere she goes in town to try and find out what issues are important to them.

“People love our town, but we’re all worried about the haphazard direction it’s going in,” she said. “I think that Riverhead has the potential to be one of the greatest towns in the country.”

She said she’s ready to “roll up my sleeves and get started” preserving the town’s resources.

Ms. Lynch recently retired as a political director for a healthcare workers union.

She said she’s concerned the town isn’t listening to residents’ concerns.

“People are moving out here because they like it out here, and we need to provide more recreation and more housing where young people can stay or for old people who want to downsize,” she said. “We really need to listen to our residents and we need to go out to the community and talk to people and hear your vision and your ideas.”

Mr. Woodson is seeking a third term as highway superintendent after first being elected to the post in 2009. He said one of his biggest accomplishments was securing $800,000 for the highway fund that had been going into the general fund in the form of an administrative charge. He said that money could have been used for roads.

He will be opposed Republican newcomer William Van Helmond of Jamesport, who owns a landscaping company and worked on installing new roads in private sector developments.

Ms. Ambro, an attorney, will oppose longtime incumbent Laverne Tennenberg, who has been in office since 1990.

So far, there are no primary challenges for the Republican or Democratic seats up for election this fall, but that could change.

Greg Fischer of Calverton, who had submitted his name as a possible Democratic candidate for council, said he is considering a primary against Ms. Jens-Smith. He said he’s torn between running a primary or restarting a newspaper he used to run called “The Patriot.”

He feels it’s more likely he will not run the primary.

Caption: The party’s ticket, from left: Susan Ambro, George ‘Gio’ Woodson, Laura Jens-Smith, Catherine Kent and Michele Lynch.

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