Election 2020: Three candidates for State Assembly discuss key issues

One thing is clear in the race for the 2nd Assembly District this fall: Republican candidate Jodi Giglio and Democratic candidate Laura Jens-Smith do not get along well.

The third candidate in the race, Libertarian William Van Helmond, specifically went out of his way to not criticize either of his opponents during a News-Review Zoom interview with the three candidates Monday.

With incumbent Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) running to fill the State Senate seat being vacated by longtime incumbent Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Ms. Giglio, a Riverhead councilwoman from Baiting Hollow; Ms. Jens-Smith, a former Riverhead supervisor from Laurel; and Mr. Van Helmond, a very Greater Jamesport Civic Association president and business owner, are all seeking to fill the seat. 

“I found Jodi very difficult to work with,” Ms. Jens-Smith said of Ms. Giglio during the Zoom interview.  “Many things were strictly voted on party line. They were not based on whether it was good governance or not.”

“I’m just amazed at all the things that Laura Jens-Smith came out with,” Ms. Giglio responded. “But that explains why she was a one-term supervisor, one of a very few. Because she doesn’t get along with anybody and walks around like a bull in a China shop, where people are cringing under the desk when they hear her coming down the hallway.” 

Ms. Jens-Smith said Ms. Giglio lobbied against a county proposal to buy open space on the Peconic River off West Main Street while they were on the board together. 

“To me, that’s mind-boggling,” Ms. Jens-Smith said. 

Ms. Giglio said the land was owned by Larry Simms, who was unable to develop it, and the county offered to buy it as open space despite having invasive species of plants growing on it.

“If you’re going to spend county and state money on open space, it should be on a piece of property that’s threatened, not for somebody that worked on your campaign or donated money to your campaign,” she said.

Ms. Jens-Smith said that, in another instance, there was a special permit application for 48 Kroemer LLC, involving two of Ms. Giglio’s partners in the Summerwind Square project. The project involved a proposed 270,000-gallon liquid propane storage facility on Kroemer Avenue. 

Ms. Jens-Smith said Ms. Giglio did not disclose the conflict. 

“We did bring it up and she said she would step back and not have any opinions on the project,” she said. “They just came through a couple weeks ago for their special permit public hearing and she continued to participate without letting the public known she had an interest in this.” 

“Laura is very good at trying to destroy my name and saying I’m unethical,” Ms. Giglio said. She said she did go before the town ethics board on the issue and got clearance.

The March 20, 2019, town ethics board opinion, written by deputy town attorney Eric Howard, states that Ms. Giglio said she has no relationship with Frank Fisher, the owner of the property, or any of the principals of the application, and that she has no interest, monetary or otherwise, in the Kroemer Avenue project. 

She said she has no financial interest in Martin Sendlewski’s architecture business or Ray Dickhoff’s development firm. They are both working on the Kroemer Avenue project and are partners with Ms. Giglio in Summerwind, and that is the only business partnership she has with them, she said.

Later, the candidates discussed why they felt voters should choose them over their opponents.

“My experience in environmental issues, water quality, and infrastructure make me qualified to work in the state legislature,” Ms. Giglio said. “I have experience and knowledge of what’s happening today.” 

She said she favors “giving police the tools they need and not defunding police.”

There is a “mental health and opioid crisis in New York State and we need to focus on that,” she said. 

Due to bail reform measures, defendants are being released from jail, “depriving them of the many programs jail has to offer to get people on the right track if they have a problem with addiction.”

Since she’s been on the Town Board, “we have preserved over 2,000 acres of farmland and several pieces of open space,” she said.

“I am solution-oriented and very well-versed on the issues that are happening in Albany right now,” Ms. Giglio said. “Balancing the budget, I think, is the biggest hurdle that Albany has to worry about right now and I would be very focused on that.”

Mr. Van Helmond said he’s been in business for 39 years. “As a Libertarian candidate, I am not part of the two-party system that has been in control of our state and nation for over 100 years. And they basically blame each for all that’s wrong with government, and it really accomplishes nothing.”

Mr. Van Helmond said he presents an alternative. “There are no strings attached to me and I don’t have any vested interest with large donations to my campaign.”

Ms. Jens-Smith said she has experience with budgets and added that, when she took office, the prior administration had “drained the town’s reserves” and downgraded its bond rating. She said she put $4 million back into town reserves and obtained more than $5 million in grants. 

She said she took advantage of low interest rates to refinance town bonds at lower rates. 

Ms. Jens-Smith feels that suburban counties like Suffolk, Westchester and Putnam could form a coalition to work together. 

Ms. Giglio, 52, has been elected to five two-year terms on the Town Board and cannot run again due to term limits. She owns a business in land use and construction management and said she is running on a pro-business platform and on helping businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms. Jens-Smith, 57, grew up in Port Jefferson Station and has lived in Laurel for more than 20 years. She said she has been a registered nurse for most of her career. She was on the Mattituck-Cut-ch-ogue Board of Education and served six years on that board, two as its president. 

She then ran for Riverhead Town Board and lost, before running for town supervisor in 2017 and winning a two-year term.

Mr. Van Helmond, 57, has owned a landscaping and property management business for 9 years, and taught a BOCES course in advanced irrigation for five years.

He has been involved in numerous nonprofit civic organizations such as the Greater Jamesport Civic Association, which he is a former president of, as well as the Mattituck Lions Club, EPCAL Watch, the North Fork Chamber of Commerce, the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce and the North Fork Promotional Council. 

He ran for Town Board in 2019 on the Libertarian line and finished last.