News-Review Endorsement: Supervisor

The supervisor’s office in Riverhead Town has been a revolving door in recent years. Sean Walter lost reelection in 2017, ushering in Laura Jens-Smith for one term before she lost in 2019 to political newcomer Yvette Aguiar, the current supervisor.

Riverhead residents have consistently rejected the idea of expanding the supervisor’s term to four years, leaving Ms. Aguiar, a Republican, seeking to break the trend by becoming the first supervisor to win reelection since Mr. Walter in 2015.

It could be argued that some continuity at the top of town government is long overdue. And considering that Ms. Aguiar took office just before the pandemic, which altered so much of our everyday life as well as the processes of town government, a second term would give her a bit of a clean slate without the full weight of global plague.

But this isn’t a typical election with a newcomer challenging the incumbent. 

Catherine Kent has already served four years on the Town Board and is well versed on all the issues affecting the town. As the lone Democrat on the Town Board the past two years, she’s never been shy about speaking up for what she believes in or pushing to ask a few more questions on the topic at hand, even when her fellow board members are ready to move on.

By running for supervisor, Ms. Kent forfeited her chance to remain a councilperson. So the Town Board will be losing one of its current members either way. We believe Ms. Kent can still provide that continuity for the Town Board by stepping into the supervisor role and is the better candidate to lead Riverhead into 2022, as the future of the Enterprise Park at Calverton remains in limbo with Triple Five Group and more development is slated for downtown.

Ms. Aguiar, a retired detective sergeant in the NYPD, has grown in her role as supervisor and undoubtedly seems more comfortable in the political realm than two years ago. Having to navigate the town through the challenges of COVID-19, when businesses closed for extended time in early 2020, and when simply hosting a Town Board meeting was more complicated than ever before, was a precarious position for Ms. Aguiar. And the supervisor for the most part handled it well.

Of the current Town Board members, Ms. Kent has been the biggest critic of the pending EPCAL sale and has pushed for the town to walk away from the deal, despite the threat of litigation that could follow. Ms. Aguiar has taken a wait-and-see approach and not much has changed on the pending sale in the last two years, as a subdivision of the property remains to be completed. She admitted that “it was a terrible contract” and said she “can’t undo what was done in the past” since the contract was already signed when she took office. Ms. Kent called the deal an “embarrassment” and, of the possible litigation, said, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in these four years, that’s thrown about all the time. We need to put something good at EPCAL, not just for Riverhead, but for the whole region.”

Ms. Aguiar has said that by the end of January she intends to have a full analysis with a timeline regarding EPCAL. We’re left wondering exactly what that would look like and whether the town can rid itself of Triple Five. Ms. Kent said the extra 1,000 acres that were thrown into the deal at EPCAL should become a passive park and called the overall deal “the worst real estate deal in the Northeast.” At this point, it’s hard to even know whether anything on the deal will change in the next two years as the process continues to drag on, but we feel Ms. Kent leading the Town Board can best guide the process forward.

Another longstanding issue has been water quality issues in Calverton and Manorville. While the town recently began hosting water forums to enable residents to raise concerns, more action is needed. . We’ve heard from residents over and over. We know the issue. It’s been a frustrating problem that’s left residents in a no man’s land between Riverhead Town, Brookhaven Town, the Suffolk County Water Authority and the Riverhead Water District. The candidates agree that no one should be concerned about having clean water, but where are the solutions? Within three months, Ms. Aguiar said, we’ll be hearing more specifics on grant funding. Ms. Kent rightfully said there should be a Plan B — which would require a bond — beyond just waiting and hoping for grant funding.

Like any political campaign, the supervisor race has taken odd turns at times. This year, each candidate’s effort to capitalize on the phrase “defund the police” has been nothing more than an unnecessary distraction. Ms. Kent tried to argue that Ms. Aguiar “defunded” the Riverhead Town Police Department based on a change in its equipment budget from one year to the next. Ms. Aguiar noted that the funds for equipment were used to purchase cars and were not needed the next year.

In political ads, Ms. Aguiar claims her opponent is “silent” on defunding.

To be clear, there is no push to “defund” the Riverhead Town Police Department by any candidate, and Ms. Kent and her running mates have pressed to add more officers.

Using the “defunding” phrase in this campaign is insulting to what that movement is trying to accomplish in larger cities and departments across the country to address decades of racial inequality and to find new ways support community and social services.

In the last four years, we’ve seen Ms. Kent deliver for Riverhead as a strong voice for all residents. She should get the next opportunity to lead as supervisor.