More than 100 voters gathered in Smithtown for the final debate before the Nov. 5 election, which brought out all but one of the candidates seeking town and local county legislative offices.
The debate, co-sponsored by the Smithtown League of Women Voters and Smithtown Historical Society, allowed candidates to introduce themselves to voters and answer questions prepared by the league and audience members on Wednesday night at the Frank Brush Barn.No questions were posed to a specific candidate and a bell was rung if speakers exceeded their allotted time.
Democratic, Working Families and Independence supervisor candidate Steve Snair, 31, said he offered a trait his opponents -- Republican-backed Smithtown Supervisor Patrick R. Vecchio Sr., 83, and Conservative-backed Councilman Robert J. Creighton, 76 -- did not: energy.
"I have a lot of time ahead of me," he said, as murmurs and laughter came from the crowd. "I'm going to take 100 percent of that energy and put it towards but we can change the future of this town."
A smiling Vecchio responded by asking, "Where's my cane?"
"What I bring is experience," said Vecchio, who has led the town for 36 years. "I've been through many battles in the years that I've been town supervisor -- recessions to zoning to problems with the economy, budget battles -- and through all of that, we've never laid off anybody; we're still fiscally stable."
Creighton trumpeted his compassion and honesty, saying, "We have to improve the tax base, we have got to bring new businesses to town, we have to fix our roads."
The candidates also discussed development, downtown improvement and quality-of-life issues. Snair said residents probably didn't know about smart growth -- filling in vacant spaces and preserving open spaces -- because Smithtown doesn't have it, while Vecchio said the town has engaged in the practice, but hasn't expanded it due to the lack of sewers.
Vecchio referenced an upcoming project to build 60 units of housing and 15,000 square feet of retail space on Main Street in Smithtown at an old lumber yard across from town hall, but Creighton said of the project, "That is something that has been in the works for eight years. That personifies the problem in the Town of Smithtown."
Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), who is running for re-election in Suffolk's 12th District and is also on the Independence and Conservative lines, said the county is "a $2.6-billion corporation. . . . It takes time, it takes experience and it takes knowledge to be able to work within the confines of county government."
Democrat and Working Families candidate Gary Jacobs touted his business background, saying he has learned to tighten his belt in the private sector. "Sometimes, in county government, that doesn't happen."
Republican and Conservative-endorsed Robert Trotta and Democrat Elaine A. Turley offered different views on their most important issues for Suffolk's 13th Legislative District. Trotta said he wanted to increase tax revenue, while Turley said she was most concerned with "reasonable and responsive governance." Independence-backed Mario R. Mattera did not attend.
The town council debate included all five candidates for two seats: incumbents Thomas J. McCarthy (Republican, Conservative) and Kevin J. Malloy (Conservative), as well as Legis. Lynne C. Nowick (R-St. James, backed by Republicans), Adam S. Halpern (Democratic, Working Families, Independence) and Richard S. Macellaro (Democratic, Working Families, Independence).
They tackled issues that ranged from whether zoning codes need updating and whether candidates support a land swap between the state parks department and owners of the proposed Uplands at St. Johnland senior housing project.
Halpern, a deputy chief prosecutor at the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violation Agency, said he brings a strong work ethic and sense of integrity to the council position, while Macellaro, a retired home health care administrator, said he'd bring balance to the board and the ability to compromise.
McCarthy focused on his 16 years of experience as a councilman and 30 years in private-sector business, while Nowick, a 12-year legislator, said her county budget experience and contacts at the county make her a stand-out.
"On this phone here, I've got the telephone number of ... every legislator," she said. "So if we in the Town of Smithtown want some things done with sewers ... I believe I can foster that relationship."
Highway superintendent candidates -- incumbent Glenn Jorgensen (Republican, Conservative) and Democratic and Independence party-backed Thomas D. McCarthy -- and town clerk candidates incumbent Vincent A. Puleo (Republican, Conservative) and Edward I. Haeffer (Democratic, Independence, Working Families) also sparred. McCarthy criticized Jorgensen over his response to the February blizzard.
"Glenn's management style is to get out and plow. ... He lost control of his crews, he lost control of his contractors," he said. "I would have been in my command center, assessing the situation, allocating assets."
Jorgensen said he has worked for the highway department for 40 years and said his workers "rose to every occasion with the machinery that I had at the time."
Haeffer said that "between 2009 to 2012, the town clerk and his top two employees' salary increased over $25,000. There's no reason for that."
Puleo said he has increased transparency over his eight-year tenure and put live videos and minutes of all board meetings on the town website. "And by the way, my salary has increased $2,000 over the last eight years," he said. "I have no control over any of my other employees who have gotten raises; that's done through a contractural agreement."
The debate's moderator Rosemarie Sepanksi, a member of the Huntington League of Women Voters, said the league was nonpartisan and its mission was "to encourage participation in the democratic process."