Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio and Councilman Robert Creighton are divided over whether a Kings Park civic group was permitted to circulate a petition at a farmers market that operates on town property.
Creighton, who is seeking to unseat Vecchio, said the market's town permit doesn't allow the petition. Vecchio did not object to the petition circulated by the Kings Park Civic Association.
The petition asks residents to support a plan backed by the civic association to relocate a senior housing development proposed by the St. Johnland Nursing Center in Kings Park. Vecchio has questioned details of St. Johnland's plan; Creighton said he is awaiting the results of an environmental impact study but views the project favorably.
A copy of the petition had been displayed on May 5 on a community table at the 3-year-old market, which sells locally grown produce and other goods and operates in a town parking lot on Sundays in spring and summer.
"The only thing you're allowed to do at a farmers market is sell fruits and vegetables," Creighton said in an interview. "I do not think there should be petitions there for political purposes."
Vecchio said the flap is a "nonissue," and that the petition is protected by the First Amendment.
"That's a municipal parking lot paid for by the taxpaying public," he said. "There's nothing within the free speech amendment that prevents you from doing it on public property."
Civic association president Sean Lehmann said the group would stop circulating the petition, but added, "It's very petty that we're fighting over a benign petition."
The debate over the petition erupted this week as Vecchio and Creighton, both Republicans, split party endorsements. Vecchio won the nod of town Republicans, while Creighton earned the endorsement of the town Conservative committee.
Creighton said he called market manager Bernadette Martin, director of Long Beach-based Friends & Farmers Inc., last week because he received complaints about the petition. Martin declined to comment.
In a letter to Creighton on Monday, Lehmann asked whether the call was a "threat. It might appear to some that this was an attempt to intimidate the Kings Park Civic Association and its members . . ." Lehmann confirmed the content of the letter, a copy of which was emailed to Newsday.
Creighton said of the letter, "I would not dignify his question with a response."