Edward Wehrheim, the Smithtown Town supervisor candidate who effectively deposed 40-year incumbent Patrick Vecchio in a white-knuckle Republican primary last month, squared off against two opponents in a debate with no clear winner Tuesday night.
Wehrheim, 69, promised change while defending his record, saying he would “come into this job and hit the ground running,” taking a “hard look” at hamlet downtowns ready for revitalization.
But he faced repeated attacks from Democratic candidate William Holst, 65, who said the town board veteran had accomplished little in office and stood by while property developers made deals that weren’t in town residents’ best interests.
“He’s been more a part of the problem than any solution,” Holst said.
Independent Kristen Slevin, 40, who owns and runs a candy store off Main Street, refrained from attacks to paint a sunny picture of what Smithtown under her leadership would look like: “Small-town USA that builds on our historic past,” with mixed-use buildings downtown and hamlets that would be walkable, bikeable and pet-friendly, she said.
Slevin, who earned a spot on the ballot by collecting more than 1,500 voter signatures over the summer, answered a question about political donations by answering that she doesn’t accept them. The League of Women Voters debate brought about 200 people to the Nesaquake Middle School auditorium.
Three weeks before the election, Wehrheim has a numbers advantage, with roughly 34,000 registered Republican voters, 22,000 Democrats and 22,000 unaffiliated voters in the town. Republican candidates have overwhelmed their opponents in most races for town office in recent years. Downtown revitalization dominated the town council candidate debate, with Republican incumbents Tom McCarthy and Lynne Nowick promising that a resurgence is on its way, and Democrats Amy Fortunato and Patty Stoddard calling for a more assertive approach to planning and zoning.
Robert Doyle and Thomas Lohmann — both Republicans running on the Conservative and Independence party lines after losing a September primary to the incumbents — reprised their earlier attacks, with Doyle blaming Nowick and McCarthy for “stagnation and lack of vision” in Town Hall.
Doyle also said that the two incumbent council members hoped to bring Vecchio back as a council member in January, should Wehrheim win the supervisor’s race and vacate his seat.
McCarthy said he knew nothing about such a plan. Nowick said “I have no plan to do any such thing,” and said she had not spoken with Vecchio about the matter. Vecchio could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
In an interview Wednesday, Doyle said he’d heard of the plan from a Town Hall source and condemned it as an example of “throwback politics” that would thwart the will of voters who’d ousted Vecchio in the primary election. Wehrheim said he’d also heard talk about the plan, but doesn’t know if it’s true.
“I can’t fathom he [Vecchio] would want to end up his career as longest-sitting supervisor and gravitate downstairs to a council seat,” Wehrheim said. Should the matter come to a council vote, he said, “I would vote no . . . My position is that the voters have spoken. They want change, and that’s not change. It’s the same exact town government in place, just switching around the chairs.”