The Smithtown Republican executive committee has recommended dropping Supervisor Patrick Vecchio as its standard-bearer after a record 39 years, and instead running veteran town board member Edward Wehrheim for the town’s $111,635-a-year top job.
Bill Ellis, Smithtown Republican chairman, and Conservative Party chairman Gary Forte disclosed the news to Vecchio, 86, in a meeting at GOP headquarters yesterday morning in advance of Tuesday’s convention at the Elks Hall.
Although party officials tried to offer Vecchio a continued role as a paid budget adviser, “he erupted like Mount Vesuvius,” denouncing both men with a stream of expletives, Ellis said.
Vecchio called the ploy “a modern-day coup” and said he will not wage a floor fight at the convention. But he vowed to run a Republican primary with his board allies Lynne Nowick and Thomas McCarthy, who are also to be replaced on the ticket.
“The convention is already fixed by proxies,” said Vecchio. “This is a wonderful bloodbath initiated by Ed Walsh Conservatives,” referring to the county Conservative chairman convicted last year on federal corruption charges. Vecchio said Conservatives are angry because he wants to replace Conservatives on the town board of zoning appeals and opposes Conservative Town Clerk Vincent Puleo, who is up for election this fall.
Forte said that Vecchio’s charges are false, that their endorsement has nothing to do with Walsh, and that the supervisor himself voted for the Conservatives on the zoning board. He added the party endorsement came from the minor party’s 13-member town executive committee, many of them local business people.
“We were not impressed with the way Vecchio screened,” Forte said. “Others’ downtowns and parks have been revitalized, ours are in disrepair.”
“Everyone was in agreement it is time for a change,” Ellis said of the executive committee decision. “Ed Wehrheim is the only one in Town Hall every day to handle the people’s needs.”
Wehrheim, 69, a town board member for 14 years, has worked for Smithtown for 45 years, most of them in the parks department, where he rose to the post of parks superintendent. “I’ve taken the pulse of every hamlet in the town and the unanimous sentiment is everybody wants change,” said Wehrheim.
The still feisty Vecchio, a former amateur boxer, former New York City police detective and one-time bodyguard for Mayor John Lindsay, took office in 1978 as a Democrat but switched to Republican a dozen years later and once waged an unsuccessful primary for county executive.
Vecchio, for the past year, has been hampered by a leg injury and critics say that for the past decade, the supervisor has allowed the town to languish and not make needed infrastructure investments. Vecchio earlier this year came out in support of $9.7 million in capital spending, while touting the town’s $17 million debt as the lowest per capita on Long Island.
Along with Wehrheim, Ellis said the executive committee also recommended nominating Robert Doyle, a retired Suffolk police detective sergeant from Nesconset, and Thomas Lohmann, who is retired from the New York City Police Department and is now a Suffolk district attorney investigator, to replace Nowick and McCarthy.
Ellis said former GOP town attorney John Zollo, who earlier said he would run a primary against Vecchio, has told party officials he would withdraw as a candidate if Wehrheim is the nominee. Ellis added that former town board member Kevin Malloy has also withdrawn his name as town board candidate.
William Holst, the Democratic supervisor candidate, said the GOP fight will not change his campaign. “We’re prepared to face anyone they put up,” he said.