Three new town supervisors were sworn in to office Friday under a gray East End sky, each facing financial challenges in the towns they serve.
Sean Walter in Riverhead, Bill Wilkinson in East Hampton and Anna Throne-Holst in Southampton will all look to tackle a massive town debt and the need to restructure their town governments to trim expenses.
A standing-room-only crowd of about 100 filled the town's tiny board room Friday morning to watch Bill Wilkinson, 60, take his first oath of office as a public servant.
His first move was to thank Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr., who was in the audience, for his help - not for anything he had done but "for what he is going to do" - in guiding a bill through the legislature to allow the town to get needed deficit financing to pay off an estimated $28-million debt.
Then, after thanking the people who helped get him elected and promising to be supervisor for all the people, Wilkinson carried through with his first campaign promise for open government. Instead of carrying on the practice of holding daytime meetings that many people can't attend, the new supervisor said the first regular meeting of the new East Hampton Town Board would be next Thursday at 7 p.m.
A politically mixed group of new town officials was sworn in as pipers played and Girl Scouts marched down the aisle at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.
Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, town board member James Malone and town trustee Bill Pell all began new terms, along with Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor.
Malone, a Conservative, ran on the Republican line, Gregor is a Democrat who replaced a five-term Republican who had retired, and Throne-Holst is nonaffiliated but ran on the Democratic, Independence and Working Family Party lines.
Throne-Holst made no political promises, but said she would work with all the members of the town board to deal with Southampton's budget problems. The town is conducting audits to determine the size of its deficit, with estimates running as high as $10 million. Final figures are expected later this month.
Under a new town law, the town board seat Throne-Holst vacated by becoming supervisor must be filled within 60 to 90 days in a special election that could create a bruising political battle.
Sean Walter, Riverhead's new supervisor, used the historic setting of the renovated Veil Leavitt Music Hall, which dates to 1881, to dramatize the need to bring the downtown community back to life.
"One need only look outside the doors of this glorious venue to see the promise and the pity that is downtown Riverhead and know that we need to move in a new direction," he said.
He noted that the buildings on either side of the Music Hall were being renovated, "yet, peek around the corner and the rest of our downtown is blighted and empty."
Walter set out an ambitious agenda to bring businesses back to the empty stores downtown, creating open green spaces and encouraging the arts. But, he said private enterprise would have to do the work.
"Before we break out the wrecking ball . . . we will try some paint and wallpaper," he said. "Let us create the attractive canvas that will make the private sector want to paint the masterpiece of a renewed Riverhead."
Having been through the short - and sometimes snowy - Jan. 1 ceremony so many times, Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio, Long Island's longest-serving supervisor, could practically swear himself in.
Within the span of one short minute Friday, Vecchio raised his right hand before District Court Judge Jack Toomey in front of Town Hall and was sworn in to begin his 33rd year leading the town, etching a yet deeper mark in Long Island lore.
"I am proud of the town," he said when the cheers died down from dozens of supporters, many of whom helped him garner over 60 percent of the vote in November in his contest against former Town Board member Patricia Biancaniello. "It's a lean town."
Vecchio all but bristles when asked whether he accepts the general consensus that he is fiscally conservative.
"Cheap," he said with a smile, boasting of the town's low debt and high bond rating.
He said his goal this term is to focus on making the town more "green," excited about projects that will put renewable energy-harnessing windmills and solar panels on the town's recycling center.
Board members Kevin Malloy and Thomas McCarthy were also sworn in, as were Highways Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen and Town Clerk Vincent Puleo.