Riverhead made history Tuesday night when residents elected a Latina — the first to seek elective office in the town and win — as their supervisor.
Yvette Aguiar, a Republican, defeated incumbent Laura Jens-Smith, a Democrat, to become the first person of Latino descent to become supervisor, and only the second woman elected to the office. The vote was 4,437 to 3,741.
Aguiar, of Wading River, also is now only the second person of Latino descent in Riverhead history to have held public office since Dr. Francis Menendez served on the town board as a councilman in the mid-1970s, according to town historian Georgette Case.
In an interview Wednesday, Aguiar, 60, said it was “shocking” for her to see the results come in at the Outerbanks Restaurant in Riverhead, but called it “a great victory.”
“This is really history,” she said. “You have a person who comes from behind with no political background and is able to do this. The excitement was there in the room. I walked and I talked personally to my entire community. I visited over 11,000 residents and establishments [during the campaign], I met with local businesses, religious and civic organizations and I heard my entire community loud and clear.”
Aguiar, who works as a real estate agent at Coach Realty and as an associate professor for online courses at the American Military University in Washington, D.C., has no previous political experience. Still, she said she had no doubt that she could win.
“The campaign made me a stronger and positive person,” Aguiar said. "I understand reality now in the political world, and I will continue working within it, but the people of Riverhead are always going to come first.”
Looking ahead, Aguiar said her first term’s goals will be stabilizing the town financially, making sure key services such as fire, police and ambulance have enough funding to function well and improving the town’s water district.
In an interview Tuesday night at the Dark Horse Restaurant on Main Street, Jens-Smith said that while she was disappointed with the results, she was proud of several accomplishments since being elected in 2017. She cited work on revitalizing downtown, getting started on updating Riverhead’s comprehensive plan and making sure the $40 million land sale at the Enterprise Park at Calverton “was going to be on the right track moving forward.”
In the race for two seats on the Riverhead Town Board, incumbent Republican Tim Hubbard, 59, won reelection for his second four-year term on the board, and Frank R. Beyrodt Jr., 52, a Republican, was elected to the board's open four-year seat left by Jodi Giglio, who is finishing her final term on the board due to term limits.
On Shelter Island, Democrat Gerard Siller, a former two-term town supervisor who served from 1998 until 2001, beat incumbent first-term Republican Supervisor Gary Gerth as Democrats swept the town board election.
Siller received 700 votes, or 58%, to Gerth’s 514 votes.
When reached at his office Wednesday, Gerth noted that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 400 voters in the town. When Gerth won in 2017 he beat incumbent Democratic Supervisor James Dougherty by just 33 votes.
Gerth, 77, said he was proud of his accomplishments during his two years in office, including persuading Chase Bank to keep a branch on the island and negotiating with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital to staff the island’s medical center with at least one doctor who lives on Shelter Island full time. The island does not have its own hospital.
“The big guy up above advances me when I need to move on,” he said. “I accomplished everything I intended to do in two years.”
Siller, 65, said he wanted to re-enter politics to tackle issues such as water quality and quantity, affordable housing and deer ticks. He said he’d like to expand the town’s deer cull program and cut financing for its four-poster program, feeding stands that brush deer with permethrin, in half.
“We have a couple of projects we’ve been talking about, so we will try to take those to fruition sooner rather than later,” Siller said.
Incumbent Democratic Councilman Jim Colligan, 72, and Democratic challenger Michael Bebon, 68, were also elected to the town board, ousting incumbent Republican Councilman Paul Shepherd, 64, who was seeking his third four-year term.