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Dueling pictures of town in GOP primary debate

Candidates for the Smithtown's Town Board square off

Candidates for the Smithtown's Town Board square off in a debate held by the League of Women Voters at the Smithtown Historical Society's Brush Barn on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Candidates in Smithtown’s Republican Party primary for supervisor, clerk and two town board seats presented dueling pictures of the state of the town in a forum Wednesday night sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

Town Board challengers Thomas Lohmann and Robert Doyle attacked Supervisor Patrick Vecchio’s administration for letting infrastructure like roads and recreational facilities slide into disrepair, and for being slow to act on sewers that all candidates agree are necessary to grow downtown business.

“This didn’t happen overnight,” Doyle said at the debate, held at the Smithtown Historical Society’s Brush Barn. “It happened because of a lack of leadership in a dysfunctional town government.”

Councilman Tom McCarthy, running for re-election alongside Councilwoman Lynn Nowick on a ticket with Vecchio, painted a contrasting picture of a town that came roaring back after the recent recession, largely thanks to Vecchio’s leadership and his relationships in county and state government that yielded a $40 million commitment from the state for sewering in downtown Kings Park and Smithtown earlier this year.

The challengers “don’t open the doors the supervisor opens,” McCarthy said. They “won’t have the governor calling you at home saying, ‘How can we help you, what can we do for you?’ . . . It takes a long time to develop relationships.”

The Sept. 12 primary could be decisive in largely Republican Smithtown. The town’s Republican Party leadership is backing the challengers’ ticket.

Vecchio, who was elected in 1978 and is the longest-serving supervisor in New York State, and Councilman Edward Wehrheim, who is challenging him for his job, largely avoided conflict Wednesday night.

Both men said they were skeptical that accessory apartments could add affordable housing to the town without introducing new problems, and both agreed that town government was limited in its ability to restore hamlet downtowns to full occupancy.

Shopping malls have sucked away some of the commerce and many remaining landlords aren’t town residents, Vecchio said. A program to beautify storefronts would help, he said. Wehrheim said that targeted residential redevelopment of the downtowns could help existing businesses and increase demand for new ones like restaurants and pubs.

The most rancorous exchanges of the night came from Town Clerk Vincent Puleo and challenger Conrad Chayes, the town’s planning board chairman and a Vecchio ally.

While Puleo said he had streamlined that ostensibly nonpolitical office, which keeps official records and handles some paperwork for residents, Chayes accused his opponent of trying to sabotage Vecchio and Nowick in an 2014 incident.

Puleo, a Conservative, had declared their offices vacant after they failed to file written oaths of office that year. They were eventually appointed to fill the seats, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo later signed legislation allowing them to complete their four-year terms.

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