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OpinionColumnistsRandi F. Marshall

Beyond Aguiar's upset victory in Riverhead

Yvette Aguiar on June 19, 2019.

Yvette Aguiar on June 19, 2019. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Most of Suffolk County's races went as expected Tuesday night.

But not in Riverhead.

In the gateway to the forks, former NYPD officer Yvette Aguiar, a Republican, ousted incumbent Democrat Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, who previously worked as a nurse, by about 700 votes.

Aguiar's election is an unexpected one, and a historic one, as she will be Long Island's first Hispanic supervisor. That's especially important in a town where the Hispanic population has increased from about 14 percent in 2010 to about 20 percent last year. 

Beyond that, however, Aguiar's upset victory signals that Riverhead residents again are seeking a new direction. Besides electing a new supervisor, voters also elected two Republicans to the town board.

A newcomer to politics, Aguiar, a real estate agent, had emphasized her law enforcement and business background during the campaign. The question now is whether Aguiar can move Riverhead forward in areas where Jens-Smith, and Sean Walter before her, had not made significant progress.

Two years ago, it was Jens-Smith who had done the ousting,  beating Walter, who had served the town for eight years.

And Riverhead's issues haven't changed much since Jens-Smith took over — and that in part might explain her loss. Concerns about overcrowding, code enforcement and downtown redevelopment aren't new, and perhaps Jens-Smith wasn't able to make enough of a dent in any of those areas to give voters a reason to give her another term.

That's especially true for the Enterprise Park property in Calverton. When she first ran for supervisor two years ago, Jens-Smith criticized Walter over the lack of progress on the land known as EPCAL. At the time, she had innovative ideas on how to subdivide the parcel, and do something different. But she found herself stuck with contracts Walter had arranged with Luminati Aerospace, and was soon on the receiving end of similar criticisms from Aguiar.

During her campaign, Aguiar promised more openness with residents, and increased code enforcement;  supported the development of arts or cultural centers and apartments off Main Street; and backed finding ways to work with the EPCAL contracts.

Can a new politician who represents the changing demographics of the town have more success at addressing some of the old issues that have plagued it?

Now, it's Aguiar's turn to try. 

Randi F. Marshall is a member of Newsday's editorial board.