Patrick Vecchio speaks during a debate held by the League...

Patrick Vecchio speaks during a debate held by the League of Women Voters. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The end, a poet once observed, comes not with a bang but with a whimper.

So it went for Patrick Vecchio, whose Long Island-record 40-year run as Smithtown Town supervisor will close in December. His reign ended quietly, after a count of absentee ballots Monday gave the Republican nomination to Edward Wehrheim, a town councilman.

Vecchio, 86, said he never saw it coming, but he must not have been looking hard. Discontent had been building for some time. A GOP foe took 40 percent of the primary vote back in 2005, and that number grew in another primary challenge in 2013. But Vecchio continued to win, election after election.

He will leave with a mixed legacy. Vecchio was justly proud of his fiscal conservatism, endlessly reciting stats on Smithtown’s low debt. Over time, some saw that as parsimoniousness. Snowplowing was good, sewers not so much. He understood his voters, serving them as a caretaker trying to preserve the status quo. But he lacked the vision that Smithtown ultimately needed to thrive. Vecchio ignored languishing downtowns as other Long Island towns and villages revitalized theirs; downtown Smithtown now has nearly 20 empty storefronts.

After the counting was done, Vecchio told Newsday that after 40 years, he had so much more to do. The irony was unintended. He also spoke of his accumulated knowledge and lamented that, “It’s a shame to let it go to waste.”

It was an epitaph that in the end might have been more appropriate than Vecchio realized.