Laura M. Jens-Smith took office less than two years ago and the Riverhead supervisor has been busy.
She concluded several labor contracts that paired raises with givebacks, like increased employee contributions to health care. She stabilized the town's notoriously shaky finances with two balanced budgets that stayed within the state tax cap, and she reduced town debt by $7 million. And Jens-Smith, 56, a Democrat from Laurel, also continues to work on downtown development, pushing a mix of uses, contemplating 5-story buildings to increase options, and welcoming the ongoing construction of workforce housing while insisting that a diversity of housing is needed to ensure that people who want to stay in the downtown have options to do so as their incomes rise.
Her opponent brings an interesting resume to the race. Republican Yvette Aguiar, 60, of Riverhead, making her first run for elective office, is a real estate agent and retired New York City police detective who worked in the counter-terrorism division, and she teaches homeland security at the online American Military University.
Aguiar, too, is concerned about downtown development and is focused on aesthetics. She wants to retain the downtown's charm, and talks about retail and an arts center with apartments located off Main Street where they won't be as visible. She also is focused on overcrowded housing and its effect on growing enrollments in the Riverhead school district. It's a legitimate concern and one she wants to address with more code enforcement — though the town has issued twice as many code violations this year as it did last year. And though she worries about a potential sale of the town's water district, Jens-Smith says that's a phony issue because there have been no discussions about a sale, she would never favor selling it, and she has worked with the district on an ambitious capital plan to upgrade the system.
Then there's the town's longest-running drama — what to do with the 2,900-acre Enterprise Park property in Calverton. It's still undeveloped. And the town is saddled with a pending $40 million deal signed by former supervisor Sean Walter with an aerospace startup. Luminati Aerospace, one of the partners trying to complete the sale, is being sued by a Connecticut company for defaulting on a $10 million promissory note. Jens-Smith is right to worry about that and other financial issues, and she is smartly working on a parallel path of subdividing the property, with the town keeping part of the land for a solar farm, if the Luminati deal falls apart.
Aguiar knows Riverhead but lacks Jens-Smith's vision. The supervisor, a nurse by training, has taken good care of the town in her first term.
Newsday endorses Jens-Smith. — The editorial board