Town of Smithtown Councilman Robert Creighton. (June 30, 2011)

Town of Smithtown Councilman Robert Creighton. (June 30, 2011) Credit: James Escher

The prospect of a primary challenger to the incumbent Smithtown supervisor is a small sign of spring in an otherwise frozen political process this year in Suffolk County. Vibrant primaries that force a clash of ideas and political parties that represent a set of principles instead of a patronage protection racket are key to a healthy democracy.

In a town in which little changes and the Republican Party firmly rules, it's surprising that Robert Creighton, a current GOP councilman and former Suffolk County police commissioner, would take on the mantle of insurgency. Supervisor Patrick Vechhio, who has been in the job since 1978 and is seeking a 13th term, has dominated the political life of this somnolent town.

The positive news in this development is not about the individuals involved -- perhaps even more will jump in and circulate nominating petitions -- but about the process. Primary challenges are healthy because they have the potential to force a debate on how to improve the delivery of services, especially in a town where storefronts are closed and roads need improvement.

What's happening in Smithtown stands in sharp contrast to what Suffolk voters will find on the countywide ballot this year. In fact, why should they go to the polls at all? The faces at the top-of-the-ticket offices -- district attorney, sheriff and treasurer -- won't change. District Attorney Thomas Spota, a Democrat, Treasurer Angie Carpenter, a Republican, and Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, a Conservative, all have the cross-endorsement of the other parties.

This is wrongheaded. No matter how qualified, successful or experienced any elected official may be, multiple endorsements shut the door to new faces with fresh proposals. How else but through the rigors of a campaign will incumbents be required to defend their records and develop new priorities for their offices? Elections should matter.