By Donna Deedy
It was a life well-lived. A first-generation American, the child of Italian immigrants, born during the Great Depression and dedicated to public service.
“At the end of the day, I’ve done something for people. And that’s the guiding principle of my life,” said former Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio in a 2015 interview with The Times of Smithtown.
“At the end of the day, I’ve done something for people. And that’s the guiding principle of my life.”
— Patrick Vecchio
Patrick Vecchio died Sunday, April 7, at age 88. For a record 40 years — nearly half of his lifetime — he held the Town of Smithtown’s highest office. During his tenure, seven different U.S. presidents held office, while the residents of Smithtown re-elected the same man to represent them again and again for 13 terms.
Roughly half of his years in office, he served as a Democrat, the other half a Republican. Today, people in both parties recognize his distinct leadership qualities. In fact, his portrait hangs in the Town of Smithtown Town Hall, and the building itself bears his name. The gesture, announced while Vecchio was still in office during a March 3, 2015 board meeting, surprised Vecchio and left him humbled and teary-eyed.
During the 2015 town hall dedication ceremony, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) made a point to say that Vecchio had served Smithtown the right way. At the same event, New York State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) was equally complimentary.
“He’s cheap, and he wears it like a badge of honor,” he said. “He never forgot, never forgets and never will forget where the money is coming from.”
Vecchio was legendary for his fiscal restraint. Town Historian Brad Harris said with a laugh that it’s more apt to call him “tight.” But Vecchio’s 40-year Smithtown legacy is rich and storied on a range of topics from open government policies to environmental conservation.
Under his leadership, Smithtown earned national recognition for many environmental and clean energy projects. The town pioneered a development rights program that enabled — at no cost to taxpayers — the preservation of important land such as the historic Harned Saw Mill site in Commack and the Saam wetlands at the headwaters of the Nissequoque River. Thanks to Vecchio, Smithtown was the first community in the nation to voluntarily convert its diesel-powered fleet of refuse trucks to run on compressed natural gas, which saved money and reduced noise and
“I’ve been here for 35 years; the Town of Smithtown never had a better friend than Pat Vecchio.”
— Russell Barnett
Smithtown was also an early adopter of wind generators and solar panels. Under Vecchio, the state awarded Smithtown in 2016 a $250,000 clean energy grant. Thanks to that award, solar electric projects are still underway at Smithtown Landing Country Club and town hall.
“I’ve been here for 35 years; the Town of Smithtown never had a better friend than Pat Vecchio,” said Russell Barnett, the Smithtown environmental protection director.
The community regarded Vecchio as a man with conviction. And people, whether they agreed with his position or not, said that they respected his opinion.
“He’s a feisty guy … ready to take on an issue or political opponent,” said Harris, after the town hall dedication ceremony. “He does battle for the people of Smithtown.”
People consistently note the leader’s commitment to the local community.
Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said that he recognized Vecchio as a true public servant. “In his historic time in office, he always did what he thought was best for residents … that was always at the forefront of his every decision,” he said.
December 12, 2017 was Vecchio’s last board meeting as Smithtown supervisor. The occasion drew a crowd that filled the board room and trailed through the hallways and down staircases. People bid farewell and thanked the supervisor for implementing his vision on their behalf. Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) noted during the tribute that Vecchio was leaving Smithtown with a budgetary surplus rather than debt.
“This town is in such good financial shape, it is all because of you,” Trotta said. “You should be a model for every other town in the nation, the state and certainly the county.”