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Amy Fortunato

Smithtown Councilman Tom Lohmann. Photo by Kyle Barr

While we at TBR News Media do not believe that having a one-party rule is conducive to a truly transparent government, we do believe that Tom Lohmann (R) should retake the council seat he has occupied for the past 10 months.

Since he’s been in office, Lohmann has shown himself to be an efficient and dedicated public servant. The council member has proven to have engaged himself into the minutia of governmental activity, taking his role as liaison to several departments seriously. He has also been on the front lines of a number of issues, including town consolidation and revitalization. As a former member of the NYPD, Lohmann has also helped bridge the gap between the Suffolk County Police Department and the town by bringing in a representative from the department to speak about local crime issues.

We appreciate Amy Fortunato’s running, especially with her constant push for town revitalization, but Lohmann has proven to be much more knowledgeable of local issues.

We still admire Fortunato for her constant and fiery dedication to the town and its residents. She attends most, if not all, town board meetings where she is always willing to speak up and ask the tough questions, especially those concerning the town’s revitalization and budgetary efforts — two things that will be very important to keep an eye on going into next year. We ask that she remains a firebrand and watchdog in Smithtown for a long time.

Smithtown Councilman Tom Lohmann will compete with Democratic challenger Amy Fortunato for a seat on Smithtown Town Board. Photos by Kyle Barr

Town of Smithtown voters can choose between incumbent Tom Lohmann (R) and Democratic challenger Amy Fortunato for town council seat where both want to continue efforts toward downtown revitalization.

Fortunato and Lohmann stepped into the TBR News Media offices to debate about the problems and efforts circulating throughout the town’s eight hamlets.

After being in office 10 months, Lohmann said he has an appreciation for the inner workings of Smithtown’s government. While the councilman said he has worked hard with the town’s Highway Department to fix roads, he wants to see the local business districts built up to incentivize young people to remain in town.

“People I speak to don’t mind paying a little bit more if they have good roads,” Lohmann said. “These are things we use. You want to have businesses we can patronize. We don’t have businesses there because we let it deteriorate to something unsustainable.”

Democratic challenger Amy Fortunato is looking to break the Republican stranglehold on the town council, one that has been in place for more than two decades. She said the town needs to improve its communication and transparency with the community.

“Our towns look shabby, but we’ve got plenty of money, and our budget needs to move there,” Fortunato said. “What is so important is a comprehensive master plan — we’ve been talking about that for a long time, and I’m just concerned that the community has heard what we want to see in Smithtown.”

2019 Budget

On Oct. 5, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) released his draft 2019 budget that increases $4 million from this year, and includes a raise for all board members from $65,818 to $75,000. Fortunato said she
disagreed with the pay increase, especially when comparing the council members’ salaries to either Huntington or Brookhaven, two larger townships than Smithtown.

“I would not take that salary,” the Democratic challenger said. “[Supervisor Ed Wehrheim] should be longer in government before taking a raise.”

Lohmann said that, compared to previous boards, he and other council members are working full time on town matters. He says he is in his office full time, not including other night or weekend events. The councilman said the largest increase to the town’s budget is due the town’s employee health care costs, which he hopes to address if he gets another term.

“I think I’m worth $75,000,” the incumbent said. “One of the biggest increases is $1.1 million
to support health care costs. We’re on an unsustainable course of action. We have to look to
employees to subsidize their own costs.”

Lohmann was appointed to the board in January 2018 after the seat was vacated by Wehrheim.  Some, including Fortunato, originally protested the decision, saying that the move was unilaterally made without input from the community.

Infrastructure

The Town of Smithtown is involved in several sewer projects at various stages of development in Kings Park, Smithtown and St. James. Lohmann said that while New York State politics has put the project on hold by keeping an alienation bill required for the Kings Park pump station from being voted on in the state Assembly, he and the rest of the board are still wholly committed to these projects.

“We’re not going anywhere without sewers,” the incumbent said. “In Kings Park, it’s ready, but unfortunately what’s going on in Albany that died on the vine … A true comprehensive master plan has to involve community input and town hall meetings to drive the picture of what we want to see which is a living breathing document updated every 5 to 10 years.”

Fortunato said she is in full support of sewering, but that she wants the town to be open in relaying to the community what environmental impacts the new sewers could have.

“We got to be careful, and we want transparency,” she said. “We should have a public forum to present these options [for sewer treatment plants] and what we are looking at.”

The Town of Smithtown Town Hall. File photo by Phil Corso
Tom McCarthy. Photo by Kevin Redding

Voters will have six diverse options when they step into the voting booth to select two candidates to represent them on Smithtown Town Board Nov. 7.

In a sit-down Oct. 26 at the TBR News Media office in Setauket, the six candidates stated their positions on downtown revitalization, traffic and what the biggest issue the town faces looking ahead to 2018.

Incumbent Councilman Thomas McCarthy (R), who is also the deputy town supervisor was first elected to the board in 1997. Incumbent Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R), a St. James resident and former Suffolk legislator for 12 years, is also seeking re-election.

Lynne Nowick. Photo by Kevin Redding

McCarthy and Nowick said they are proud of the work they have done to push forward the downtown revitalization of Lake Avenue in St. James. The issue in other areas, the incumbents said, is sewers for the town’s business districts. With New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) promising $40 million in state funds, it’s a project they said is slowly but steadily moving forward.

“We need to continue what we are doing,” McCarthy said. “We have a five-year plan that is the best five-year plan we’ve ever had.”

During her first term in office, Nowick said residents have reached out to her primarily regarding quality of life issues. If re-elected, she said she plans to focus on addressing the continuous need to improve the town’s roadways, sidewalks, parks and beaches; areas where she feels she can make a difference, as she said her ability to push revitalization is limited.

“I am frustrated with the landlords of these [downtown] buildings,” Nowick said. “We can’t have a community that’s alive unless the buildings have stores. What can we do to entice the landlords to bring in new businesses?”

Bob Doyle. Photo by Kevin Redding

Their Republican primary challengers have kept their names on the ballot because they said they believe the town needs sweeping change. Nesconset resident Bob Doyle, who served for more than 37 years in law enforcement and is a U.S. Army veteran, has joined with Tom Lohmann, of Smithtown, a former member of the New York City Police Department and current investigator for the county district attorney’s  insurance crime bureau. The pair is still running on the Conservative party line.

“First and foremost, the first thing you have to do is a comprehensive master plan done with the inclusion of the community,” Lohmann said. “By far, the biggest topics of concern are the downtown business district is dying and traffic.”

Tom Lohman. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Conservative candidates, if elected, said they want to update the town’s comprehensive master plan to include all hamlets, in consultation with civic groups and local businesses. Lohmann said to do this he would start up quarterly community meetings in different hamlets so town officials could sit down with residents to hear concerns and get feedback. Doyle vowed to seek a traffic study in conjunction with state and county officials, using the latest technology to find a solution to improve flow on Smithtown’s roadways.

“Traffic, bar none, is the biggest issue,” Doyle said. “Residents are extremely frustrated with the flow of traffic in Smithtown.”

His sentiments were echoed by Nowick and two other challengers.

Democratic candidates Amy Fortunato, a Smithtown resident of 30 years, and Patricia Stoddard, a retired Smithtown school district teacher, are both eyeing seats on the town board. They said the main issues of Smithtown are downtown revitalization, traffic and government reform, much like their opponents.

Amy Fortunato. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I think we need an overall town survey,” Fortunato said. “What type of stores do we want? What do we want to see downtown? We need a comprehensive master plan that would distinguish the business district using town code.”

McCarthy countered that there is funding proposed to be set aside in both 2018 and 2019 to help update and overhaul the town’s codes, which have not been updated in decades.

However, Stoddard said the need to update town code is similar to the need to update the town’s master plan — something citizens have begun on their own.

Patricia Stoddard. Photo by Kevin Redding

“We need a master plan so we have something to build toward,” Stoddard said, pointing to Smithtown United Civic Association’s recently released draft proposal that focused on the district’s New York Avenue building. “It seems like a really good start using smart growth.”

Both Democratic candidates said the Smithtown town board has been more adversarial than cooperative, with town board meeting agendas being difficult to understand and public details on capital projects hard to come by. They vowed to improve transparency through increased communications on the town website and social media.

The two candidates elected to the town board will each serve a four-year term and receive an annual salary of $68,500 based on the proposed 2018 budget, posted on the town’s website.