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Kristen Slevin

Smithtown councilman Edward Wehrheim, Independent candidate Kristen Slevin and Democratic candidate William Holst are racing for Smithtown supervisor Nov. 7. Photos by Alex Petroski

As a promise of change hangs over the Smithtown supervisor election, residents will have three very different options when they enter the voting booth Nov. 7.

On the heels of his victory over 40-year incumbent Pat Vecchio in the Republican primary in September, Councilman Edward Wehrheim (R) faces off against Democratic candidate William Holst — an assistant county attorney and former Suffolk County Legislator — and Independent candidate Kristen Slevin — a local business owner and political newcomer — as the race for the top position enters its final stretch.

The three candidates sat down at the TBR News Media office in Setauket Oct. 19 to discuss their stances on a variety of Smithtown-related issues.

Wehrheim, a lifelong Smithtown resident who has voiced his discontentment with the way Vecchio has run town hall for the past five years, is halfway through his fourth term on the board. He vows to get more work done than his predecessor, if elected, and proposed all  elected town officials be considered full-time employees.

Pat Vecchio. File photo

Wehrheim said he will hit the ground running and work diligently to make sure long-dormant downtown revitalization initiatives — like bringing sewers to Kings Park, apartments to Smithtown  and working with civic groups to turn the New York Avenue school property into something fitting for the town  — are pushed forward as quickly as possible.

Wehrheim also wants to make Smithtown’s government more transparent for residents.

“We need to have information or public relations officers there so the public has more access to the work sessions and they know what’s going on,” he said. “Right now, it’s not clear what’s going on in the agendas. The agenda has 75 items, labeled A to ZZ, and nobody understands that. We need more clarification. Whoever is elected to supervisor has to do what’s right for the community.”

Admitting that Smithtown has “a very closed board,” the Republican candidate said he will advocate for more teamwork and openness to allow board members to push legislation of their own. He proposed a business advisory council made up of members from the chamber of commerce, civic groups and local businesses to make new development plans.

“The problem, though, has been that the current town board and the supervisor, in particular, either do nothing or come up with plans that are totally unrealistic in terms of what is appropriate for the area,” Holst said in response to the town’s lack of downtown revitalization. “I think it takes somebody with my background — one who understands land use, knows what is going to be possible in a certain area and has a sense of community.”

Holst, who was president of the Smithtown school district board from 1992 to 1993, touted his experience consolidating two high schools into one to fix declining enrollment. He said, similarly, in downtown Smithtown, “you have to sell off existing [town] buildings and consolidate them to New York Avenue.”

The Democrat also cited that he created the Downtown Revitalization Citizens Advisory Panel during his term in the Suffolk County legislature  representing the 12th district. As a former vice president and president of the Greater Smithtown Chamber of Commerce,  Holst said he worked to get paved public parking behind stores on the north side of Main Street — an example of his revitalization experience.

“I think I’m the best person for the job to get people to come to a consensus and make things happen,” Holst said.

He questioned the commitment of Slevin, the 40-year-old owner of Yottabyte Craft Chocolate and Candy in Smithtown, who got on the ballot after gathering more than 1,500 voter signatures across party lines this past summer. She has freely admitted to never setting foot inside town hall.

“I’m an outsider — a regular person,” Slevin said. “When I decided I wanted to get involved with the town, I started watching everything online.”

The Town of Smithtown will have a different look in 2018.
File photo by Phil Corso

Slevin said she never entered this race thinking she would actually win but is proud to be a voice for the 75 percent of people, mostly young adults, who don’t vote in the local elections or involve themselves in politics at all. She pointed to Vecchio’s reign as “a perfect example” of depriving an entire generation of the opportunity to lead and bring new ideas forward.

It’s [not that] my generation that doesn’t care about local politics. It’s because we’re taking care of our kids, our parents, struggling to hold onto a job, continuing our education, and getting advanced degrees,” she said. “When you have [Vecchio] running the town for 40 years, — my entire life — you just take it for granted. Then one day, you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, the whole house is falling down. How did I miss it?’

If elected, she wants to implement term limits and proposed council districts for   board members to improve elected officials’ accountability. Slevin said she’d like to see Smithtown be, “a small town USA that maximizes our spot on the Washington Spy Trail” with elements of Sag Harbor and Northport Village — mixed communities that are walkable, bikeable and pet-friendly.”

Even if she is not elected, she hopes any and all Republicans and Democrats out there feeling disenfranchised by local governments continue to stay active in their parties.

The three candidates stood on common ground in regard to the prevalence of opioid and heroin in the town. Wehrheim said local government has a role in it and plans to make education seminars and hearings on the topic mandatory among town council members, while Holst agreed it was a problem that needed to be addressed.

Slevin said although in Smithtown “we don’t talk about these things,” she’s glad there has been an open dialogue on it within the last year. She wants to not only address people’s access to the drugs but also the psychology behind why they’re taking them.

A Smithtown business owner has put her name on the November ballot to give residents a third option when voting for town supervisor.

Kristen Slevin, 40-year-old owner of Yottabyte Craft Chocolate and Candy in Smithtown, has launched her own independent campaign for Smithtown town supervisor. A prior vice president of Swan Lake Civic Association, this is her first time running for political office.

Slevin, a Smithtown resident and Hauppauge High School graduate, shed light on her jump from business owner to political candidate.

Kristen Slevin

“As a business, we feel we are a member of the community, we have a voice and we should leverage our voices for things we believe in,” she said of her business perspective.

Slevin said after seeing her community get energized by the 2016 presidential election, she launched an advocacy group on Facebook titled Smithtown Election Watch 2017.

“People had all this energy and enthusiasm to get involved in national issues, meanwhile our local downtowns are disappearing right before us,” Slevin said.

Slevin and a team of approximately a dozen volunteers began July 11 rounding up 1,781 signatures from registered Smithtown voters, exceeding the minimum 1,500 required under state law, for an independent candidate to run in the general election. Her campaign slogan is “None of the Above.”

The independent campaign platform focuses on fixing an “obsolete” town code, addressing blight in the downtown business areas and the creation of historic districts and town council districts. One of the first projects on her radar, if elected, would be to embark on a full review of town code, its policies and procedures, as the candidate said she had found it difficult to read through and impossible to search.

“Other things I am concerned about are if the towns are suffering from intentional blight,” Slevin said. “Some landlords might have multiple properties, here or in other towns, that they allow this property to go vacant and are taking the tax credit against what they are making in more successful rentals.”

If elected, she said she would consider introducing new tax codes to increase rates on properties with long-standing vacant buildings to encourage owners to either rent or sell. Slevin said other municipalities in New York and other neighboring states have adopted such programs.

“People had all this energy and enthusiasm to get involved in national issues, meanwhile our local downtowns are disappearing right before us.”
— Kristen Slevin

In addition to addressing blight, the business owner said she’d like to see Smithtown, Kings Park and Lake Avenue in Saint James be recognized as historic districts.

“Our philosophy should be that they are quaint, small-town U.S. towns right here,” Slevin said. “While so many other places are being built up and becoming more city like, we are going to hold on to our small-town vision here.”

The candidate said she’s not against the integrated development of mixed-use properties that combine retail space with apartments designed for students, singles and senior residents. Slevin said it’s her belief that mixed-use properties would provide a more diversified business base and community that over time would strengthen the local economy.

Her platform also proposes splitting the Smithtown town board into council districts, similar to the Town of Brookhaven, to improve elected officials’ accountability.

“If everyone had their own councilperson elected from their district, they are both aware of the issues in their districts and they can be held accountable,” she said.

Slevin said she did weigh running for the town board seat prior to launching a campaign for supervisor. However, she felt that the town codes give the supervisor position significantly more power and control over other elected town officials, something she plans to remedy if elected.

Slevin will face off in the Nov. 7 against Democratic candidate William Holst (D) and the winner of the still undecided Republican primary between incumbent Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) and Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R). The Republican primary results will not be available until after Sept. 25.

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