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Pat Vecchio

Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio surrounding by council members leading after his last town board meeting.

Smithtown residents crowded the town board meeting room to standing room only, trailing down the staircase, waiting patiently in line for one last chance to speak. The three-minute limit for public speakers forgotten, as they came to say farewell and thank you to Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R).

Vecchio led his last town board meeting Dec. 12 marking the end of his 40 years in office.

“Supervisor Vecchio, today is certainly a historic occasion,” said Brad Harris, town historian and former councilman for 12 years. “You’ve been my supervisor for 40 years. That fact in itself is remarkable and historic as it makes you the longest serving supervisor in our town’s history, probably in the state, and probably in the nation … you’ve made Smithtown a model for others to follow.”

Many former town employees, former council members, politicians and residents could recall distinctly the first time they met Vecchio, some dating back to when he first took office in 1978.

“I met him 40 years ago when he was first running for election, I did not vote for him,” admitted Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R-St. James). “I’m sorry I did not because the supervisor, along with the help of the town boards along the way, made this the best town in the United States.”

Suffolk County legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) presented Vecchio with a county proclamation for his work.

“You have always done what you thought was right for the people,” Kennedy said. “I am proud you have been my supervisor. I know you will stay involved. I know you will put your two cents in at every opportunity you get and I am glad.”

“The best measure is: Did you leave the town better than those before you? The answer is absolutely yes.”

— Mike Fitzpatrick

Trotta noted that as the supervisor leaves office the Town of Smithtown is not in debt, but rather has a budgetary surplus.

“This town is in such good financial shape, it is all because of you,” he said. “You should be a model for every other town in the country, the nation, the state and certainly in this county.”

More than a few suggested to Vecchio if he was not interested in retiring, he could offer his services as a budgetary consultant to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

“Your service to Smithtown has been honorable and you are notoriously thrifty,” said Amy Fortunato, a Smithtown resident who campaigned unsuccessfully for a seat on town board this November.

Others lauded his focus on residents and tenacity in solving issues affecting Smithtown.

“Seniors are important and are often the forgotten ones,” said Rose Palazzolo, a St. James resident and president of the town’s Senior Center. “You have never forgotten the seniors.”

Even residents who found themselves at odds with Vecchio came forward to express their respect for his years of service.

“We didn’t always agree on things, in fact we disagreed a heck of a lot more than we agreed on things,” said Tony Tanzi, president of Kings Park Chamber of Commerce. “I always respected his opinion, and I know in my heart he always truly believed in what he was doing and put the town first.”

Tanzi noted that Vecchio would always be remembered as Mr. Supervisor.

Those who served on Smithtown town board over the years remembered Vecchio as a mentor with conviction.

“There are two figures in my life who have had the most influence in my political career, one of course is my father, and the other is you,” said state Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James).

“I want you to know that I have big shoes to fill, and I’m fully aware of that.”

— Ed Wehrheim

During his time in town office, Fitzpatrick said he recalls that the only victory he ever had against Vecchio on policies was the installation of a water slide at the pools in Smithtown Landing Country Club.

“The best measure is: Did you leave the town better than those before you?,” he said. “The answer is absolutely yes.”

Former town Councilwoman Pat Biancaniello laughed slightly, saying she never got a victory against Vecchio while in office but sometimes managed to get him to shift, or slide, opinions.

“Even though we’ve had differences and you didn’t take me from crayons to perfume, you took me from budgets to environment …” Biancaniello said, tearfully referencing the movie “To Sir, with Love.” “I want to thank you for how much you meant to me.”

Councilman Tom McCarthy (R-St. James) who served alongside Vecchio as deputy town supervisor, recalled making a $25 donation to his campaign for supervisor when he was only a town park employee.

“Thank you for allowing me to serve with you as a councilman for 20 years,” McCarthy said. “Thank you. I love you.”

Supervisor-elect and current Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R-Kings Park) beat Vecchio in the Republican primary in September, ending his 40-year reign, did wish him a fond retirement.

“I want you to know that I have big shoes to fill, and I’m fully aware of that,” Wehrheim said. “I intend to do my best to do that. It’s my hope you frequent town hall any time you want. Hopefully, you are a frequent visitor and take my calls when I need your guidance.”

Ed Wehrheim is running for Smithtown Town supervisor. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Supervisor

We want Wehrheim to lead

It will certainly be a tough road ahead for whoever takes the seat of Smithtown supervisor this November after Pat Vecchio’s (R) 40-year reign at town hall.

But we believe Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R), who has worked in town government for more than four decades, will serve the role with a great deal of insight, familiarity, openness and forward-thinking leadership. He’s somebody who’s not afraid to shake things up, as evident in his shocking victory over Vecchio in September’s Republican primary, and could make for significant — and much-needed — changes in how Smithtown operates.

Getting his start as director of parks, buildings and grounds in 1971, and serving on the town board since 2003, Wehrheim is well experienced in bringing business developments to the villages and hamlets and helping to increase tax revenues to the town. He believes in righting the wrongs of how the government under Vecchio functioned, by moving ahead with stalled downtown revitalization plans, developing more residential housing, addressing the board’s lack of transparency between its members and making town hall a more approachable place for residents.

While we think Wehrheim is the right choice, we were extremely impressed by his independent opponent as well. Kristen Slevin, a young business owner with no government experience but plenty of initiative and energy to make up for it, is definitely someone to keep an eye on, and we hope that she considers running for town board or remains involved in politics in some capacity.

Town Board

Nowick, Lohmann a good match

The Town of Smithtown is on the brink of massive change, as the 40-year-reign of Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) comes to an end, and a new board will have major decisions to make about how to move forward.

Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) has served one four-year term in town, enough to get an insider’s perspective, and speaks bluntly about the concerns of residents in terms of local roadways and parking. She was also one of the only candidates to speak out on the larger looming issue of opioid and heroin abuse in Smithtown. She also served 12 years in the Suffolk County Legislature, gaining invaluable experience that we expect her to continue to bring to Smithtown as a voice of change.

We believe it would serve both the town and its residents well if she were to work closely with Conservative candidate Tom Lohmann. Lohmann speaks to public sentiment for a new comprehensive plan, improving traffic flow and also the need to address drug and gang issues. His experience as a former police officer and current investigator for Suffolk County lends a practical from-the-street insight much needed in the town.

It is our belief that this mixed team of Lohmann and Nowick could bring about the overhaul and revitalization Smithtown needs.

Conservative candidate Bob Doyle was similarly impressive with his ability to get directly to the heart of an issue and propose practical solutions for traffic, revitalization and violence issues. If he were to get elected instead of Lohmann, we are confident the residents’ best interests would be served. We hope Doyle and Lohmann will continue to work together after the election.

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Supervisor Pat Vecchio tears up as he learns Town Hall will be named in his honor. File photo by Phil Corso

Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) conceded that his challenger Edward Wehrheim has officially defeated him in the primary for town supervisor, bringing about the end to his storied 40-year reign.

Councilman Wehrheim (R) held a razor-thin edge over Vecchio, 2,822 votes to 2,783 votes, when the polls closed Sept 12. After all 373 absentee ballots were counted by the Suffolk County Board of Elections, Wehrheim’s lead increased and he was declared the Republican Party candidate.

Ed Wehrheim. File photo by Rohma Abbas

“I always anticipated it being a very close race,” the councilman said. “Supervisor Vecchio is a 40-year incumbent. I had no illusions it would be easy to win the primary.”

The Suffolk County Board of Elections began counting the absentee votes Sept. 25 with attorneys from both candidates observing the process. Wehrheim said his counsel kept him briefed throughout the day, but a winner wasn’t clear until around five minutes to 5 p.m. That’s when he learned he was still leading by 83 votes.

“The result is very gratifying as we put in two-and-a-half months of very hard work, it’s very gratifying,” the councilman said.

Vecchio admitted despite the initial polling results that “it did, it did, it did” still come as a bit of a shock. However, the supervisor said he first congratulated Wehrheim on his victory in the hallways of Smithtown Town Hall just days after the primary.

“I was resigned to the fact that I had lost on the night of the election,” he said.

Vecchio is the current longest-serving town supervisor in New York, first elected to the position in 1977. To his credit, his years in office have been known as fiscally conservative ones for Smithtown, leading the town to have a Triple AAA bond rating. It’s been predicted there will be no tax increase for residents in 2018.

Vecchio said that he’s no stranger to a close ballot count. He recalled that in his first general election he  won by a slim 67-vote margin.

“All good things come to an end. For now, I’m going to continue coming to work every day like I’ve done for 40 years.”

— Pat Vecchio

He’s faced numerous primary challenges from members of his own party before. In 2013, he faced off against former town Councilman Robert Creighton and prior to that, Jane Conway in 2005. The key difference was in both of these primaries, Vecchio had  decisive victories at the polls.

Vecchio said that despite facing the reality of his loss, he hasn’t given much thought to what he will do after office. 

“All good things come to an end,” he said. “For now, I’m going to continue coming to work every day like I’ve done for 40 years.” 

Wehrheim will face off against the Democratic candidate William Holst and independent Kristen Slevin in the general election. Wehrheim said he plans to take a few days to “catch his breath” before sitting down to plan his campaign strategy for the next five weeks.

“I appreciate the confidence of the Republican voters in Smithtown to give me the opportunity to run in the general election,” Wehrheim said. “If we are successful, I’ll be able to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”

Wehrheim will share the party line with incumbents Councilman Thomas McCarthy and Councilwoman Lynne Nowick this November. McCarthy and Nowick, while not endorsed by the Smithtown Republican Committee, kept their lead on challengers Bob Doyle and Tom Lohman despite the absentee ballots.

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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Smithtown Town Hall. File photo

Two elected Republican officials will face off against one another in the Sept. 12 primary to see who will get the party line in this November’s election for Smithtown town supervisor.

Incumbent town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) is being challenged by Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) who received the Smithtown Republican Committee’s official nomination at the party’s convention May 30.

Pat Vecchio. File photo

Patrick Vecchio

Vecchio, 87, is the longest-presiding town supervisor in the history of New York state. First elected in 1977, he announced his intention to seek re-election to his 14th term in May.

“For 40 years I’ve stood on these steps to be sworn in [and] you may be wondering why,” Vecchio said in May. “I do it because I love to help people and truly love what I do, and each day that I go to work has been a pleasure. [Sure], there have been times I’ve thrown the phone book on the floor and slammed the telephone down, but I still love what I do and want to continue working with these people to make this the best town, not only in Suffolk County but maybe in New York state.”

Under Vecchio’s leadership, Smithtown stands as one of the most fiscally stable municipalities in the county with a triple-A bond rating. There was no tax increase on residents in 2017, and it’s predicted that there won’t be a tax hike in 2018 either.

The Town of Smithtown was also the first municipality in the state to pass the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, giving credit to Vecchio’s environmental record. The supervisor has also passed several initiatives to provide affordable housing for senior citizens.

Ed Wehrheim. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Ed Wehrheim

Wehrheim has served on the town board since April 2003 when he was first appointed by Vecchio to fill the seat left by state Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James). He now seeks to unseat the man who appointed him.

“I believe people are ready for a new beginning, and that’s across the gamut,” Wehrheim said.

The councilman has served as the director of parks, building and grounds in the Town of Smithtown managing an $8 million budget and frequently works with other departments.

However, he said over the last eight-to-10 years he’s seen a gradual deterioration of the parks and community spaces within the town.

“We need to begin to levy our triple-A bond rating and low debt to begin to upgrade our parks and recreational facilities,” Wehrheim said.

If elected supervisor, his other goals including bringing greater transparency to town government and the implementation of a business advisory council to aid in the creation of new development plans. Much of this, Wehrheim said could be possible with recent state funding given to the town.

“We need an energetic, full-time town board to begin to wisely use that money to improve Smithtown wisely,” he said.

Go vote

Polls will be open for Sept. 12 primaries, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Town of Smithtown residents are eligible to vote in the supervisor race if a registered Republican, are at least 18 years old, have lived at the current address at least 30 days before the election, and not been in prison or on parole for a felony conviction.

To double check if you are registered to vote, check on the state’s website at voterlookup.elections.state.ny.us/votersearch.aspx.

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim. Photo from Nicole Garguilo

Smithtown Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) is leading the charge in an effort to shake up the town’s current government leaders.

The councilman has served since April 2003, when Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) appointed him to fill the seat left by now- NYS Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James.) In November, he’ll try to unseat the man who appointed him.

Wehrheim said he believes the town board needs some major changes.

Last month at the Smithtown Republican Convention, a surprise shocked many members when chairman Bill Ellis led the way for three new challengers — including Wehrheim — to get support from the party instead of Vecchio, and councilpeople Lynne Nowick (R) and Tom McCarthy (R.)

Wehrheim said the existing town board has a lack of transparency between members, which he would no longer tolerate if he were at the helm.

“If you leave board members out of discussions, the plans are doomed for failure,” Wehrheim said in a phone interview. “In my administration that wouldn’t happen. Teamwork is what gets it done.”

Of course, Wehrheim faces an uphill battle, as he’s running against a man who just recently had town hall named after him and has held the position for more than 30 years.

But Wehrheim said he is the candidate with the most government experience, serving since 1971 as director of parks, buildings and grounds. Within his tenure there, he managed an $8 million budget and worked with the other departments in Smithtown frequently.

“I thoroughly enjoyed helping people,” he said. “I gained a vast amount of experience in how the other government departments operate, and I put that knowledge to work when I joined the town board.”

During his four terms on the board, Wehrheim said he’s proud of the many projects he accomplished, including business development for the villages and hamlets.

The councilman worked to renovate the Smith Haven Mall, negotiated deals to develop stores on Crooked Hill Road in Commack, helped Whisper Vineyards set up shop in Smithtown and more to help increase tax revenues for the town.

“I have a good track record of making empty properties into something valuable and profitable for Smithtown,” he said.

With his parks background, Wehrheim said he has also worked hard to keep the beaches, parks and baseball fields of Smithtown up to par.

One major plan Wehrheim and his running mates, councilman candidates Bob Doyle and Tom Lohmann, hope to implement if elected is a business advisory council.

“We would bring members from the chambers, civic groups and local development businesses to the table when we want to make new development plans,” he said. The plan would foster distinctive and attractive communities with a strong sense of place, according to Wehrheim.

Ellis is an advocate for Wehrheim and said he has a lot of support within the Smithtown Republican Committee.

“He is the best man for the position,” he said in a phone interview.

Councilman Tom McCarthy shouts in anger during the meeting. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

The Smithtown Republican Committee was anything but united this week at their convention while deciding which GOP candidates to support for town board positions.

It was revealed earlier in the week Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) was a contender for the GOP’s Smithtown supervisor nomination, although at the committee’s meeting Tuesday night, May 30, it was clear leadership believed Wehrheim is not the only change they have in mind.

After a roll call vote the results gave Wehrheim the comittee’s nomination instead of current Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) who announced his intentions to run for another term last month. Incumbent councilmembers Tom McCarthy (R) and Lynne Nowick (R) also lost the comittee’s nominations for re-election from their party, with the committee voting to support Robert Doyle, a retired Suffolk County detective from Nesconset, and Thomas Lohmann, a Suffolk district attorney investigator. None of the incumbents came out of the meeting defeated though, and are determined to claim victory in the primaries this fall.

“You’ll get an opportunity in September to vote the way you all want,” Nowick said at the meeting. “Here’s the problem…nobody is interested, if they were interested they would be here tonight. This shows a lack of unity in the leadership.”

Councilman Ed Wehrheim listens to a protester Tuesday night at the Smithtown GOP convention. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Nowick was referring to the amount of proxy votes submitted — the majority of which went to challengers and not incumbents. She and other members of the party said the committee decided these changes last minute, and several members who sent in their proxy assumed the chairman would be casting their votes for the incumbents.

“You fixed this with proxies that no one even knew who they were voting for,” McCarthy said at the meeting. “Everybody gets blank proxies, they didn’t know they weren’t voting for their incumbents. It was a sham by you Bill [Ellis] and your lack of leadership. This committee was lied to. You led us to another split of the Smithtown Republican Party. You don’t know what the heck you’re doing.”

Ellis is the current chairman of the Smithtown Republican Committee, and said before the meeting he was confident that many members of the party wanted these changes.

“A lot of people support this,” Ellis said in a phone interview. Of the 180 members, Ellis cast proxy votes for dozens. As for the most controversial decision to try and unseat Vecchio, who was supported by the party in each of his previous campaigns over his 39-year tenure running the town, Ellis said he believes it’s the right decision.

“[Wehrheim] is the best man for the job,” he said. “The supervisor is 87 years old, and he’s not necessarily functioning like he did in the past.”

Ellis said there were several political reasons that led to the decision but would not go into any details.

As for the current leader of the town, he’s not swayed at all by the turn of events.

“I’m determined to get those signatures and win the primary,” Vecchio said in a phone interview. As for the decision made by Ellis and the leadership Tuesday night, Vecchio said he certainly doesn’t see it “as an example of a participatory democracy or very democratic at all.”

Marlene Wolke, who served as Vecchio’s secretary for many years, nominated him at the convention.

“I would be proud to nominate Patrick R. Vecchio who has served this town faithfully for the last 40 years,” she said. “He has done an outstanding job, I was proud to have served under him.”

Joanna Betts also spoke in support.

“I’m perplexed why we’re doing this when the town is run so finely by him,” she said.

But regardless of the divide in the party, Wehrheim came out the winner of the night, and thanked members for their support — despite having to wait several minutes for members to stop yelling in protest and calling for him to step down.

“I will say that this was a very difficult decision for me,” the councilman said at the meeting. “But I made it on behalf of this committee and the Smithtown community. I’ve worked 45 years serving this community and I will continue to do so with honor and integrity.”

It’s clear this primary will be anything but business as usual.

“This is no different than an election in the U.S.S.R, it’s fixed in advance,” McCarthy shouted at the end of the meeting.

“Mr. McCarthy I think needs to take a tranquilizer,” Ellis said in response.

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Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio, left, guards then-Senator John Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy. Photo by Kevin Redding.

As soon as you set foot in the second-floor town hall office of Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R), you’re absorbed by the New York City cop-turned-public servant’s accomplished and historic career, on full display in frames and cases around the room. 

“You’ve got to take a look at these walls,” the 86-year-old says proudly, from behind his wooden desk.

Dozens of black-and-white photos of famous politicians, public figures and entertainers from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s decorate the walls, all of which feature a younger yet instantly recognizable Vecchio, side-by-side with everyone from astronaut John Glenn to Queen Sikrit of Thailand to Marlon Brando to Prince Charles to Sammy Davis Jr.

The photo that stands above the others, both in placement and impact, is the giant one that hangs on the wall behind his desk, which shows then-Senator John F. Kennedy (D) and Jackie Kennedy sitting on the back of a convertible waving to a Manhattan crowd while a 30-year-old Vecchio, serving in a special security squad that protected visiting dignitaries, stands alongside the vehicle patrolling his surroundings.

“That was October 1960, a week before he [Kennedy] was elected president, in the lower end of Broadway,” Vecchio recalled.

Vecchio works at his Smitthown office. Photo by Kevin Redding

As a member of the Bureau of Special Services from 1959 to 1966, the Smithtown supervisor said he was assigned to Kennedy on numerous occasions when he was senator, president-elect and president, as he visited New York often. Overall, Vecchio said he guarded Kennedy — whom he considers one of his favorite presidents — about 10 times.

“Occasionally, he would go to a play in Manhattan and so three or four Secret Service men, myself and others would go with him to the play,” he said. “He would come into the city, sometimes alone, and his plane would land at Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia and he would go directly to the Carlisle Hotel.”

While Kennedy and Vecchio never exchanged words, as the young New York City cop took his job providing security very seriously, he said he remembers Kennedy well.

“I could describe him as my mother once did: He looked like a Ken doll, Barbie’s boyfriend,” he said with a laugh. “I always remember he had a golden tan, he was slim and tapered, and he would smile and give a nod to all around him as he entered or left a room.”

Before Kennedy, Vecchio guarded President Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) in late 1959 and early 1960, to whom he was introduced personally. The photo of them standing shoulder-to-shoulder hangs on the wall.

“I have a vivid memory of Ike coming down the elevator inside The Waldorf Astoria New York hotel in Manhattan,” Vecchio said. “I’m just a kid from Brooklyn and the Secret Service agent, a guy from Queens who headed the Secret Service at that time, said to the president, ‘Mr. President, this is detective Vecchio, he’s been on board with us for three days,’ and Eisenhower reached over and shook my hand.”

Vecchio said he couldn’t help but be elated.

“Let me tell you, for a young guy from Brooklyn never having seen a president, no less meet a president, for him to shake my hand was just … awesome,” he said. “I was [starstruck]. The only other person there was the general that accompanied him … so it’s just me, the president of the United States, the general and a few Secret Service men.”

It was in 1967 that Vecchio moved to Long Island and served as head security of former New York City Mayor John Lindsay, who would help steer him into politics. From there, Vecchio went on to make his own impact as a leader, starting in 1978 when he was appointed Smithtown supervisor.

From left, Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Kings Park Chamber of Commerce Vice President Linda Henninger pose with a check for money to fund revitalization efforts. Photo by Kevin Redding

As a result of recent state and county funding, community leaders and advocates will finally see the culmination of their hard work in planning a revitalization of downtown Kings Park and downtown Smithtown.

It was all smiles at the Kings Park Long Island Railroad Station last week as Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced construction of a $20 million sewer system long sought after in the hamlet’s downtown is now able to move forward as a result of recent allocations from N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Suffolk County.

Just days after Cuomo said in his State of the State speech he would invest $40 million to build local sewer systems in Kings Park and Smithtown, the county executive presented Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) with a $200,000 check made out to the Town of Smithtown from Suffolk County to advance the community’s proposed Revitalizing Kings Park Downtown action plan, as well as a finalized draft plan developed by Vecchio and his planning team.

Bellone joked, of course, that the governor “had to come in with a slightly bigger check” than the county’s before pointing out the true movers and shakers of the revitalization plans.

“Credit doesn’t belong to any politician,” Bellone said at the event. “I’m certainly not taking credit … the credit belongs to the community. This does not happen without the community. The fact that several levels of government are coming together and funding efforts to revitalize in Kings Park and Smithtown in the downtowns reflects that the community has led the way with engaged community-based planning.”

Regarding the development of a sewer system in downtown Smithtown, Bellone said he’s directed the Suffolk County public works commissioner to begin securing an engineering and design team and have a design made up within the next six to eight weeks.

Bellone said the revitalization team of Kings Park accomplished the hard part of coming together and building a consensus around the plan and, in doing “the nitty-gritty grassroots work,” the governor took notice and it now has the resources necessary to get the job done.

“These county and state funds will help [Suffolk County] achieve our number one economic development goal: make our region once again attractive to young people by building vibrant downtowns,” he said. “These are the high knowledge, high skilled individuals we need in our region to create good paying jobs and build a 21st century economy.”

Sean Lehman, president of the Kings Park Civic Association, called the hamlet a special place to live and said with the development of its downtown it will be even better.

“There’s a reason why Kings Park and Smithtown are two of the most popular areas for people to move to in Suffolk County and that’s because of our assets,” Lehman said. “We have it all here — the people, open space, two state parks, town parks, terrific municipal workers. What we were lagging in was our downtown.”

Vecchio, with whom Bellone toured downtown Smithtown last year as the supervisor laid out his broad-based vision for revitalization, told Bellone he was grateful for all he’s done.

“Thank you for those accolades but I have no doubt in my mind that it was your intercession with the governor that brought the $40 million to the Town of Smithtown and Kings Park,” Vecchio said to the county executive. “I know everybody here is thinking at this moment … when will we get the check?”

The property sits just south of Lake Avenue in St. James, where a potential rezoning has residents wary. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Phil Corso

It’s as literal as “not in my backyard” can get.

A zoning change request for half of a piece of property in St. James has residents worried that they will not only lose a buffer between their homes and nearby businesses, but also that they would see an unwanted increase in property taxes. A representative of Aldrich Management Co. LLC, of East Meadow, stood before the Smithtown Town Board at its March 17 meeting to make its case for changing the residential half of the property — located on the south side of 6th Street near Lake Avenue, close to Caligiuri’s Patio Pizza — to business zoning, but residents and some elected officials said it could do more bad than good for neighbors.

The other half of the property is already zoned for business, and the change would allow for a larger building and a parking lot to be built across the entire parcel.

“It seems to me that the property owner is being a hog,” Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) said of the proposal at a work session on Tuesday morning. “Why would we do that?”

David Flynn, Smithtown’s planning director, said the potential zoning change could result in a building roughly 900 square feet bigger than the current one on the property, if approved. At the end of the March 17 night meeting, Smithtown Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) asked Flynn to come up with alternatives that would allow the property owner more use within existing zoning rules. Flynn delivered his proposals to the board at Tuesday’s work session.

He recommended the town board rejects the proposal because it went against a board-approved plan decades ago that called for a roughly 50-foot buffer between businesses and homes already present at the site. But under the proposal, that buffer would be reduced to about 10 feet, Flynn said.

“It would impact the neighbors,” Flynn said Tuesday. “It isn’t in concert with the town’s plan. … The only benefit I could think of is that the building would be 20 percent bigger, and therefore the tax ratable would be more.”

The property sits just south of Lake Avenue in St. James, where a potential rezoning has residents wary. Photo by Alex Petroski
The property sits just south of Lake Avenue in St. James, where a potential rezoning has residents wary. Photo by Alex Petroski

Vincent Trimarco, who represented the applicant at the March 17 meeting, said there were no set plans for any particular business to take the current structure’s place if the zoning change, which could include almost any commercial purpose, were to be approved.

“If it’s retail that is going to go there, the parking requirement would be one parking space for every 100 square feet of building area,” he said. “So, that would be a standalone parcel that right now has no parking and would probably enhance the ability for cars to park.”

But Sean Durham, who lives on Sixth Street, said the current setup results in cars parking on his residential road, making the potential of more parking daunting to neighbors.

“I’m a concerned neighbor,” he said. “You’re going to be adding parking; what’s going to be there, no idea. It’s already visibly shaken with the infrastructure there that can’t take it.”

His neighbor also stood up against the plan.

“It’s not about the parking, it’s about the increased traffic,” Anthony Martino said. “And No. 2, I don’t see how we can grant something when we don’t know what is going to be there. This gives them an open book. I don’t want an automotive garage there dumping oil and stuff right in my backyard.”

Beyond the parking woes, Martino also said he was concerned about the effect a bigger commercial building would have on his wallet.

“I pay $14,000 in property taxes and can’t go in the back part of my yard. The only savior was these little bit of trees that were going to be left. Now you’re going to have to put a septic in if it’s a commercial building,” Martino said. “It’s going to have be a bigger septic. It’s just more and more use of the property that it’s not [equipped] for. It’s not going to work in that corner.”

The Smithtown Planning Department recommended approval for the proposal, so long as the applicant preserved one large tree that stood in the back parking area of the property. Trimarco said he did not have an issue with such a proposal.

Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) suggested that the property owner works with the existing structure, a house, instead.

“That house could be fixed up and used,” she said. “This [proposal] just allows them to go bigger, which really is not in character with the area.”

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