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Smithtown Town Supervisor Pat Vecchio

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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
air pollution.

“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.”

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.”

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.

Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio presented the town's 2018 tentative operating budget this week. File photo by Susan Risoli

Smithtown homeowners may find themselves in an enviable position as Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) looks to cut taxes for the second straight year.

Vecchio presented his $105 million 2018 proposed Smithtown Town budget at a brief 46-second special town board meeting Oct. 3. There was no public discussion of the budget, as town board members were seeing the nearly 200-page document for the first time.

“Ostensibly, the proposed budget is now theirs; the [town board] can change it or do anything with it they would like,” Vecchio said. “My experience is that they’ve never changed it.”

Overall, the proposed budget contains an increase of $2 million over the 2017 budget, but will reduce the town taxes for the average homeowner by $1.05, down from $1,269.88 per year to $1,268.83 per year for a home with an assessed value of $5,500. It falls well under the state tax cap of 1.84 percent.

Vecchio said he prepared a structurally balanced budget in which incoming revenues match the recurring expenditures, a measure he achieved by implementing cost cutting initiatives and long-range planning.

First and foremost, the supervisor pointed to careful control of town employees’ salaries.

“We have not replaced employees who have retired,” the supervisor said. “When we do rehire employees, we rehire them at a lower salary.”

While positions have been lost through attrition, the 2018 budget does not call for the layoff of any existing town personnel.

Smithtown town officials also gradually implemented a new policy of leasing
vehicles used by various departments, such as parks and highways, instead of outright purchasing them.

“It’s saved us a lot of money,” Vecchio said. “There’s a big outlay when purchasing a vehicle for a municipality, plus then there’s maintenance.”

Other cost-saving measures taken by the town include replacing streetlights with LED lights and sharing services for emergency dispatching, according to the supervisor.

The proposed budget has set aside $4.4 million for the 2018 road program, which in addition to $1.1 million in state funding, will allow for road improvements and repaving over the upcoming year.

Vecchio said the town is in a good fiscal position with a Triple A bond rating and a $17 million surplus in its general fund.

“What’s the benefit, residents might ask, of having a $17 million surplus?” he said. “The benefit of having that money in surplus is your bond rating. Your interest rates on bonds are always lower when you
have reserves.”

The supervisor has proposed allocating $600,000 of the town’s surplus funds towards the highway budget to supplement continued roadway improvements. A similar measure was approved in the 2017 budget which appropriated $602,000 for roadways and later approved $2 million specifically for improvements to Lake
Avenue in Smithtown.

A public hearing on the 2018 proposed budget will be held at the town board meeting on Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. Residents can review a line-by-line budget breakdown on the town’s website at www.smithtownny.gov.

Smithtown Town Supervisor Pat Vecchio announces he'll seek another term. Photo by Kevin Redding

Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) was applauded in front of town hall Thursday when he officially announced his run for reelection in November. The 87-year-old incumbent, who has held the position since 1978, is the longest-presiding supervisor in the history of the state and would be serving his 14th term if elected.

“I never thought I’d ever be here this long,” Vecchio said to a crowd of residents, elected officials and council members in front of the municipal building that was renamed the Town Supervisor Patrick R. Vecchio Town Hall in 2015.

“For 40 years I’ve stood on these steps to be sworn in [and] you may be wondering why,” he continued. “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.”

Vecchio said when he was first approached to run for town supervisor in 1977, he wasn’t exactly sure what a town supervisor was or what a person in that position did. He agreed to go forward with it regardless, despite being offered a job as police chief in Aspen, Colorado at the time.

“I didn’t make a mistake though,” he said with a smirk. “This is a better job.”

Joking he was pressured by colleagues to make a big deal of his announcement, Vecchio said running for supervisor has become automatic to him as each new term seems to come up so fast.

“I win an election one year, then 17 months later I win another,” said Vecchio, who has won six two-year terms and seven four-year terms in his tenure.“It’s been a long journey but it’s a good journey…and I think we’ve done well for the town.”

Under Vecchio’s leadership, several speakers noted, Smithtown stands as the most fiscally stable municipality in the county. There was no tax increase in 2017 and it’s predicted there won’t be for next year either.

“The man is a legend,” Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) said. “He just does an incredible job. He thinks about the people, he comes to work every day — he calls me Saturday, Sunday— because to him, it’s all about the people. He will continue to serve all the people in the town of Smithtown.”

State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) referred to Vecchio as the town’s “steady hand” and said, “Smithtown is the best town to live in in Suffolk County and, for the past 40 years, the reason for that has been your leadership.”

Fitzpatrick commended the supervisor for his lifetime of service as a member of the U.S. Army, a long-time New York City police officer, and head of security detail for John Lindsay, former mayor of New York City.

He called attention to Vecchio’s environmental record, specifically making Smithtown the first municipality in the state to pass the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, as well as his initiative to provide affordable housing for senior citizens.

“You might not run out groundballs as quickly as you used to, but you’re still hitting the ball out of the park as far as I’m concerned,” Fitzpatrick said to Vecchio. “Smithtown needs you.”

Frank Sgro, an 11-year Smithtown resident, said after the announcement he was happy he’ll be able to vote for Vecchio this fall.

“I think he has a wonderful record, he seems to know what he’s doing, he’s very sharp and we should stay with what works,” Sgro said. “He’s a very good leader.”

Mary Engelman, who’s lived in the town since 1975, called Vecchio an amazing leader.

“He has been really really supportive trying to keep the taxes moderate and has worked to beautify the town,” Engelman said. “I’m happy, he’s been really solid.”

From left, Sean Doyle, Planet Fitness contractor; Rob Trotta; Cara Pagan, regional manager; John Mahoney, Planet Fitness owner; Pat Vecchio; and Eric Apicella, club manager. Photo from Leg. Trotta’s office

RIBBON CUTTING Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Smithtown Town Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) joined Fort Salonga resident John Mahoney and his staff in officially opening his sixth Planet Fitness at 240 Motor Parkway in Hauppauge with a ribbon cutting ceremony on March 6, joining locations in Hampton Bays, Riverhead, Medford, Rocky Point and Port Jefferson. The gym offers state-of-the-art equipment, circuit training, free weights, abs/core, tanning, Hydromassage and massage chairs. It is open Monday to Friday 24 hours and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. “I think that this Planet Fitness is an excellent fit for the Hauppauge Industrial Park,” said Trotta

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