By Sara-Megan Walsh
In Smithtown, a new year brings with it new chances.
Almost two months after Tom Lohmann (C) was trounced in the race for Smithtown Town Board, the former New York City Police Department member was sworn in to fill the vacant council seat left by new supervisor, Ed Wehrheim (R).
Lohmann, 60, a special investigator for the Suffolk district attorney, came in sixth place receiving 9.31 percent of the votes as candidate on the Conservative ticket Nov. 7. He was appointed councilman at the Jan. 9 town board meeting.
His appointment officially took effect Jan. 10, and he will serve through Dec. 31. Lohmann will need to campaign in November if he wishes to fill the remaining year of Wehrheim’s term through December 2019.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” Lohmann said of his appointment by Wehrheim, rumblings of which were heard at the end of December. “It’s a big privilege and I’m honored that the board saw fit to give me this opportunity. Over the next 11 months, the people in this town will see the type of person that I am — my word is my bond and I look forward to working for the people in this community.”
Lohmann said he intends to make good on his campaign promises to revise and update Smithtown’s “antiquated” code and redevelop a comprehensive master plan to include all hamlets, in consultation with civic groups and local businesses, to create a better, more transparent government. During the campaign, he said he would like to start up quarterly community meetings in different hamlets so town officials could sit with residents to gauge their concerns and get feedback. He will also be the only town councilmember from Smithtown as the others reside in St. James and Kings Park.
During the meeting, three members of the board — Wehrheim, Lisa Inzerillo (R) and Thomas McCarthy (R) — voted to appoint Lohmann with councilman Lynn Nowick (R) abstaining. Nowick said she wanted an
opportunity to vet all the interested parties for the position and hear community input before making her decision. The town board had about four résumés for the council seat to review, Wehrheim said.
“I would like to have had a longer, more thorough vetting process,” Nowick said. “I wanted to first hear the public possibly at this meeting or the second meeting this month, because I answer to them. But I have no problem with Mr. Lohmann. We’ll work together fine.”
Many residents took to the podium to confront Wehrheim and the rest of the board about their decision to appoint Lohmann instead of Democratic candidate Amy Fortunato. Fortunato placed third in the general election, behind the two incumbents in the election with 17.60 percent of the votes.
“Amy received almost double the amount of votes as Mr. Lohmann,” said Maria LaMalfa, a Smithtown resident of 33 years. “We have 23,000 Democrats, 35,000 Republicans and 2,000 minor party registered voters and we all want the same things in our town. I think the way to accomplish what we want is to work together as a coalition. We have not had that in all the years I’ve lived here.”
“I would like to have had a longer, more thorough vetting process”
Another resident, Elizabeth Isabella, echoed these concerns.
“I hope in the future we can dialogue across party lines and I want you to know I do congratulate you, but I am very disappointed that Amy’s votes were not taken into consideration,” Isabella said. “And I do wonder what the conversation was as you made your decision.”
Wehrheim pointed out that two major appointments made to the Conservation Board made earlier in the meeting were given to Democrats.
“We do intend to work across party lines,” Wehrheim responded.
Following the meeting, the new supervisor further defended his decision to bring Lohmann aboard, claiming he was a perfect fit for the board.
“We needed to find someone who is thinking the way we’re thinking moving forward so the government can be cohesive and all on the same page,” Wehrheim said. “I also believe there’s a distinct advantage of having someone on this board with a law enforcement background. I think he’ll be an asset when it comes to interacting with [police] and dealing with the opioid epidemic.