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.”
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.