Supervisor candidate Laura Jens-Smith, center, leads the Riverhead Democratic ticket with running mates, from left, assessor candidate Susan Ambro, Highway Superintendent George Woodson, council candidates Catherine Kent and Michele Lynch.
Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Democrats stand united.

There were no nominations from the floor, no objections, not even a roll-call vote when Riverhead Democrats assembled to designate their candidates for town office last night at Polish Town Civic Association headquarters.

The Riverhead Democratic committee unanimously supported the slate of candidates presented by the screening committee: Laura Jens-Smith for town supervisor, Catherine Kent and Michele Lynch for town council, Susan Ambro for tax assessor and incumbent highway superintendent George Woodson.

“After long deliberation I believe we have a very strong slate,” said screening committee member Mike Roth as he recommended the slate.

“This election will determine Riverhead’s future,” supervisor candidate Laura Jens-Smith told supporters. She cast the four-term incumbent as a failure on the three central goals of his administration: fiscal stabilization, downtown revitalization and EPCAL redevelopment.

“Under Sean’s watch, the town had its credit rating downgraded and Riverhead has become the most indebted, highest taxed town on the East End,” Jens-Smith said. “There are just as many empty stores downtown as there were when he took office.”

Jens-Smith also criticized the supervisor for lack of progress at the Calverton Enterprise Park. After spending more than half a million dollars, the town has abandoned its subdivision plan to chase after a dream of bringing the defense aerospace industry back to Riverhead — hitching its fate to the success of an unproven start-up, Luminati Aerospace, she said.

“We want progress” she said. “We want progress with a plan,” she said.

Council candidate Catherine Kent said since she publicly declared her candidacy, she’s been hearing from people everywhere she goes about how much they love Riverhead — and how worried about the town residents are.

“Residents are worried about the haphazard direction it’s going in,” Kent said.

Running mate Michele Lynch stressed the need to change the tenor of things in town government. “Residents should be treated with respect. They should be listened to respectfully. That’s not happening and that’s wrong,” Lynch said.

Woodson said he has worked hard to make things right at the highway department and do the job the way the taxpayers deserve it to be done.

Woodson noted how he fought to end an “administrative chargebacks” that moved money from the town highway fund to the general fund to cover administrative costs, such as accounting and legal expenses. The comptroller’s office said in 2013 the practice was not permissible under state law.

The chargebacks to the highway fund began in 2008, during the administration of former supervisor Phil Cardinale, after current financial administrator William Rothaar was hired. It increased over time and was calculated based on a percentage of the budget. The 2013 adopted town budget transferred $516,000 from the highway fund to the general fund for administrative expenses, down from more than $769,000 in 2012.

“Almost $800,000 a year — you can do a lot of paving with $800,000,” Woodson said.

Assessor candidate Susan Ambro, a lawyer and Wading River resident, said the incumbent assessor seeking re-election has been in office 26 years and it’s time for change. The assessors “are supposed to assess properties equally and that is not happening,” according to Ambro.

If there is one crack in the united front it’s Calverton resident and persistent candidate Greg Fischer, a registered Democrat and member of the Riverhead Democratic Committee.  Fischer said last month he would run for town office if lost his bid for a seat on the Riverhead school board May 16 — which he did — was present but silent last night.

He said this morning he is considering running a primary for town supervisor. Fischer said he has placed his name in consideration for the Democratic nomination for Suffolk County sheriff. “But I do not expect to be picked,” he said.

He did not have his name placed in nomination at last night’s Democratic convention because the committee chairperson “engineered the entire event,” he said. “I just didn’t have the votes and I need to ‘keep my powder dry’ for another battle from higher ground,” Fischer said.

Fischer was the Democratic candidate for assessor in 2015 and 2013. In 2011, he mounted a primary challenge for the Democratic nomination for town supervisor but lost in a landslide to the committee’s pick, former supervisor Cardinale. That year he also mounted an independent third-party campaign for supervisor in the general election, but placed a distant third in a contest that Walter won with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Party designating petitions must be filed with the county board of elections on or before July 13.

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