(Last updated: 8 a.m.) Riverhead voters ousted supervisor Sean Walter in favor of Laura Jens-Smith and elected another Democrat, Catherine Kent, to fill a town board seat left empty by Republican Councilman John Dunleavy.
With a lead of more than 600 votes on Tuesday night, Jens-Smith emerged victorious in her bid for town supervisor, beating out Walter by a significant margin and unseating him from his post after seven years. She will be the first female town supervisor in Riverhead history.
Riverhead voters have elected an all-Republican slate to the town board since 2009, when Walter was first voted into office.
Incumbent Jodi Giglio fared better than her running mates, earning the most votes out of the four candidates for town board, according to unofficial results from the Suffolk County Board of Elections. But Republican newcomer Frank Beyrodt fell to his Democratic opponent Kent, who came in a close second to Giglio with 4,228 votes to Giglio’s 4,380, according to unofficial results. Beyrodt garnered 4,133 votes, followed by Democratic candidate Michele Lynch, who trailed behind the other candidates with 3,580 votes.
By 11 p.m. Tuesday night, Jens-Smith had 4,512 votes (52.8 percent), with by Walter garnering 3,902 votes (45.7 percent), according to unofficial election results.
“I view this as a blessing,” Walter said in his concession speech at Republican election headquarters at the Hotel Indigo. “You don’t know what God wants you to do in your life, but an election is an absolute God’s way of saying, ‘All right, that’s not where you’re going anymore – you’re going to go in a different direction.'”
He added that he is proud of what he has accomplished as town supervisor. “For the past eight years, I’ve been surrounded by great workers, a great staff, a great wife,” Walter said. “I know we’ve taken this town to the next level.”
In her victory speech, Jens-Smith thanked Riverhead voters for the opportunity to lead the town in a new direction. “Thank you to the community for having the confidence to vote me in,” she told a crowd of supporters at Democratic headquarters on Main Street. “I’m very proud to be the first woman supervisor in the Town of Riverhead.”
Write-in candidates for town supervisor earned just 129 votes, which spells a harsh loss for Dunleavy, who ran a write-in campaign for supervisor this year after being term-limited as a councilman with 12 years in the post.
Giglio said though she was “very surprised at the outcome,” she is looking forward to working with Jens-Smith and Kent.
“Once you become an elected official, party lines go away and you work together to keep the town moving forward and to bring good things to the taxpayers of the town,” Giglio said. Next year will be the first time Giglio will be part of a board that’s not all-Republican.
Beyrodt was stoic about his loss. “Win lose or draw, I knew this was going to be a learning experience and I really loved the process,” he said. As a businessman, he said, electoral politics was all “brand new.”
“i told my kids sometimes you have to put yourself out of your comfort level to do something that’s right for the community,” Beyrodt said,” and I thought this was the right thing to do.”
George Woodson was re-elected as Riverhead Town highway superintendent. First elected in 2007, Woodson ran unopposed on the ballot after Republican candidate William Van Helmond dropped out of the race over the summer. Van Helmond announced this month that he would run a write-in campaign for the position, but write-in candidates for the position only accumulated 205 votes while Woodson earned 6,405, which puts Van Helmond out of the running.
Longtime assessor Laverne Tennenberg was returned to office with 57.5 percent of the votes cast, defeating challenger Susan Ambro 4,615 to 3,411, according to the unofficial results.
Denise Civiletti & Maria Piedrabuena contributed reporting.