Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith as she delivered her 'State of the Town' address in April 2019. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Former Riverhead supervisor Laura Jens-Smith is seeking the Democratic Party nomination for the Second Assembly District currently held by incumbent Republican Anthony Palumbo.

“I got into local politics because I wanted to do some good and I feel like this is an opportunity to do some good for the community,” Jens-Smith said in an interview this morning.

“We need somebody in there doing a full-time job,” she said. “This is a part-time gig for him,” she said of the incumbent, an attorney who maintains a private law practice.

“There’s a lot going on out here,” Jens-Smith said.

The former supervisor said as a Democrat, she’d be able to get more things done for the district in the Assembly, which has historically been a Democratic-majority body.

“We know that when you’re in the majority, you’re able to get more things passed. You’re able to bring in more funding for the district,” she said.

Jens-Smith said she would not be beholden to New York City Democrats, who have long controlled the Assembly. “I’m a suburban girl,” she said. “That’s who I am.”

Jens-Smith also described herself as a fiscal conservative. She said as a former school board member and former town supervisor, she would bring an important perspective to the State Legislature.

“I’m aware of the impacts of state mandates, which are often unfunded,” she said. “I dealt with that as a school board member and as a town supervisor. “Ramifications need to be assessed and accounted for before laws are passed in Albany. Unfunded mandates draw from the town’s resources and affect its ability to conduct it business,” Jens-Smith said, citing the criminal justice reforms passed in the last session, which included bail reform and sweeping changes to the disclosure requirements imposted on police and prosecutors. Both will have huge impacts on local government, Jens-Smith said.

“These things may be well-intentioned but they have serious consequences for local government,” she said.

“I’m not beholden to a party, but to the needs of our community,” she said. “I’m an independent person. I think government is about practical solutions for all.”

Jens-Smith said if elected, she will fight for women’s rights. That includes protecting a woman’s right to control her own body, equal pay, equal rights to promotions and more affordable child care.

“Half the work force is women. Women run most of the small businesses,” Jens-Smith said. “We’re not going back to the 1950s. That kind of attitude is over and done with.”

She criticized Palumbo’s votes against the Reproductive Health Act, which codified the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision in New York State law. She also criticized Palumbo’s votes against the Gender Non-discrimination Act, which added gender identity as a protected class under New York’s discrimination and hate crimes laws.

Jens-Smith said state lawmakers must revamp how public education is funded. The current reliance on local property taxes is not sustainable, she said. We need changes to “make it so people can be able to live here on Long Island and survive here.”

She said these priorities “are not partisan at all” and she will work across the aisle to accomplish them.

There is already one declared Democratic candidate for the Second Assembly District, Will Schleisner of Sound Beach. Schleisner, 36, a live events coordinator for ViacomCBS, declared his candidacy Jan. 2.

Jens-Smith, 57, was elected Riverhead town supervisor in 2017, defeating longtime Republican-Conservative incumbent Sean Walter. She served one two-year term and was unseated by Republican Yvette Aguiar in November.

Prior to her election to the supervisor post, Jens-Smith, a Laurel resident, served as a member of the Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education, including two years as board president. In 2015, she mounted an unsuccessful campaign for a council seat in Riverhead.

Palumbo was elected to the Second Assembly District seat in a special election in November 2013 to fill a vacancy after the incumbent, Dan Losquadro, stepped down to become Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent. Palumbo was elected again the following November and re-elected in 2016 and 2018.

His name was on a “short list” of potential candidates floated by Suffolk County Republican chairman Jesse Garcia to run for the First Senate District seat being vacated after 44 years by Sen. Ken LaValle, who last week announced his decision not to seek a 23rd two-year term.

Palumbo said in an interview Thursday evening that he’s looking forward to the race.

“I’m leaning towards staying in the Assembly,” Palumbo said. “It’s a good fit for me. I’m in leadership now. My kids are still so young. This seems to be a perfect fit.”

Palumbo said having a “citizen legislature” was intended by the state constitution. “It’s important,” he said, “otherwise we’ll have nothing but political hacks.”

He said his primary focus is his assembly seat. He maintains a law practice with his wife Tracy, who is an attorney and handles the bulk of the legal work.

Also on Garcia’s short list as of last week were Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Brookhaven Town council members Jane Bonner and Dan Panico.

Garcia said today the Republican Party has not yet begun screening candidates for the senate seat. He said he’s spoken with the party’s town chairpersons and they’ve agreed on a consolidated screening process. A date has yet to be set, Garcia said.

The Republican chairman said Jens-Smith will not present a serious challenge for the Second Assembly District seat.

“I think we’ve already demonstrated the ability to defeat Jens-Smith as an incumbent supervisor,” he said. “Her record was rejected by the voters of the Town of Riverhead and will be rejected by the voters of the Second Assembly District,” Garcia said.

“There are many communities throughout Suffolk that will reject the Democratic socialist agenda no more so than those of the Second Assembly District,” Garcia said. The district takes in Southold and Riverhead Towns, the north shore communities of Brookhaven from the Riverhead Town line to Miller Place and portions of Coram and Manorville, as well as Middle Island.

Jens-Smith said the Republican leader’s characterization of her positions was ridiculous. “Name one thing I’ve ever done or advocated that is socialist,” Jens-Smith said. “It’s just mudslinging, more partisan mudslinging, instead of talking about the issues.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated since it was first published to add the comments of Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.