Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, Councilman Bob Kern and Assessor Dana Brown took their oaths of office this morning at Riverhead Town Hall.
The scaled-back ceremony with limited in-person attendance due to the surging coronavirus outbreak was attended by an audience of about 30 people in the Town Hall meeting room. The event was live-streamed on the town’s website and broadcast on the town’s public access channel on Optimum cable. It was also made available via Zoom.
Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio served as master of ceremonies.
“Today we celebrate a remarkable woman, our Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, and all of the newly elected and re elected officials as they are sworn in to serve you,” Giglio said in opening comments.
“Yvette Aguiar stepped up as a private citizen and made a life changing commitment to service. She was not a politician, and she was not driven by politics. Her sole desire was to get things done and do right by the people of Riverhead. Through hard work and an unwavering commitment, she has earned her re-election and has secured her place as a leader of our great town,” Giglio said.
Aguiar, a Republican, won election to a second term by a 58% to 42% margin in November, defeating Councilwoman Catherine Kent in an election in which 9,142 out of 23,133 registered voters cast ballots, according to final results published by the Suffolk County Board of Elections. Voter turnout in 2021 was on par with the the average percentage for Riverhead in the past 10 local election years, a period which saw the total number of registered voters grow by nearly 5,000 people.
Riverhead Republican candidates swept the election, resulting in an all-Republican town board and a town government in which Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm is the only sitting Democrat elected official.
“Yvette will never lose sight of the people who put her in office in the first place,” Giglio said. “Our seniors have an advocate in Yvette, as do the working class and those less fortunate,” she said, citing Aguiar’s service during the COVID pandemic, when, Giglio said, “she did everything possible to keep people safe…”
Former U.S. Senator and lobbyist Alfonse D’Amato administered the oath of office to the supervisor. After Aguiar took the oath, D’Amato congratulated her and extolled her leadership. Local governments are the most important level of government, he said.
“And when you have a leader who puts the people first, not politics — I’m a Republican, that’s second — not partisan politics, but the business of the people,” D’Amato said. “And your supervisor demonstrated that in this past two years, a commitment to all of the people of Riverhead. And that’s why I am here — to pay tribute to her,” said D’Amato.
The former senator’s lobbying firm, Park Strategies, represented NextEra Energy, a partner in a large solar project in Calverton, and — prior to Aguiar’s election in 2019 — Triple Five Group affiliate Calverton Aviation & Technology, which is in contract to buy more than 1,600 acres of vacant land from the town in the Calverton Enterprise Park. Park Strategies donated $2,500 to Aguiar’s re-election campaign last year. Her campaign later refunded $1,315 of the donation because it exceeded the limit allowed by state election law. It was the only campaign contribution made by D’Amato’s lobbying firm in the last election cycle.
In a seven-minute prepared speech from the podium, Aguiar thanked Riverhead residents for granting her a second term of office and congratulated her running mates on their election.
“I look forward to continue working with Councilman Ken Rothwell on the town board and I have no doubt Bob Kern will be a valuable asset to our cohesive town board team,” Aguiar said, thanking Councilman Tim Hubbard, who, along with Rothwell, joined the meeting via Zoom, and Councilman Frank Beyrodt, who was seated on the dais with Kern, Assessor Dána Brown, Town Justice Lori Hulse and Deacon Michael Bonocore.
She thanked Deputy Supervisor Devin Higgins, who she said has proven herself to be “an invaluable asset” to the town, and her husband Paul Carr, who she said “endured my initial run for office and thereafter my re-election bid.” She thanked town employees for their dedication and commitment.
“I am proud of what we have accomplished during my first term as supervisor,” despite the obstacles of the pandemic, Aguiar said, highlighting her administration’s “fiscal stewardship,” which she said resulted in a zero-tax increase budget, a reduction of the town’s debt burden and a bond rating upgrade that acknowledged the town’s fiscal stability.
The ongoing comprehensive plan update, when completed, will help “ensure any future development meets the needs of Riverhead residents and provides even greater economic opportunities to allow our next generation a desirable place to live, work and play,” Aguiar said.
“Perhaps, most exciting to me, a few streets from where we stand here today, is the beginning of our new town square. With the demolition of two blighted buildings now completed, we now have a clear view from the riverfront to our beautiful Suffolk Theater,” the supervisor said. The town’s revitalization efforts will make Riverhead “a regional destination and attract new businesses, providing new employment opportunities and lower the residential tax burden.”
Looking ahead, the supervisor said she looks forward to working with residents and other government officials “to ensure Riverhead continues moving in a positive forward motion.” Riverhead’s future is bright, she said.
“You spoke loud and clearly on Nov. 2, and as a result of your faith in us, I stand before you, as your supervisor, with my colleagues,” she said. “Thank you for this honor and God bless.”
In a message printed on the ceremony program, Aguiar said she is “enormously proud of all we accomplished during the last two years” and thanked supporters for electing her to a second term.
“I want to personally assure every riverhead resident that I will continue to serve ALL of riverhead with enthusiasm and determination and I will continue to make Riverhead a proud and vibrant economic hub,” the message read.
Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm administered the oath of office to Brown, who was accompanied by her daughter Claudia. Giglio administered the oath to Kern, who was accompanied by Acting Planning Board Chairwoman Joann Waski, who held a Bible on which he swore the oath.
Rothwell, Assessor Laverne Tennenberg and Highway Superintendent Mike Zaleski all took their oaths on Thursday afternoon.
A color guard from Riverhead VFW Post 2476 presented the colors. Ariana McMorris sang “God Bless America” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” Bonocore offered opening and closing prayers. Hulse led the gathering in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Riverhead Police Lt. Ed Frost led a moment of silence in honor of the military, those who made “the ultimate sacrifice,” essential workers, and COVID-19 victims and their families.
County Legislator Al Krupski attended the ceremony at Town Hall. Giglio said other dignitaries participating via Zoom were Sen. Charles Schumer, Mark Woolley, Rep. Lee Zeldin’s district manager, and Theresa Santoro, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s director of intergovernmental affairs for Long Island. Zeldin was “out of the country,” Giglio said, but called her last night to express his well wishes for Aguiar.
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti
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