For the first time in town history, a major party is fielding an all-women slate of candidates for town office.
Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, who in 2017 became the first woman ever elected to the post, got her party’s nod to lead the Democrats’ ticket in 2019. Local Democrats have tapped former East End Arts executive director Patricia Snyder and Chamber of Commerce executive director Diane Tucci to run for town council.
Rounding out the slate are 10-year incumbent town clerk Diane Wilhelm and political newcomers Jaraby Thomas and Tara Taylor who are running for the two open seats on the Riverhead board of assessors.
Democrats are not fielding candidates to challenge Republican incumbents who hold the town justice and tax receiver positions, party chairwoman Marjorie Acevedo said last night.
The Riverhead Democratic Committee designated its slate in a single ballot without opposition last night at the Polish Town Civic Association headquarters on Lincoln Street.
In remarks to the committee before its vote, Jens-Smith said in her first year in office, her administration has “done a lot of the groundwork for moving things forward” in town.
“I have a balanced budget and this year was able to settle labor contracts with the PBA and the Superior Officers Association, which had been working without a contract for two and a half years,” she said.
“We have continued upgrading technology and software systems in town, which improves efficiency in government,” she said.
“I have tried to increase transparency in town government. We now livestream all meetings, including the Industrial Development Agency, and video recordings are posted on the town’s website the next day,” Jens-Smith said.
The supervisor pointed at the town board’s adoption of an apprenticeship requirement for certain town contracts.
Jens-Smith also cited affordable housing being developed downtown and the redevelopment of the Calverton Enterprise Park as important lynch pins of progress. EPCAL will provide jobs and tax revenue and affordable housing is needed to support the town’s workforce, she said.
Jens-Smith, 56, lives in Laurel. A registered nurse, she previously served on the Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education and was the board president when she resigned to assume the office of Riverhead town supervisor following her election in November 2017.
The Democrats’ town board slate in 2019, council candidate Patricia Snyder, Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and council candidate Diane Tucci. Photo: Denise Civiletti
Snyder, 62, reviewed her experience and accomplishments in her 23 years at East End Arts, an organization that grew substantially under her leadership. She grew enrollment at the East End Arts school from 45 to more than 700 students, doubled the organization’s budget and doubled its membership.
“My focus has always been community,” Snyder said.
The organization’s impact on the community — in particular on downtown — under her leadership has been acknowledged with a Neighborhood Builders award and a Vision Long Island Smart Growth award.
Snyder created the longstanding annual Community Mosaic Street Painting Festival and, more recently, Jumpstart, two successful family-friendly festivals that have drawn thousands downtown. She also initiated the popular Teeny Awards, modeled after the Tony Awards, to honor excellence in high school theater across the region.
Tucci, 48, a Riverhead native who grew up on a farm, is the executive director of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce and was, until recently, the executive director of the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association. She became immersed in downtown revitalization efforts in those positions and spearheaded the creation of the Alive on 25 and Halloween festivals.
“I thrive on it. It gives me energy,” Tucci said of her work. “I want to see a town that’s vibrant, with job opportunities for young people so they won’t have to move away to find work the way I did when I was young,” Tucci said.
“I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty.”
A graphic artist and public relations specialist, Tucci also runs her own public relations agency.
Snyder and Tucci both live in downtown Riverhead.
Wilhelm, 61, has held the town clerk position for more than 10 years. She will once again run for re-election unopposed. She served as deputy under former clerk Barbara Grattan and succeeded her as clerk when she retired in 2007. Wilhelm said she has worked to streamline and modernize the office, improving technology and services to the public.
Taylor, 38, is a Riverhead native and longtime resident, though she currently lives in the Wildwood Lake community and is planning to move her family back into Riverhead Town. She is a homemaker who has an MBA from St. Joseph’s College with a concentration in accounting.
Thomas, 41, of Wading River is an immigrant from Panama. She has worked as a teaching assistant in the Riverhead school district since 2005 and in 2013 became a library media specialist assistant in the district. She is also a part-time business administrator at Landmark Realty and at Cyber Systems, both in Wading River. She has a master’s degree in neuropsychology and education and a degree in business administration.
Acevedo said she and her party’s executive committee is very proud of the slate they’ve fielded.
“We felt that these women would bring the most to the town with their intelligence and knowledge and their energy,” Acevedo said.
Riverhead has consistently elected Republicans to most town offices, especially the town board. Democrats have not elected a town board majority in Riverhead since 1997, when Vinny Villella was elected supervisor and Phil Cardinale and Chris Kent were elected council members. Republicans regained the board majority in the 1999 election and have held it ever since. Voters elected an all-Republican town board from 2009 until 2017, when Jens-Smith and running mate Catherine Kent were elected.
The Riverhead Republican Committee held its convention on Feb. 11, designating the first Latina to run for supervisor, Yvette Aguiar, and tapping incumbent Councilman Tim Hubbard and sod farm owner Frank Beyrodt for a second run at a town board seat — he narrowly lost to Kent in 2017. The GOP is also running incumbent Mason Haas and newcomer Meredith Lipinsky for the two open tax assessor seats, incumbent Justice Lori Hulse and incumbent tax receiver Laurie Zaneski.
Political party committees had to move up their nominating conventions, which were previously held in May, to February, after the state legislature moved the state primary election from September to June, to coincide with New York’s federal primary. The move caught local party officials off-guard and left them scrambling to pull together their slates before the March date for circulating nominating petitions.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information.