Laura Jens-Smith of Laurel announced Tuesday night that she plans to challenge the seat held by Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter in this fall’s election.
Ms. Jens-Smith, who currently serves as the president of the Mattituck-Cutchogue School Board, ran on the Democratic ticket for a seat on the Riverhead Town Board in 2015. She has also served as Project Coordinator for the North Fork Alliance, a community coalition to reduce youth substance use, and is a former nurse, who worked in the Cardiac Care Unit at Beth Israel Medical Center.
She made her announcement before a room full of Democratic Party supporters Tuesday evening at Digger’s Ales & Eats in downtown Riverhead.
Ms. Jens-Smith, who has been a frequent critic at Riverhead Town Board meetings since her defeat two years ago, said she believes Mr. Walter has not delivered on his promises to revitalize downtown Riverhead, to come up with a plan for the former Grumman property at EPCAL or to stabilize the town’s finances in the eight years he’s been in office.
She compared Mr. Walter to the “man behind the curtain” in the Wizard of Oz, who led the town “down a Yellow Brick Road of promises” that he would revitalize downtown, find buyers of property at EPCAL and reign in town finances.
“Like an old Catskills comedian, he puts his plaid coat on and trudges out his same tired lines over and over again” during election season, she said, but once re-elected “Sean’s promises melt away.”
Ms. Jens-Smith said that, if elected, she would order performance audits of town departments, work to clean up and police downtown, and would appoint members of the town’s Industrial Development Agency who “don’t give away the store.”
Ms. Jens-Smith criticized the IDA’s approval of tax abatements for corporations opening up shop in Riverhead frequently throughout her speech, reminding attendees that these tax breaks “put all the onus for Riverhead’s future on the backs of the homeowners.”
Quoting composer John Cage, she said that a new supervisor could “begin anywhere” in a town where so much is wrong, and make a difference by changing operating procedures there.
She said she believes Mr. Walter would quote Abraham Lincoln and say the town shouldn’t “switch horses in midstream” this year.
But, she said, Lincoln’s Civil War only lasted four years, and Mr. Walter has been in office for eight.
“It’s time for a fresh new start,” she said.
Ms. Jens-Smith’s 10th Grade Social Studies teacher, Bill Bodkin, who will serve as her campaign finance chairman, introduced her to the crowd.
He said party officials had told her in 2015 that if Anthony Coates, their candidate that year, was not elected, she would be their next pick. If elected, Ms. Jens-Smith would be the first woman to serve as Riverhead Town Supervisor.
“She’s a class act. That says it all,” he said. “She’s energetic, smart and tenacious. I’ve seen her at board meetings. I’ve heard her challenge the supervisor. She doesn’t back down and is always right.”
Ms. Jens-Smith, he said, had written in the part about her always being right.