Gurney's Inn
January 03, 2018

First Woman Takes Office


The blistering cold on New Year's Day didn't deter Riverhead residents from turning out Monday to Pulaski Street School to mark the inauguration of Laura Jens-Smith -- the first woman in the town's 225-year history to be elected to the post of supervisor.

Democrat Jens-Smith, a former nurse and school board member, defeated incumbent supervisor Sean Walter, a Republican, in November in her second bid for the seat having been unsuccessful two years prior. On Monday Jens-Smith, who will lead a Democratic majority on the board, cited a motivational speech by US Navy Adm. William McRaven, about the 10 life lessons that can be gained from the basic training of the elite Navy SEALs, which served as inspiration for her to continue working toward her goal.

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"If you want to change the world you can never give up," she said. "Two years ago, I ran for office and while I didn't succeed then, I didn't give up either, and today I am proud and grateful to be standing here as the first woman supervisor in Riverhead Town history."

Taking a tip from the admiral, she noted change cannot be brought about by one person alone -- a theme that continued throughout the ceremony.

"If we truly want to make our town better, we all need to help each other and we all need to work together," Jens-Smith said. "We need to remember we will not always be successful and when we are most challenged, we must keep moving forward. We all must continue to work hard, work hard to be our very best."

Jens-Smith described herself as "always involved" in the community and "head strong" with her opinions, wanting to bring about change for the better, but aside from a stint in student government as a teenager, she never envisioned herself in a political role.

"I've always been driven in a sort of 'see things done the right way,' I guess," she said.

A Woman's Voice

It was not until a legislative breakfast she attended as a school board member several years ago where she looked up and saw mostly men surrounding her that changed her mind. "I said, 'There needs to be more women up there, there needs to be a woman's voice,' and that is kind of what started me thinking about wanting to run for office," she said.

For the first time, the town not only has a female supervisor but a female majority on the town board. For now, Jens-Smith's priority is focusing on providing "good government" and being "inclusive regardless of the perspective whether it be male or female," she said.

Running mate Catherine Kent said the pair have "hit the ground running" the day after their election, apprising themselves of "everything," and meeting with the heads of various departments, and other council members to talk with them about "working together in the spirit of cooperation."

"I am excited to really get started -- we have a work session tomorrow, and I think a board meeting the next day," she said.

Incumbents Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, Highway Superintendent George 'Gio' Woodson, Deputy Highway Superintendent Michael Zaleski, and Town Assessor Laverne Tennenberg were also sworn in at the ceremony.

More like a celebration, and less like a government ceremony, the inauguration was interspersed with performances from community members including the First Baptist Church Riverhead Choir, which performed "America" and "Stand" and a group of students from Riley Avenue Elementary School that sang "You Raise Me Up," while signing the lyrics in American Sign Language for the audience.

Kent, a former school teacher, taught the song to the youngsters in her class two years ago, so that they could perform it for their parents at the end of the year. "That song is about people who make you stronger, that build you up and empower you, so I thought it was fitting," she said. "There were a lot of people in the room whose shoulders we stood on, that's what the song is about. We couldn't do it all alone -- it took a lot of people."

Supporter Betty Harris, a longtime Riverhead resident and community volunteer who donated her time to the Democratic campaign, said the party's volunteers worked very hard to elect Jens-Smith and Kent to their new posts. "I believe in our town and there is nothing that I would not do for it, now," she said. "I believe that we are going to have great things happen, and I am looking forward to it."

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