Chocolatier turned political outsider runs for Smithtown town supervisor

By Brittany Bernstein and Josh Farber

A political outsider is shaking up the race for Smithtown town supervisor by running as an independent against Republican Edward Wehrheim and Democrat Bill Holst.

Independent candidate Kristen Slevin, a lifelong Smithtown resident and the owner of Yottabyte, a small fair-trade chocolate shop in Smithtown, decided to run for supervisor after hearing many customers share concern over Smithtown’s failing Main Street, which has 14 shuttered store fronts in the space of half a mile.

“You get into this point in your life, where you look and you realize, that if you don’t do something, nothing is going to change,” she said. “You can’t leave it up to somebody else. You can be someone who follows or someone who leads.”

If elected, Slevin would act as the chief fiscal and executive officer of the Town of Smithtown, which includes eight hamlets and three incorporated villages, for a term of four years.

This is a great year to be running, Slevin said, because the 40-year incumbent, Patrick Vecchio, was ousted in the Republican primary. Additionally, voter turnout is likely to be greater this year, 40 percent compared to the usual 25 percent, because of the constitutional convention, she said.

As a small business owner and community member, Slevin feels well suited to the task of reviving the township’s downtowns. Smithtown’s Main Street is suffering, Slevin says, because of Supervisor Vecchio’s commitment to keeping Smithtown a small town, which led him to reject large chains from opening on Main Street and created missed opportunities for growth.

To keep residents shopping local, Slevin imagines that small businesses with niche products and excellent customer service would be able to revitalize the downtowns in Smithtown, Kings Park and St. James, which, she says, already have the “bare bones in place to be really cute small town USA places.”

Smithtown has many historic buildings, which Slevin would like to preserve. She sees the town as having potential to be a colonial version of the trendier areas of Brooklyn and plans to hold events that showcase local artists and entrepreneurs to bring life back into Main Street, if she is elected.

With 117,000 residents in Smithtown Township, Slevin says there are more than enough residents to support a thriving business district, as long as there is enough variety and a walkable town to keep them shopping local.

Bill Holst, a democrat who ran in the 2005 election and lost, thinks he’s best suited to tackle the challenge of downtown revitalization.

“I don’t really know what [Ms. Slevin] has in the way of experience to do anything about it. That’s also true of Mr. Wehrheim too,” Holst said. “Basically I can point to the things I did as County Legislator in terms of downtown revitalization. I don’t think Mr. Wehrheim has much more having served on the town board to point to than Ms. Slevin has.”

But to some, like lifelong Smithtown resident Heather Campbell, Slevin’s lack of political experience is what makes her appealing.

“I trust her to do her best, to be transparent, and to heed the guidance of those around her when needed,” Campbell said. “She isn’t afraid to try– or fail.  But I don’t think she will. We have nothing to lose at this point.”

The empty storefronts, cracked sidewalks and overgrown weeds leave Campbell “appalled” with the look of her town. Snow removal and the town’s animal shelter are also points of contention.

“Vecchio was ingrained into this town, and that, in the end, causes issues in itself,” Campbell said. “After 40 years we need new blood.”

About Josh Farber 7 Articles
Josh Farber is a junior journalism major at Stony Brook University. He is from Warren, Vermont, and is an avid skier and traveller.