Candidate: Tom McCarthy
Residence: Smithtown Hamlet
Office Sought: Smithtown Clerk
Party Endorsements: Republican, Conservative
Notable Endorsements: The only endorsement sought is that of the people who vote on November 7
Vacant since Vinny Puleo (R-Nesconset) was elected County Clerk last year, the Smithtown Town Clerk seat is wide open this November.
Candidate: Bill Holst
Office Sought: Smithtown Clerk
Prior Office: Suffolk County Legislator
Party Endorsements: Democratic, Working Families
Notable Endorsements: Communications Workers of America (CWA), Long Island
Federation of Labor
Having last run for office in 2017 against Ed Wehrheim (R-Kings Park) for Smithtown Supervisor, Bill Holst is coming out of retirement to try his hand for the vacant Town Clerk seat.
Tom McCarthy and Bill Holst sat down with The Messenger for one-on-one interviews for the purpose of this candidate spotlight.
Q: What is your professional background and how does it equip you for the role of Town Clerk?
Tom McCarthy: I was in the security business for most of my life. I’ve been a vice president, a general manager, a director, and a regional manager. I worked for some of the largest companies in the sector, and I was Director of Security for the second-largest company headquartered on Long Island at the time. I was responsible for a mission-critical data center that, had it gone down, it would have been a loss of $6 to $10 million a day. I was responsible for protecting that through the Gulf War and other issues that arose. In addition to protecting people and property, we had a high-value inventory that consisted of tens of millions of dollars of gold, platinum, and silver which were used in the manufacturing of electronic devices.
After that, I was a government liaison for the world’s largest security company. I worked between here, New York City when Giuliani was mayor, and Albany. I got to know a lot of people from working on behalf of the company, especially Albany downward. Funding flows from Albany to the counties, so on that trail is where I started to get connected.
I was a consultant for some of the major clients I took over on Long Island. My clients were some of the largest companies headquartered on Long Island. My background in security procedures and protocols translates well into security and cybersecurity. The Clerk’s office has a tremendous IT department and I want to be involved in that in how we protect records.
My background as an executive provides me with the skill sets in general manager, administration, team-building and leadership, and interpersonal communication. I have the ability to design the strategy and implement the operational plan. I’ve managed several hundreds of employees in my career. Here, I’ll just have six I’ll be working with.
Ten years ago, I ran for highway superintendent as a registered Conservative. I didn’t win the primary, but I was endorsed by the Democrats, and I was the largest vote-receiver on the Democratic ticket in Smithtown that year. I also had the highest total of Independent votes in Suffolk County that year.
The Town Clerk is the chief administrative office. You’re a secretary to the Town Board. You’re in charge of keeping records of meetings and all public and personal records. The office issues all licenses and permits. Some people say it’s the face of the government; I call it the cover of the book. The clerk’s office is the first thing you see. People come to us for help for all things, but you also represent the Supervisor and the Council. The current team is outstanding. There are six young ladies working part time who are functioning without a clerk. They’re outstanding.
Bill Holst: I’ve been an attorney for forty years. While it’s not required to be an attorney for this position, it certainly doesn’t hurt. Almost half of those forty years have been working in municipalities. When I got out of the Army, I worked in Manhattan for CBS for about five working antitrust cases.
I sent a résumé into Smithtown and then-Supervisor Pat Vecchio, who was a Democrat at the time, offered me a job working in the town attorney’s office. This was my first experience in municipal work.
I then ran for County Legislator in 1987 and lost to Donald Blydenburgh (R) , but Pat Halpin (D) was elected County Executive that year and he appointed me as Deputy Commissioner of Consumer Affairs. In 1989, Governor Mario Cuomo (D) appointed me to Suffolk County Clerk to fill the vacancy. But there was this guy named Ed Romaine who had just run for Congress and I knew I could beat any other opponent besides him. Romaine defeated me for County Clerk in 1989.
Between 1987 and 1997, I had been President of the Smithtown School Board and I also had my own private practice. I became President of the Greater Smithtown Chamber of Commerce.
I then won a special election for Suffolk Legislature in March 1997 and then won the general later that year. In 1998, I was asked to run for Congress against Michael Forbes (R) and I lost that race. The upside of being a Democrat is that I had to raise my own money, but the downside is that my coffers were depleted by the time I had to run for Legislator in 1999. I went back into private practice.
I switched to be the Chief Legal Officer for the City of Long Beach in Nassau County. After the Democratic Council in Long Beach lost their election in a clean sweep, I called up my old colleague Steve Levy and ended up being hired as an assistant county attorney.
Smithtown has not had a comprehensive plan since 1957. Much has changed since then. We had 25,000 people then, now we have 120,000.
Q: What would you say is your best or proudest accomplishment in your career?
Tom McCarthy: My ability to deliver value-added service and form interpersonal relationships. You don’t make progress by railing against the people you want to work with. I’m not trained to be an adversary, I’m trained to be an advocate. My background didn’t consist of starting fights with people. My job was to build relationships. In this job, it’s the same thing.
Bill Holst: When I first got elected to the Legislature, I sat down with Lee Koppelman and said I wanted to do something about our downtowns. We needed downtown transformations. I suggested a Citizens Advisory Committee made up of residents from all eighteen districts. I was the primary sponsor of legislation in 1997. We went out to a number of communities like Bay Shore, Patchogue, and Riverhead to give presentations. People realized the downtowns had been neglected.
Q: What is your top priority if you win this election?
Tom McCarthy: Something we can do is address the unfunded mandates from Albany. The state tells us to provide a service but doesn’t provide funding. We have a 2% tax cap, so we don’t want to raise taxes. We’d like to get the money back that we send to Albany and Washington. Grants bring in hundreds of millions of dollars that save taxpayers money. If we can outsource funding, residents don’t foot the bill.
We also want to digitize our system with complete online access for everyone. Some people aren’t tech-savvy. We can make quick how-to videos to teach people how to apply for a parking permit, for example.
We have many people in our town with children with special needs, autism in particular. We have folks with parents who require certain types of care. I think we can expand the current programs to include these people. They can access resources, find agencies, and make phone calls. They should know that they can come into our office and get the help they need.
We also want to continue the legacy that Vinny Puleo left behind. He left behind a great office and solid staff. They’re all respected by our residents. I’d also like to help Ed Wehrheim and the Council with revitalizing Smithtown. We just had a new building in Commack constructed on an old, blighted property. Not only will the building house a unique medical clinic, but the building isn’t even finished yet and it’s rented out. That’s what happens when you’re proactive and you’re committed to a vision, in this case, a revitalized Smithtown.
Bill Holst: I’d like to keep the Clerk’s office as the center of the town government. This is an opportunity to do simple things. One could be keeping the office open longer one day a week during the summers, when the office usually closes at 4:00, to make it easier for people to get a marriage license during the summer outside of work hours, as an example.
Another example is lobbying for provisions in the budget to keep the public pools open into September when we have heat waves like we did this year.
Q: What’s your favorite quote, motto, or work ethic?
Tom McCarthy: Do right by everybody, and with this particular job, it’s not about politics, it’s about service.
Bill Holst: I was always taught to have initiative and be creative. Having no Plan B or Plan C is lazy.
Q: How do you like to connect with and enjoy your community?
Tom McCarthy: I’m in Smithtown hamlet, so I’m a double-Smithtonian. I love the people the most and there’s always something to do. I love going to all of our great restaurants, where you’ll always run into an old friend or make a new one. We also have great events, like the Nathan Dean Concert or anything that happens at the Nesconset Gazebo. I just joined a bocce league in Kings Park, they’re a terrific group of guys.
Smithtown has great people and they’re my favorite feature of the town by far. I love living here.
Bill Holst: I grew up in this town. I’m an eleventh generation Richard Smith. My grandfather was the Highway Superintendent for Head of the Harbor. My wife and I live in Nesconset. We enjoy the summer concerts. I grew up going up to Short Beach, Long Beach, and St. James Harbor.
The Messenger thanks Tom McCarthy and Bill Holst for taking time to sit down with us for this candidate spotlight.
The Messenger’s forecast for Smithtown Clerk: Safe Republican
Note that race ratings are not endorsements of either candidate. It is just a handicap of which direction in which we think the race leans.