Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hamptons Resurgence

We have learned that Treewolf West has decided to run for Fred Thiele's seat with support from the Integrity Party.

Thiele is the New York State Assembly incumbent and has been criticized by mainstream Democrats as well as independents for exhibiting the kind of public pronouncements that have earned him the moniker "Flip-flop Fred."

Among the criticisms of Thiele have been his exaggeration of the efforts he made at saving the 106th Air Rescue Group stationed at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, when party regulars credit Hank Beck for the hard work in getting that accomplished.

Of more concern to many is Thiele's apparent leanings in favor of the Death Penalty, which has become a newly divisive issue in Suffolk politics -- especially, in light of the number of mistakes uncovered by the Innocence Project. The Progressive wind blowing through Long Island is another reason for concern over this issue. The Marty Tankleff case supporters point out that there would be no issue at all to debate had there been a Death Penalty option available to the judge when this case was originally decided (by former Sheriff Tisch). The Braslow decision is still keeping political observers and the media on the edge of their seats. Contrary to the wish of many, this controversy and potential corruption case will only blow up if Tankleff is denied a new trial for the murder of his parents 17 years ago.

For some, Thiele's claim to have fostered numerous bills in the Assembly, seem to be followed up with -- well, nothing. While much legislation has been proposed, few of these initiatives have resulted in passage -- as compared to the lip-service it has afforded him.

There is the distinct sense that Fred Thiele has produced more smoke and mirrors than substance -- unless you call trying to kill the Shinnecocks right to self-determination, substance.

Treewolf is a union guy who is working the grass roots and is another of the local, honest, hard working New Politicians -- who is progressive and honest. Thiele has consistently opposed worker-friendly legislation. We have no comment on the honest and progressive part. He appears to be the worst combination of Hamptons elitist, who, along with the characters running Town Hall in Southampton, care absolutely nothing for the non-resident tax-paying property owners. While they plan to demand the right to vote in local elections, New Yorkers cannot even get a voice in local government. Many times we have stated that there needs to be a Hamptons Advocate appointment at Town Hall -- not some local Heaney favorite who knows nothing of our concerns.

We hope to catch up with Treewolf and give you more information on his campaign. As with other successful candidates, like Sheriff Vince DeMarco, the Integrity Party is less about politics than it is about rooting out corruption and taking a stand on issues.

Tim Laube, the Deputy Mayor of the Village of Westhampton Beach, is weighing his options carefully. Although he has been mulling over whether to run for Mayor (since Strebel is retiring due to his wife's illness), he has had to reconsider his choices since having been appointed as Clerk of the Legislature. It's been almost 30 years since the Democrats have gained control of this body and he has an exciting opportunity. It's quite a choice to have to make, but one which we hope he will soon decide to make -- to do both jobs. He promises that he will be making his decision in the next couple of weeks.

While we are on the subject, however, one of Laube's pet projects is to get sewers installed in the Village. Right now, behind many of the establishments along Main Street, including restaurants, the waste has to be pumped out on a regular basis to avoid dumping directly into the waters adjacent to the Village. When serious storms hit, the overflow and seepage is not a pretty picture -- one which could prove to be quite a Health crisis. Many stores are not legally operating but the Village has no choice but to look the other way for the sake of the local economy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Hamptons Voting Revisited

For those of you who have managed to buy a house in the Hamptons -- whether you only visit during the summer months or spend most of the year in the area, the issue of voting is a sore point. Elections in most of the Hampton (Incorporated) Villages are typically held in June. The Town Supervisor elections (Easthampton and Southampton), in which Town Council and Justice Court judges also run, is held in November as part of the County and National elections. That's Incorporated Villages in June, National, County and Town elections in November. This is where the problem lies. This is important since most of us are aware of the fact that you can only vote once in an election that includes candidates for national office or local office. For example, you could not have legally voted for President Bush in the Hamptons and John Kerry in New York City in the previous Presidential election. One man or woman, one vote. That's the rational.

Beyond that it gets trickier. The reason why we vote is to choose among candidates to represent us in political office who make decisions about how to spend the money we pay in property taxes. You might remember that taxation without representation was the rallying cry and the raison d'etre for overthrowing the British regime in America. It is an abomination to Americans to pay taxes and not have the right to vote where those taxes are paid.

This is where the issue of paying property taxes, especially in a location like the Hamptons where these taxes fund the major portion of government's expenses, becomes a hot issue. When the collected taxes are those of non-resident property owners who spend a substantial amount of time in the community and collectively contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to Town and County coffers -- the ability to vote in elections is an inalienable right.

In the case of the Villages, the process is fairly simple. Contact the Suffolk County Board of Elections and request a registration form. Fill out the form and file it with your local Hamptons address in advance of the June election. Your summer address or weekend address will become your legal address during the election period and you may either leave it that way or change it back once the election is over. It is cumbersome but it can be done.

So far so good.

Unfortunately, the solution in Town and County elections is not so simple. Since you cannot vote in an election where candidates for National office are on the ballot in two places, you cannot vote in your primary residence and again in the Hamptons Town election. This is where cooperation and consideration by the Towns of Southampton and Easthampton matters most. If the local election were held on a different date, and voting for National elections were held in November -- in the Hamptons -- and if the Town Charter permitted property owners to vote in local elections -- the problem would be solved. Don't expect that to happen because both Towns have been getting a free ride for a long time and do not want to share spending control with those pesky out-of-towners. If people in these Towns are elected by margins of only 50 or 100 votes, allowing the thousands of New Yorkers with property to vote in local elections would be a disaster. And, then there's the issue of the money. Sharing the take on those millions is clearly not in sight.

Which is really too bad. Because there is precedent for permitting non-resident property owners to vote in local elections. They do so in Colorado and it can be done here -- IF they wanted it to happen.

The Town of Mountain Village in Colorado, for example, in their Charter included the provision for non-resident property owners to vote. They offered these rights -- and when this Town near Telluride faced a challenge to their having provided these rights, the Appeals court wrote:

"Plaintiffs (a group of residents) have failed to show that the Defendants' (the Town) reason for allowing nonresident landowners to vote in the Town. . . is either irrational or arbitrary. I find credible Defendants' contentions that the Town. . . is a unique resort community where nonresident landowners own the majority of property and pay more than eight times the amount of property tax. Defendants further assert that without the significant revenues the nonresident landowners have contributed to the Town, the Town might never have come into existence. Moreover, the nonresidents con-tinue to bear the weight of the financial burden for the Town. Defendants argue that providing the nonresident landowners the right to vote gives them a voice in the Town's future, including the taxes they will have to pay and how those taxes should be spent. . . These factors demonstrate that the Town had a rational basis for enacting the Charter provi-sion granting nonresident landowners the right to vote." (944 F. Supp. at 825)

And, further, the Appeal Court wrote:

"In this case it is clear that the nonresident property owners have a sufficient interest in Town affairs to make it rational for the Town to include them in the political process. Currently they pay approximately eight times more real property taxes in property taxes, and under the Charter, the Town has the power to establish land use standards, enact ordinances, adopt capital improvement programs, set tax rates, borrow money, issue bonds, create special improvement districts, control utilities, and to condemn property. Each of these powers has great potential to affect property owners in significant respects."

Perhaps we should strongly suggest that the crowd in Southampton Town Hall start making overtures to those who are paying the bills. If not, perhaps some of the non-resident property owners will start making some overtures to them. Of an entirely different sort. Like, litigation, perhaps?

Speaking of Town Hall in Southampton, we hear that there is a general feeling of nervousness about. For one thing, the surge of Democratic victories on Long Island may be giving pause. Although the Republicans did well in Southampton, it is clear that the handwriting on the wall is not good for them. The Crookhaven crowd elected a Democrat and one of that Town's escapees, Nuzzi, is now on the Town Board in Southampton. So, we have lame duck Heaney as Supervisor and a collection of relics from a bygone redneck era in dealing with people, especially minorities. Progressive politics and Democratic social policy is clearly on the march and the existing administration is on the defensive. What is their response? Find a new target -- the Latino immigrants who are generally castigated as the "illegals." County Executive Steve Levy has been duped in dealing with this issue and it has trickled down to the ecstatic Republicans still in Town Hall as a "license to kill." Watch carefully, the murder of a latino in Quogue was not an aberration.

The fact that most of the major politicians will be attending the Martin Luther King Day ceremony this week in Islandia where Reverend Cloverdale presides, and are mostly Democrats, underscores where the future lies. This event, which has grown over the last 20 years to the point where the 900 invited attendees jockey for a ticket, is telling. Even Heaney goes. Imagine that! The fact that the Shinnecock Nation, which is predominantly African-American at this point in its mixed blood heritage, will be building a casino in spite of the efforts to block them -- within two years (that's what we hear) -- is another example of racial indifference or outright hostility on the part of the Old Boy network that was handled badly. The fact that Heaney's family hails from Hampton Bays of old where they used to burn out black families, should not be lost on anyone. It's like having a sniper with his rifle aimed -- while negotiating with a perp for the release of a hostage. The Shinnecocks refused to fork over big payoffs to the Republicans and decided to push forward on their own.

Another reason for nervousness might also be found in the recent Federal indictments of Town officials on Long Island (not Southampton) for involvement with the "Asphalt Cartel," which has been reported in Newsday and the Daily News recently. The fact that people have been hauled away in chains because of alleged "contributions" emanating from Highway paving contracts, may be a source of concern. It is one of the worst kept secrets in the Town of Southampton that the Republican Party has been the happy recipient of lavish contributions from grateful vendors.

The re-election of Masterson as Highway Department chief by only a handful of votes over Mr. Gregor -- we predict -- will not happen next time. Gregor should stand by in case a new election is called. In any event, we hear, that the populace is tired of corruption and Gregor is their man.

Finally, we need to think about the answer to this question.

Why is it that the Justice Court in the Town of Southampton acts as if it is Above the Law? The Unified Court System REQUIRES that there be an evening session which would permit working people and, dare we say, property owners from outside of the Town -- attend court without hiring expensive local lawyers, without taking off from work. This has been ignored by the Justice Court. Because they can. Ponder this. Is this stupidity, is it arrogance, or is it another example of having been in power too long. The local people don't matter and the New Yorkers (who pay the bills) are hated.

For simple Code violations, the Town does not do what other civilized Towns do on Long Island. A simple letter to the homeowner advising them of a problem that needs to be corrected, is the reasonable thing to do. But, not in Southampton. Several years ago, a slew of Criminal Summonses were sent out to hundreds of homeowners (you know, those property owners who can't vote and therefore can't get these characters out of office), and threatening arrest for not appearing. Why? Because some of the homes either did not have a street number on it or it was not visible to the Code Enforcement cop who drove by. Be aware of this problem because it portends a way of bilking non-resident tax-paying homeowners in a way that would have been the envy of the Gestapo.

This is an example of the arrogance of politicians who collect your money and give back nothing but hostility and indifference.

Think about that.

In the Village of Westhampton Beach, one of the local luminaries, Simon of Beach Bakery, was about to be railroaded. Simon is a well-known businessman who offers his time and baked goods each year for a number of events including the Easter Egg hunt held for the all of the children and is the first Hamptons bakery to offer kosher baked goods. Even Rabbi Schneier of the Hamptons Synagogue eats there. Dick Haefeli, the renowned prosecutor of the Village had cited Simon with a number of fines for the egregious act of bringing music to Main Street. Live singer-guitarists played evenings in front of his Bakery and, frankly, brought a little life the local businesses and kept shops open a little longer. While they were a tad too loud at times and spawned copycat players down the street, it was a welcomed surprise.

In Judge Kelly's courtroom, attorney George Guldi appeared to defend Simon and onlookers were treated to a rare view of the Village's attitude towards criminal prosecution. When Kelly asked why the case had lingered so long, Haefeli chimed in that it didn't matter -- that justice was long overdue since his arrainment in September. He wanted severe penalties. When attorney Guldi pointed out the there was clearly a lack of attention in prosecuting this case (which was bullshit in the first case) and that Simon had been deprived of a speedy trial -- Haefeli sputtered and said "that doesn't matter." So much for justice. Judge Kelly had 40 jurors in the next room for a real case -- he dismissed the charges.

We hope that Deputy Mayor Tim Laube is paying attention to the way in which matters are being handled. We understand that he is a viable candidate for Mayor once Strebel's term is up.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Hamptons Political Scenes

Things are moving at a rapid pace in the Marty Tankleff case ( D.A. Spota has not changed his public position on the guilt or innocence of this high profile prisoner -- whose re-trial application has been sitting on Judge Braslow's desk for months -- apparently everyone is feeling the heat by now. The New York Times, CBS News and other major media organizations as well as Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project appear to be incredulous(if you read between the lines) about the depth of what appears to be political corruption in Suffolk County. Only a re-trial will put this issue to bed and a re-trial is what many politicians do not want -- ergo the delay, hoping it will all just go away. Of course, as a result of the momentum now generated it is more likely the Titanic will sail again -- than this will just disappear.

The fact that Tankleff has just been ordered back to prison during Braslow's extended soul-searching, while the media has it's field day with the smell of Suffolk County politics wafting through the courtroom --has been the source of speculation that the court long ago decided to rule against him. Understandably, Tankleff's attorneys are concerned.

What all of us should be concerned with is that the Hamptons -- the "jewel" of Suffolk County which fills the tax coffers compliments of non-resident property owners that pay virtually all of the bills (and cannot vote in local elections)-- is owned and operated by either Republicans or "Democrats in Republican clothing." Although there is a progressive political trend sweeping Long Island, the jury is still out on whether this Democratic surge is real or imagined. Steve Levy, the Suffolk County Executive who is a Democrat has gotten good marks but has recently been reported to have supported some of the anti-immigrant legislation proposed that follows on the heels of the Farmingville problems with all of those nasty "illegals" that clean toilets and handle the heavy landscaping work that Americans are averse to doing. He has also been criticized for being sensitive to political criticism and has been reported to be establishing a virtual freeze on reporters who are not complimentary. We have not experienced that but it is an issue to keep on top of. Freedom of Information and "Sunlight" behavior is critical to our delicate system of an open Democracy.

Important in all of this is the fact that Vince DeMarco recently won his election and has taken office as the new Suffolk County Sheriff. He seems to be showing signs of responsible law enforcement that has come of age (due, in part to support of the new Integrity Party), and his election is an indication that the populace has had enough of real or imagined corruption and is pissed off enough to finally vote the suspects out of office. Tisch, the outgoing Sheriff, not incidentally, was the Judge who was responsible for imprisoning Tankleff in the first place. Small world, isn't it?