Thursday, July 26, 2007

Political Games

While the McMansion crowd spends time at the beach, the people who decide how much they will pay in property taxes are crunching numbers. The assessors are out counting bedrooms and scrutinizing apartments and houses so that the coffers continue to fill. The Hamptons Tea Party has not materialized yet because Wall Street is still climbing that Sisyphean curve; but as we all learned on Black Friday in 1987, when it comes down, it quickly makes real estate just as devalued as stock certificates – especially, when you need to get out in a hurry. It just takes a little longer for the insolvency to become obvious.

The only numbers that are still climbing are Manhattan condo prices – especially for 3 and 4 bedroom apartments.

Miami is getting killed, L.A. is suffering and the Hamptons are a well-guarded disaster. The under $500K market is alive and well, the $500-700K market is soft but exists, and everything after that up to $5 million is horrendous. Real Estate agents no longer describe driving around in new Range Rovers while making deals on their cell phones. They are more likely to be lining up a new job as a Yoga instructor in SoHo or waiting tables in Sag Harbor.

Once you get above the $5-7 mil range, there is some activity – theoretically, Wall Streeters are reportedly still looking for places to park money in case of a precipitous drop. It’s called hedging your bets, not as in Hedging your Funds.

So, what does this have to do with politics?

For one thing, the Town of Southampton has never gotten the message that there needs to be a voice in its local government for the property owners that pay incredible amounts of taxes, not to mention the funding of government salaries through taxes – with no representation. Property taxes, as well as transfer taxes support such useful political tools as the preservation fund – the Peconic Preservation Fund transfer tax. You know, the 2% tax collected at every closing that enables the Town to buy land so that it is NOT developed and maintained as open space. It’s actually a very good idea – but when was the last report issued on how YOUR MONEY has been administered for public benefit?

When was the last article circulated on the income and budget and who administers it?


The concept of a Hamptons Advocate was bandied about by Supervisor Heaney prior to this last election – and not one word has been heard about it since then. Would one conclude that this was merely a political ploy to mollify the vast number of New York City purchasers of real estate, or was it a joke at their expense? Do local politicians even give a damn about the meager public relations attempt to inform its wealthiest audience?

This year there are a number of cracks and leaks in the political dikes in Southampton Town. Up to this point, in appearance at least, the view has been more or less blurry but consistent. The Republican Party, under the apparent tutelage of landscaper Marcus Stinchi, Town Republican Chairman (who reportedly got the post because no one else wanted it), seems to have maintained its base – through control of “fundraising” from the usual suspects. Zizzi, a local builder who was also a member of the Planning Board, represented real estate interests and Masterson (Highway Superintendent) took care of contracts for paving – both sources assured that votes and contributions kept coming.

The “approved” list of attorneys, like the Gilmartins, handled the legal overflow, which has cost the Town a multi-million dollar tab needed to “augment” its in-house legal department. Voters don’t hear about these costs in the Southampton Press when election time rolls around.

So, Supervisor Heaney and Chairman Stinchi as you probably have read, threw Nancy Graboski, a Republican Town Board member, to the wolves because she and Dennis Suskind couldn’t take the quid pro quo games that had been suspected of Zizzi on the Planning Board. You can imagine how bad the smell must have been to have this laundry wind up in the Republican Town organ – the Southampton Press.

For years, the rumors of clients being steered to the right builder for the right fee in order to get plans and variances approved – and violations lifted by the Building Department at precisely the right moment – were pregnant, indeed.

As a result of Zizzi’s lack of support, he was dropped and the payback was Graboski having the rug pulled out from under her feet as election time rolled around.

Then we have the little public challenge involving Linda Kabot, a local politician, and Town Board member. Her family was, and is, local and some of the laundry was washed in public – but she apparently is well respected by the residents and is known as a straight shooter. She has apparently broken with Heaney and this year there will be a Primary. An unheard of event in this formerly Republican stronghold of cross-endorsements.

Ask a New Yorker who Kabot is and you get a blank stare. Ask a New York property owner who the Supervisor is and you still get a blank stare.

But, ask someone who is a resident of Hampton Bays or Southampton who Heaney and Kabot are and you get eye rolling for Heaney and nodding for Kabot, with, “she gets a lot of respect.”

Heaney’s family is from Hampton Bays but “Skip” is really from Queens. Kabot and her family have always been from Westhampton Beach where she went to High School.

And, that matters.

Whether local politicians know it, or even whether they care, the money and property interests will eventually affect local government.

And, whether New Yorkers and other out of town property owners realize it, local politics will, of necessity, become more important.

Keep your eye on Graboski and Kabot in the Primary coming up.

Both candidates have the support of the Integrity Party, the renegade political party that supports candidates for change. It supports candidates from both ends of the political spectrum with its emphasis on ethics and reform. The Integrity Party is blind to traditional political parties but eschews what has become a rampant challenge to democratic ideals – the cross-endorsement of candidates by Democrats and Republicans in Suffolk County politics.

And keep your eye on James Henry for Supervisor, as well.

The word is that he is a Democratic candidate who is already being threatened by the Heaney machine.

Rumors abound that Heaney’s reported $300,000 political war chest has already been used to dig up dirt. Unfortunately, the latest dirt has spread the word that Henry’s ex-wife has an Order of Protection out against him. In fact, it’s an old domestic ploy that is neither current nor relevant. He’s on amicable terms with his ex-wife but it shows how nervous Heaney has become.

We’ve heard that Rich Schaeffer, the County Democratic Chairman, champion of the cross-endorsement technique that has benefited Fred Thiele (R-Assembly) for years – has already “reasoned” with Henry about his run against Heaney. No doubt, this little “fireside chat” was in Henry’s best interest. It certainly was not done to help the old Democratic cross-endorsement addiction. (Schaeffer helps Thiele, who helps Heaney)

Or, was it?

In the past two elections, at least, the job (convincing the Democrat to drop out of the race) went to a Republican shill named Hal Ross (another Heaney “consultant”). Now, it seems, the Democrats are doing the work for the Republicans themselves.

Henry seems unmoved by all of this.

Things just keep getting curiouser and curiouser.