Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hampton Tidbits

The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.
-- Henry Kissinger, New York Times, Oct. 28, 1973

Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.
-- Dan Quayle

While Cheryl Kraft’s Code Enforcement boys and girls are busy breaking and entering into local houses with a Justice Court warrant, guns drawn and badges flashing at 5 a.m. to check for smoke detectors, the Southampton Village Police department is conducting its own version of the Spanish Inquisition.
The criminalization of landlords marches forward along with the search for immigrants who would rather sleep in a bed rather than in the woods with their children. The Republicans have shown their humanistic side once again. They would like to institutionalize the Hamptons Witch Hunt to satisfy the bigoted faction of the local electorate and the Conservative wing of the party. Town Investigator David Betts (placed on probation by Supervisor Linda Kabot for the raid against her aunt) aided by Town Attorney Sendlenski have given Public Safety Chief Cheryl Kraft the shot in the arm she needed to give all 5 Code Enforcement officers that carte blanche to terrorize landlords and Latinos like Dirty Harry in a spaghetti western. The new rental law is widely known as the Hamptons Anti-Latino law. It is recognized as pure racism, sanctioned by the Republicans and supported by the Town Board. In addition to racism it is extortion.
All property owners in the Hamptons are now subjected to huge fines unless they rent to those people whom the Town wants. Otherwise, they find violations in your home and try to arrest you. It’s Pay, or we arrest you.

That’s the message to New Yorkers.

And, this week a few more Village police officers were forced to bite the dust in Southampton. That story is still unwinding and it’s not a pretty one.
The favors and corruption go deeper than people want to believe.
Officer Gallo was suspended as was dispatcher Ottati.
Aside from the tickets-to-ride – or, rather 1900 tickets to walk away from – there was also the issue of a D.A.’s investigation about the fact that Wilson was working security at Polo while on the books doing police work for the Village. All those recordings of people asking for tickets to disappear are starting to irritate people in Archives.
Apparently, the retaliation is still virulent.

It’s been an interesting week in this best of all possible world resorts.

We understand that Nancy Graboski is living up to her reputation as a reformer – or, is still so pissed off at her treatment by the Republican Party during the last election – that she is calling for an audit of the Town’s books. With the reportedly serious amounts of cash lying around – still available from the last budget – she’s wondering why this year’s budget needs to be increased. All kinds of rumors about Masterson’s Highway Department solicitations for contracts and Republican Party coffers have been making the rounds. An audit sounds like a really good idea.

The Quogue dynasty, with Chief Judge Kitrick Motz who is married to Mayor George Motz, there is a rumor that a Mr. Traeger is interested in challenging the indicted Mayor in the next election.
There is also word that there will be a separation of powers once the court proceedings get underway.
Makes you wonder why Linda Kabot, the new Supervisor of the Town of Southampton lives in Quogue. Although, we hear that while she is “local,” not many of the small businesses in that village see her in their shops.

There may be a challenge to Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller in the next election. The Village Board may also see some changes. The business community has been less than pleased with the fact that while many other Villages and Hamlets in the Hamptons have seen a surge in activity even during the winter months – Westhampton Beach looks like the Dust Bowl during the 1930’s. There is no plan to aid or increase business with people-friendly events and the current level of government stimulation towards progress is likely to include little more than sweeping the Tumbleweed off Main Street. The fake bricks edging the sidewalk don’t give visitors the sense that Tiffany will be opening up there soon either. That problem, the fake bricks, supposedly was brought in to the Village because a prior contractor did such a bad job that there were too many “trip and fall” lawsuits. So much for the concept of beautification.

The most expensive high-end rentals have already been taken in Easthampton while in this Village, 45 minutes closer to Manhattan, most of the businesses close up during the Winter due to lack of any activity. The real estate brokers have been able to count the number of transactions on one hand.
And, crime is up. The Police Department has been grappling with a series of masked-men breaking into local businesses. The burglars have been successfully robbing the businesses, which have chosen to remain open during the winter for the benefit of the Village – and the thieves, who have never been caught, have managed to carry away a substantial portion of what little income that the Village sees. It’s not a good combination. Is it Mayberry, here we come, minus the law enforcement? This is with a Mayor who was the Chief of Police before he was elected. What does that tell you?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Hot Buttons in the Hamptons

But thus do I counsel you, my friends: distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful!
--Friedrich Nietzsche

A few issues in Southampton politics affect local residents as well as New Yorkers. A few of these issues will actually affect the quality of everyone’s lives. Like Immigration reform, the political makeover on the Town Board, and the face and quality of local law enforcement, several trends are underway that we need to know about.

Take some of the inside dope on law enforcement.
There have been ongoing mini-scandals in the Village of Southampton that would make the original series “Peyton Place” seem like a high school drama. Rumors about the “1900 tickets” that disappeared is not news – but certainly raises questions about how business as usual is done at the station house.
William Masterson, Highway Superintendent for the Town, for example is rumored to have been pissed off at having been given a speeding ticket at one point and made it a badge of honor that the ticket disappear. It disappeared. The Chief of Police at that time gave an order to turn that ticket over to him, or else. Masterson’s not the only character who wanted his way. it seems the Village Police became a virtual sieve for those who had connections within the department.
The tradition of making the department one’s little piggybank, especially for the Chief (currently Wilson) started to annoy some of the rank and file. The fact that Chief Wilson’s girlfriend, rumored to be Kimberly McMahon, was hired and paid $80/hour overtime – ahead of some of the other foot soldiers with rank and seniority – has not been appreciated. If the Chief is going to “work it” on the payroll, they at least want some of the others to get a better break.
Apparently, there was a lot of grief during a Jack Nicholson film when there was more than enough overtime for everyone.

One of the Sergeant’s, Christopher Broich, in fact, has file several charges with the EEOC over his treatment by Wilson over the parking tickets and other dubious behavior such as improper moonlighting. And, there are rumors regarding an officer named Cummings and PBA attorney Losquadro, both of whom reportedly have a mutual business relationship, and Chief Wilson. Is retaliation against a cop who is a whistleblower possible? Ask Broich, who apparently was asked to fix a few tickets – and wouldn’t.

The question is, with all of this special treatment for Police Department “friends” whose tickets disappear, $80/hour overtime with a base pay of $100 grand – exactly what kind of monster is Southampton Village cultivating?
Many of the Village Police have their own private security companies in addition to their regular police jobs so that the badge and gun are interchangeable depending upon whether you are on duty or not. There’s plenty of work in the Village of Southampton and apparently plenty of money around. Why corruption on top of that?
Or, as Gordon Gekko said in “Wall Street” – greed is good.

In Westhampton Beach Village, where a mini-crime wave has erupted, questions about the effectiveness of local government have been raised. One local establishment, Magic’s Pub, has been hit twice by robberies in less than three months. Security on the streets are so lacking that the thief walked out the front door with the safe in his arms and out another door with a couple of 40 inch widescreen TV’s like he was invisible. Another local pub, Kara’s, has also been hit. The Mayor, Conrad Teller, who was the former Police Chief, and the Village Board have been characterized as being disinterested in helping develop local businesses during the winter months – and if some improvement is not forthcoming – he and the Board will definitely get their way. Most businesses shut down in the winter due to lack of sales. If the crime doesn’t drop, the Big Chill will set in and no businesses at all will remain open. As it is, rumors abound that certain Village Trustees are acting like ex-officio Police Commissioners due to the lack of interest on the part of Mayor Teller. One resident commented that the Mayor would like to push Westhampton Beach back to the days of 'Mayberry RFD.'
Even in the South Bronx of the 1960’s when Fort Apache and the surrounding landscape resembled Berlin after World War II, at least some crimes got solved.

The riddle of the new Southampton Town Board is expected to be solved this week. With one open Board seat, after Linda Kabot was bumped up to Supervisor, the question is twofold. Who will the fourth Board member be? And, how will that Board member be chosen?
Fans of three-dimensional chess will learn to appreciate Southampton Town politics. In addition to the myriad number of “lines” on the ballot, there are variations in the way in which the selection process can go forward.

Currently, the Board is comprised of four slots for Board members and one for Supervisor. At the moment, Linda Kabot (Republican) is the Supervisor and there are three Board members (Chris Nuzzi, a Republican; Nancy Graboski, a Republican; Anna Throne-Holst, a Democrat).
While Jim Henry, the Democrat who challenged Kabot and lost by 57 votes, is expected to run for Supervisor in two years, the balance on the Board is still controlled by the Town Republican Committee – a conservative group of local people who are closely allied with the same graft and corruption attributed to the former Supervisor Skip Heaney and associates like Bill Masterson (the Highway Supervisor who hands out construction contracts in return for contributions to the party).

This brings us to the problem at hand.

The current dilemma for reformers like Throne-Holst, who faces three Republicans on the Board – is that there are few candidates to choose from.
Alex Gregor, who is an Independent and widely admired by the electorate – who almost single-handedly destroyed Skip Heaney’s career by depriving him of the Independent line – is a favorite among voters. However, the heat is on when he approaches the current members of the Board. He is a leader who likes to lead. The Board is looking for a team player – for their team.

It seems likely that the overwhelming majority of the Republican Board will hand the Board seat to Dan Russo – one of Heaney’s former running mates.
He is being pushed by the Republican Committee and this will likely be the kiss of death for reform in Southampton Town.

There is also the issue of appointment vs. special election.
Russo is likely to be appointed – a fact that the Republican Committee is counting on. Or, along with other candidates, a special election could be held. And, while there have been comments about the cost of such an election – the Board of Elections has basically said that there is no charge.
So, while the Republican Board is looking for an excuse to appoint – there should be no mistake about the fact that it is not going to save anyone any money.

If Russo is appointed, he must run this November.
If he were to win a special election, he would not have to run for election again until Kabot’s old term has expired. They are not the same dates. The implications in this, a heavily favored Democratic year, are clear. Still, there is the incumbency factor.
The warring parties can figure out the implications of that scenario.

Finally, on the immigration front little has happened. The new rental law, which was concocted in order to push the safety issue, has been debunked by one of the East End’s most influential publications – Suffolk Life. If a publication whose publisher, Dave Willmott, loaned his son to run Heaney’s election campaign isn’t plugged into the law, no one is.
Heaney ran on the anti-immigration, anti-Latino plank. He and Chris Nuzzi set the strategy and implemented it, using Garrett Swenson and Michael Sendlenski of the Town Attorney’s office – along with Cheryl Kraft (Head of Public Safety and Code Enforcement) and the “investigative” work of David Betts, in the newly created Town Investigator position.
One of their first targets, of course, was Linda Kabot’s aunt. The New York Times investigated the matter and as a result of Kabot's win, Swenson was fired and Betts is hanging by a thread. They haven’t gotten to Sendlenski yet – a kid who is trying to make a name for himself by threatening to jail landlords.

Remember that when you think about Southampton as a liberal resort area.
While New Yorkers pay for the government, the politicians have been using the money to try to hang them with it.

So, in a recent editorial in the catchy-titled opinion piece “Willmott and Why Not” the focus was the new rental law. He opines in his editorial that everyone is scratching their heads trying to figure out why the 6000 or so rental property owners have not filed for their permits.

Well, Hello?

Start by asking people (whose property you are demanding virtual control over) why they do not have the right to vote.

Ask why a law that is unconstitutional – prompting the ACLU to join the current Federal litigation against the Town over this usurping of property ownership -- was ever implemented.

Or, perhaps, should we mention that the rental applications are USED TO TARGET OWNERS for renting to summer people or Latinos.
Just ask Supervisor Kabot’s aunt.

Willmott goes on to say that, of course, local people who have apartments or additional rental units should be excluded from this law. After all, you have to keep them voting for the Republicans who fostered this law. No need to have the law apply to everyone.
It’s all about those nasty New Yorkers who make a fortune from real estate. AND, WHO ARE FILLING THE NEED FOR RENTALS IN THE ABSENCE OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING!

The essence of the editorial is the smoking gun of the Republican Party. There is absolutely no mention in this editorial about safety. The basis for this rental law, which is badly disguised discrimination against Latinos and property owners, was supposedly about safety. There is not a word in this editorial about housing safety.

It really about the money.
And, about political control – pandering to the local electorate while trying to control your property.