Saturday, June 21, 2008

Freedom of the Press?

As repressed sadists are supposed to become policemen or butchers so those with irrational fear of life become publishers.
--Cyril Connolly (1903 - 1974)

Fires have always been a big story in the Hamptons. In fact, during the 1970's, on the few channels that you could watch (there was no cable and only 3 stations that you could actually watch without going blind from the snow), fires were the main attraction. They still are. Since there weren't that many fires occurring locally, Connecticut channel 8 was a big hit in the 60's and 70's. Entertainment-wise, fires were the Hamptons version of Farmer Gray cartoons, in which mice interminably flowed from a kitchen faucet in television's first cartoon offerings.

But, this was no simple fire. Apparently, this was an attempted murder, suicide and fire that occurred at Len Conway's estate in Westhampton Beach. Conway is a hedge-fund, takeover celebrity with a large residence on Seafield Avenue. The information that could be gleaned has it that the couple living in the Conway estate guest house had a big fight, she was beaten nearly to death, the house was set afire and he ran away only to be found dead by his own hand nearby. Suffolk Police, Westhampton Village Police and even Southampton Town Police were on the scene.

Photos of the crime scene and interviews of the police were refused. No access was permitted and the Police would not allow Press to visit the site. It was so difficult to gain access that a real estate showing was interrupted. Of course, the Police Commissioner, Mayor Conrad Teller, was just re-elected. He's the former Police Chief of Westhampton Beach Village. No doubt he is feeling his oats after his win and residents can expect fewer solved crimes in the Village and less information from his office (if that is possible). There were three major robberies last winter in Westhampton Village that were never solved and the trend is clear. No doubt, he's decided, the best way to avoid any criticism, is to completely prevent any press coverage for any but the most complimentary reports from the non-existent neutral media in the Hamptons.

News anchor John Roland lost his bid for Village Trustee by two votes. Jim Kametler, his opponent, the police officer who nailed a possum in his backyard with five shots from his service revolver apparently still has the support of the local NRA contingent and the Police State mentality continues. Makes you wonder if Kametler knows the Quogue cop who shot a Latino for defending himself with a tree branch. Possums are even less likely to fight back.

Speaking of the Press, Suffolk Life, operated by Dave Wilmot, reportedly is shutting down the publication this coming week. It passed as a media source for decades which Wilmot used as a bully-pulpit for right wing law enforcement Republican enthusiasts. The success of the publication was based upon a Supreme Court ruling that mail recipients could not stop someone from mailing shit to you in the form of a newspaper -- if you didn't want it. While Wilmot, known as a heavy boozer who is arrogant and a little crazy, and who managed to intimidate his way into a level of modest importance, his reporters were basically lackeys who were told what to write. Few of them had any journalistic education but knew how to take orders from a drunk. "News" stories were dictated by people like Joe Lombardo of the Town Attorneys office when the object of a recent interview cooked up by the Town and Suffolk Life by Wilmot's "reporter" -- was created to support the phony propaganda plan to put landlords who rent property to Latinos out of business. Ridding the Town of either legal or illegal Latinos is big business now. With the economy about to go into the dumper, any competition is anathema -- even if no one wants the jobs that are left behind.

Wilmot turned down $4.5 million for a deal for the paper and his plant less than two years ago. The Media source who was interviewed thought Wilmot was nuts but the deal failed anyway. The most recent rumor has been that Lowe's wants the property for $10 million. However, lawsuits for defamation may eat into that substantially. That may not sit will with Wilmot, Jr., who was "Skip" Heaney's campaign manager in a failed bid to win another term as Supervisor of Southampton Town.

Wilmot, in his 70's, is said to be suffering from a heart condition, bleeding intestines, and has been in and out of the hospital. He is known as a right-winger and a right-to-lifer, whose personal predilections have never had anything to do with what was good for the masses or the paid-for political assassinations he promulgated for his politician friends in Suffolk Life. Rumor has it that he badgered and threatened anyone with his "pennysaver" if they were not a supporter; personal abortions had little to do with what was good for everyone else. He did favors for politicians in targeting enemies and in turn got deals on advertising as well as a long-term illegal tax abatement for his plant location in Riverhead -- which he proceeded to sublet for a nice income. No one in the County looked at it twice. No one wanted to screw with him, even while his "newspaper" screwed them.

One of the few news sources in the Hamptons that shows any respect for the truth, if there is such a thing in politics is Dean Spier, whose On the Beach Blog, talks about things that many local politicians would wish would go away. Especially, in Westhampton Beach Village. The other media source, Southampton Press, the newspaper of choice for Republican "News" has improved lately. It does do a little fact checking -- even when Linda Kabot, the Supervisor, Cheryl Kraft and David Betts of Code Enforcement "leaks" information to them after Marcus Stinchi, Chairman of the Republican Party approves it. But, they still do the right spin on any facts so that they are "neutral" on anything that the Republicans are embarrassed by -- gotta keep them ad dollars flowing., a storefront operation out of Southampton which is strictly online has created a presence but is still a succubus. Its prime "writer," right now, Andrea Aurichio, is a real estate agent who passes herself off as a reporter while trying to make a living in real estate. Two professional endeavors that don't pay very well right now. While this online publication provides listings, it is known by residents as a site that will steer you in the wrong direction on news and has a high anti-Latino, anti-landlord stance -- in order to be popular enough to get ad dollars. They follow the Town of Southampton Republican party line -- meaning to not insult the Republicans, Town Attorneys, Town Board members, or Code Enforcement office at Town Hall. The operation is looking a little thin and may not be far behind Suffolk Life. Don't expect them to endorse Obama. Senator Craig or Mike Huckabee is more likely.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Poll Dancing

The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.
-- Joseph Stalin (1879 - 1953)

Vote early and vote often.
-- Al Capone (1899 - 1947)

Two of the most contentious Village elections are being held this Friday in the Hamptons. They are the Southampton Village election for two of the Village Trustees – and in the Village of Westhampton Beach where two of the Trustees and the Mayor are up for re-election.
Generally, Village governments have four Trustees and a Mayor. The Town of Southampton, the government that controls the Town, which includes Villages and Hamlets within that township, has a Town Board of four members and a Supervisor. Incorporated Villages like the Village of Southampton and the Village of Westhampton Beach, have their own government and police force within the township but are also responsible to the Town on matters like taxation and political control.
Similarly, East Hampton Town and East Hampton Village have distinct governmental entities.

The election in Southampton Village has been more contentious lately because of the political antagonisms arising from various charges of corruption and pandering to the forces of development leveled at the local government in one of the Hamptons richest locations. To make matters worse, the problems among the rank and file of the Village police department have exacerbated the reputation of law enforcement personnel who rank among the highest paid police officers in the country. Within two years, a novice can top $100 grand if he or she tows the line. Many also have private security companies that augment that income.
Local taxpayers, of course, look askance at the shenanigans, when an on-duty police officer is double dipping – collecting a salary while working his own gig.

Christopher Broich is one of the candidates for the Trustee election this week. Broich is a former Southampton P.D. officer, who was dropped from the force when he blew the whistle on Southampton P.D. Chief Wilson -- who was caught double-dipping and also finding cushy security slots for his girlfriend on duty (like movie sets at $80/hr). Other officers expected the work that Wilson’s girlfriend was getting – because of their legitimate issues over seniority and experience. Of course, the boys weren’t always able to give Wilson the fealty he was getting from his girlfriend.

Contemplating some funny numbers, since the Village Clerk in some of these small villages is a political functionary counts the votes, Broich employed attorney George Guldi to even the playing field. Guldi, a successful attorney, is a former County Legislator who knows where the bones are all buried in local politics.
With close numbers, especially with regard to absentee ballots, the thought was – perhaps, the State Police would make better monitors of the election results than, say, the Southampton Police Department or the Suffolk County Police who are controlled by District Attorney Tom Spota.
There’s no secret that disallowing the dimpled Chad in Florida (not to mention entire groupings of votes) gave the election to George Bush in 2000. A phony count could do the same here.
Supreme Court Judge Whalen agreed and signed an order to show cause forcing the Village to be more circumspect.

In Westhampton Beach Village, former Police Chief and current Mayor Conrad Teller, supported by another police office Dan Kametler, and Toni-Jo Birk are running together against Tim Laube for Mayor and candidates for Village Trustee, John Roland and Elyse Richman.
While there is some mudslinging, the current crowd – Teller, Kametler and Birk have been conveniently hiding behind a thinly disguised two-pronged attempt to both attack the Jews over the eruv and accuse their adversaries of being anti-Semitic. While the lip-service supports the Jews, the planted Letters to the Editor in the media clearly show their real attitudes.

Essentially, the anti-Semitism has been carefully played because, of course, no one wants to be accused of wanting the Jews or the Synagogue out of town. In fact, the distortions that were promulgated over the positioning of a few pieces of black plastic on telephone poles got totally distorted. Issues of “separation of church and state” were disseminated sub Rosa, and rumors were spread that the Jews wanted all business to close on Saturdays.

Teller was quoted as being in favor of the eruv and attacking mayoral candidate Tim Laube for being anti-Semitic after Village Board meetings clearly showed the reverse -- when Teller was awake. Those who know Teller personally have laughingly appreciated his public "political" attitude toward Jews and his so-called campaign to support their religious rights while commenting that he is rabidly anti-Semitic in private.

What has been left out of all of this is the fact that the Synagogue had withdrawn the application weeks ago so that it is a non-issue.
What has remained of this is the fact that business in Westhampton Beach is evaporating and each Winter fewer and fewer businesses are able to remain open due to the lack of support from its government.
This winter, in addition to the lack of business, several robberies occurred and none of the crimes were ever solved. With a Mayor who was the former Chief of Police, there is also a serious question about his ability to protect its residents -- or, the tourists.

Laube wants to increase business and make Main Street a more viable place to shop. As the closest Hampton, considering the upward spiral of fuel, Westhampton Village is poised for a renaissance and should have leadership for the new century.
Teller wants to roll back the clock and allow more businesses to close and send the Jews packing. Forget the fact that Rabbi Schneier pushed for the Performing Arts Center and fostered the growth of family-oriented changes. Forget that the White House has an eruv. Forget that the utility poles are not public and are owned by Verizon. Forget that this is not a separation of church and state issue and makes the Village of Westhampton Beach look like a bunch of religious bigots and will lose in court if it is challenged – and forget that Mayor Teller voted for it despite his real feelings.

James Kametler, Teller’s Deputy Mayor, another former police officer, who is a trustee, wants to keep shooting his gun at animals in his backyard. He’s already been cited for discharging his weapon at a possum in his backyard and got the officer who was going to arrest him fired for making the report. Kametler shot the animal five times. Can you say “high on life” with a pistol? And, he’s so media savvy that he’s served a “cease and desist” order on a local blogger Dean Spier – someone who has criticized him severely. But, nothing compares to the anonymous reader comments to the Southampton Press website.
Tony-Jo Birk, a current trustee, wanted to help keep a local bar owned by Mayor Teller’s friend out of the line of sight of the East End Drug Task Force. So she and Teller visited D.A. Spota’s office together in order to get them to pull the detail out of Westhampton Beach Village for that reason. Drugs, what drugs?
The fact that a drug dealer was arrested last year selling at the Middle School by local police is one indication of the need for that Task Force.

Elyse Richman, a single mother who works hard and runs three small businesses in the Village, seems to be a threat to the two trustees she is challenging as well. Rather than allow a fair election, they managed to get her knocked off the ballot on an election law technicality.
To her credit she is running as a write-in candidate.
John Roland, the former T.V. anchor, whose wife is currently very ill, is also running against the entrenched anti-business crowd and is someone with a greater vision for this special little village.

As a final note on Hamptons politics, it is worth noting that Sally Pope, an attorney from Remsenburg, is running against Dan Russo, a former prosecutor and Republican appointment to the seat filled by Linda Kabot at the direction of the Republican Party. His moniker is “Puppy Eyes."
While Anna Throne-Holst, now controlled by the Republican thought machine had managed to take one of the seats as a Democrat, she quickly fit in. Apparently, according to sources, she and "Puppy Eyes" are an item -- keeping the Board fully Republican in more than spirit.
While Pope is challenging Russo, Andrea Schiavoni is challenging DeMayo for Justice of the Town Court.
DeMayo is known for his role in signing all of the unconstitutional search warrants that have targeted only Latinos in the Town – as well as landlords who don’t want to wind up in jail or bankruptcy court for simply renting a house to those brown people who he would rather see living in the woods with their children.