Sunday, July 20, 2008

Turkeys Come Home to Roost

When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882)

Why are we surprised when politicians play politics? It's not like they are supposed to be real adults... they are, after all, politicians and don't have real jobs and aren't playing around with their money.

As the real estate market continues to tank, the Town of Southampton in its infinite wisdom is beginning to get the message that the gravy train has pulled to a sudden stop. There are signs that many properties will have dropped by 50% in value before the carnage is over. Recently, several developers have gone out of business, bailed out of land contracts or given properties back to lenders -- quietly. The statistics are sub Rosa but nonetheless real.
Less than six months ago, however, Linda Kabot the new Supervisor was naively clucking about the fact that there was more money in the last Community Preservation Fund paycheck than expected. It was a swan song.
Recently, after dipping into the Preservation fund illegally, in order to pay local Civil Service salaries and other expenses, the East Hampton Supervisor apparently uncovered the brutal reality of the local New Yorker/real estate economy. The cash from Wall Street and Manhattan, in particular, greases the wheels of the local economy. Everyone feeds off of this. Investment properties, summer homes, rental properties, all support the cost of the local government by way of transfer taxes, property taxes, real estate fees and a variety of fines.

Kabot's recent giddy statement, was dutifully printed by the Southampton Town Republican organ, The Southampton Press – despite the fact that signs abounded which clearly indicated that the local economy is not only not a speedboat heading for a joyride, but is beginning to look more like the Titanic grasping for a rubber duck.
If you know anyone in the mortgage business, real estate business, title business, or legal business – you know how bad it really is.
Summer rentals have been severely affected, sales on any properties over $500,000 are few and far between, gas prices are pushing $5 per gallon and food increases are serious. The combined affect of credit card and mortgage debt, Wall Street layoffs about to hit, and increases in fuel and food – will not really hit this economy in full force until the fall.
That’s when the cost of food and fuel for transportation and heating force people to make a choice. Should we eat, drive to work, heat the house or pay the mortgage? There are many people who haven’t had to turn on the heating system for 4 months now and who will not be able to afford all of those necessities. Of course, many New Yorkers will certainly have an easier time deciding whether to buy that second home or pay for the one they already have. Spending the weekends in Southampton becomes more doubtful when staying warm costs $1500 per month. Selling the house becomes another viable option when choosing between a second set of utilities and gas to get to the Hamptons.
The fiction that PR firms would have you believe, that the preponderance of vacation and investment homes in the Hamptons are owned by rich Wall Streeters, is little more than hype.

Despite the reality that we may have at least another two years of severe contraction to face as the banks fail and Wall Street dives, however, Hamptons politicians continue to play out a doomsday scenario. Civil Service employees so far are insulated from the necessary downsizing while fines and penalties continue to be levied against the very people who bring cash to the economy. And, the virulent racism against those who treat Latinos as human beings, continues.

It has been nearly two years since Skip Heaney announced in Suffolk Life, a pennysaver publication operated by Dave Wilmot, a right wing drunk who arrogantly dictated his version of Christian morality to its readers, that the Republican plan was to attack employers, business owners and landlords. Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a Republican in all but title has apparently rewarded Heaney for this with a job that ostensibly seeks to find affordable housing. It's nothing more than a payoff for his racist views which Levy shares.
Heaney's plan, with running mates Linda Kabot and Chris Nuzzi was always clear. In order to terrorize the Latinos out of town, they would put business owners out of business and criminalize landlords. The emotional and financial cost of supporting these people who were hated by many local residents -- would be made so onerous, that these underpaid Latino workers would be forced to leave. The Constitution be damned.

The plan worked. Aided by the Southampton Justice Court and search warrants issued by Judge Thomas DeMayo, Code Enforcement clowns would break in to homes at 5 a.m. looking for smoke detectors that had no batteries.
Many illegal AND legal workers left town. Not because of the discrimination, though. They left because the economy is sliding into a mild Depression – which leaves Mexico and Costa Rica looking like it has better fiscal management.

What also worked is that the organized efforts on the part of the Town Attorney’s Office, the Town Board, the Fire Marshal and Code Enforcement, the Town Investigator and the Supervisor herself – in conjunction with the Republican Party and local media (Southampton Press, and Suffolk Life).
All worked in tandem to force business owners and landlords to submit to the policy of institutional racism. It was no longer simply the anti-Semitic, anti-Gay and anti-Black policy that runs deeply through local politics. They had a new enemy: Latinos. People who were passive, worked hard, didn’t complain and were law-abiding. A perfect target, along with business owners and landlords. Since landlords simply own and rent property and rarely have any contact with tenants (brokers and management companies do) – and since business owners simply serve the customers who patronize them – the Town had perfect targets.

The Town Investigator (David Betts) was instructed to find out where the Latinos lived and which political enemies of the Republican administration had rental properties to target; Cheryl Kraft (Fire Marshal and head of Code Enforcement) sent her boys and girls to find housing violations; the Town Attorney’s Office (Michael Sendlenski, Joe Lombardo,) drew up the criminal complaints; and, the Justice Court (Tom DeMayo) issued search warrants.
And, they have all worked together to create targets. The Hamptons Bays Diner, for example, became a target simply for serving Latino customers. In response to queries as to why Code Enforcement Police blocked the entrance to the Diner with guns drawn to prevent Latino's from entering, Town Attorney Daniel Adams responded that claims of racism was "absurd."
Makes you wonder what law school he comes out of -- or, perhaps, what rock he crawled out from under.
As Jamie Lee Curtis says about Kevin Kline's character in "A Fish Called Wanda," -- calling him stupid would be an insult to stupid people.

Working in tandem, in Westhampton Beach, local businesses have been targeted by robberies that resemble the work of Nixon’s Plumbers. Heaney's hand, along with that of the Republican Party Chairman Marcus Stinchi and retired Code Enforcement police is palpable.
A close working relationship between Mayor Teller, a former cop, and Code Enforcement in the Town of Southampton is clearly emerging. Former top Code Enforcement employee, Steve Frano, for example, known as Code Enforcement One, himself a defendant in a Federal lawsuit for discriminatory behavior, is now a court officer in Westhampton Beach. Can you say, close knit Police State?

Local politicians are big on retaliation and silencing political criticism in the Hamptons.

Thousands of criminal summonses have been issued by Cheryl Kraft’s minions for minor, petty violations that exist in every house on the East End of Long Island. Only houses rented to or inhabited by Latinos have been hit.
This has been institutional racism and unconstitutional behavior at its worst and, unfortunately, for those who engaged in this little play -- the eventual cost to local taxpayer's will be high. The lawsuits are only just beginning.
The outside legal costs for the Town will start to skyrocket just as the income from those who have been targeted will diminish – rapidly. Property taxes, transfer taxes, development and purchases of local services and goods will plummet.

Just when local residents and tourists are deciding whether to eat, buy fuel and gas – or, pay their mortgage.