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September 26th, 2006

The Story Behind The Story: truth and The Hamptons press depends on whom you know

by D. Clark MacPherson

dune roadThe Village of Saltaire has re-opened the Pandora’s Box involving New York State election law and the right of property-owners to vote in local elections where they own houses. In previous issues of the SoHo Journal, there have been articles and how-to instructions for New Yorkers who wish to vote in Hamptons (or Fire Island) Village elections. While it is a pain in the ass to keep changing your “legal residence” from Manhattan to another county, in which there is a village election–then voting and changing residency and voter registration back to a New York address–it is perfectly legal. National elections are in November, Village elections are normally in June and primaries are in September. The real dilemma occurs if you want to have an impact on Town wide elections in the Hamptons since they are held at the same time as the general election. You simply have to make a choice as to where you will have the greatest impact. But this too should be changed. New York State election law is woefully inadequate to cope with true representative democracy.

In Saltaire, on Fire Island, this erupted into a bitter dispute and once again Geraldine Ferrara and her husband John Zaccaro are being attacked because they have simply been doing what is a typically done by many bi-county voters who pay property taxes in both locations. In Colorado, this issue went to the Federal courts and the right to vote in two locations was upheld. However, in the Colorado case it was the Village which first enacted legislation to allow property owners the right to vote in local elections–and was challenged by a resident. Don’t expect that sort of electoral cooperation in Fire Island or in the Hamptons. In Suffolk they like to criminalize everything.

The entire issue is NOT one which D.A. Spota should be investigating–or contemplating indicting anyone. He and the Suffolk County legislature should be working together to try to figure out how to make it easier for taxpayers–especially those who pay most of the bills in Suffolk County –to vote and obtain the legal right to choose who makes decisions with their tax money.

This is a hot political issue and is not a legal issue. It is also a moral and ethical issue. It was the basis for that Tea Party in Boston. And, it’s not going to go away.

  • Treewolf West, Suffolk County candidate for State Assembly in the 2nd A.D. is encountering unusual but not unexpected resistance in his contest against Fred Thiele, the incumbent. West garnered nearly 40 per cent of the vote in the last election against Thiele with no money and virtually no name recognition. This time around West has the support of the Integrity Party, Working Families and the Suffolk County Democratic Party–well, sort of. The resistance is not from voters. They clearly like him.As we have commented in the past, cross-endorsements have created a strange brand of political support in Suffolk. Democratic Party regulars, for example, are so used to supporting (cross-endorsing) Thiele that it is difficult to know what they will now do. Once in office (and he has done this numerous times) Thiele has betrayed the Democrats and reverted to true Republican colors. So, while West has garnered the “100%” support of the Democratic Party, he has gotten “advice” from regulars that he should accept some lower level patronage job and not run against Thiele.

    Such support from certain Democrats who, in reality, are old cross-endorsement allies of Thiele, show all of us that West is making a real dent in this race. Clearly, it is starting to worry party regulars that the old connections may no longer be working for them. The fact that Thiele is forced to spend money on this race where it was previously not necessary is another indication that West could pull off an upset. Stay tuned, rangers.

  • The Village of Sag Harbor has been feeling the heat lately. Local politicians have tired of traveling to Southampton for their day in Justice Court and have now decided to open their own. The Mayor and Trustees had a few discussions, agreed upon a modest budget and even picked a buddy they thought would be a most accommodating Judge. The only minor wrinkle was that the budget was slightly irrational, the proposed judge wasn’t a lawyer, and it was never put to a vote by the residents.Incidentally, in order to make sure that no one wrote negatively about any Village affairs, the Trustees also passed a law requiring companies to register publications that they distribute within the Village. It’s a little like censorship–since any publication that is distributed in Sag Harbor has to be reviewed and approved by the Trustees.

    Despite the fact that local newspapers like the Southampton Press did not originally pick up on either aspect of these stories brewing (our blog www.hamptonpolitics.com broke the story), the facts have leaked out. A local resident, attorney Patricia Weiss, filed an order to show cause and the Justice Court was temporarily halted–presumably until the matter is thoroughly reviewed. Of course, the unconstitutional local law 39 may prevent her from disseminating petitions (leaving them at people’s homes and shops) without the Village’s approval. Can you spell federal lawsuit?

  • The Village of Westhampton Beach has had its own little fiasco brewing: It appears that the effort at beautification of Main Street hit a little snag. All of those nice little red bricks that have just recently been installed are being replaced with asphalt and painted-on grid work that mimics the look of real ones. Apparently, they were not installed properly and people have tripped on them and sued the Village. At the competitive bid for the job the winner of the bid did not make the boys happy–so the specs were immediately changed and the “right” bid was then chosen for the job. There was only one bidder for the “revised” contract. All of this occurred on the same day. Seems like the new bid should be reviewed by, say, a Grand Jury?There are also rumors that Main Street is not happy. Whether it is a holdover from the last crew or a precursor of things to come, the Civil Servants have developed a reputation of being hostile towards business. Rumors of anti-Semitism and an anti-New Yorker attitude also persist (Jews are referred to in local code as “Canadians”). Main Street businesses report that there are constant visits by inspectors and police waving badges and carrying guns in restaurants during servings–and Code Enforcement Officers repeatedly issuing violations for picayune matters like sign infractions. With a large police force, no crime, and a new $10 million dollar Town Hall, there’s no surprise here.
  • The Easthampton Town Supervisor is getting tough on “illegal” houses. A long piece in The Independent purportedly reports on the efforts to “Out” homeowners who harbor immigrants and collect from $300 to $500 per room. Stories of a homeowner’s daughter hiding in a closet with a knife to protect herself from immigrant boarders and the exorbitant money that these homeowners are squirreling away by cheating the IRS are part of the Get tough policy.This new policy clearly has not been created to protect the IRS from tax cheats, nor is it crafted to protect the immigrants from substandard housing. It is simply racism and the local media supports it

    Its main purpose is to stop phone calls from a few neighbors whose real message is “We don’t want those people (Guatemalans, Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Dominicans, Columbians) livings next door, just get them out of here. We don’t care how you do it.”

    It is part of the same County/Town push by Heaney/Nuzzi/Kabot which they advertised in order to get elected–to find a cause that will sway gullible local voters back on to the conservative track by focusing upon Latinos who can’t find cheap housing (since the politicians have not provided it for anyone). Going after “illegals” while most politicians do not have the political talent to generate a plan to build affordable housing for local people – and while their own houses would not survive an inspection by the Code Enforcement Swat teams, is a cowards game.

    Politicians should loosen up the ridiculously tight rules that make multi-family development nearly impossible and prevents small hotels and motels from expanding or converting use to inexpensive condos or rental units. Unfortuately, they would rather keep the patronage system going where local attorneys that are well-connected share payoffs with Town officials, to prevent affordable housing. When was the last apartment house built in Easthampton or Southampton folks? How long does a condo development take from start to finish folks, 3 to 5 to 7 years? And, how many times has the plan had to be presented and presented again, and again. And, dear developer, how many payoffs have you had to fork over through the approved attorney? It’s a lot easier to evict Latinos and blame the housing shortage on greedy homeowners.

  • As an interesting side note to the events in Southampton Town, the SoHo Journal has done an investigation into “illegals” housing. Interestingly, the Justice Court has not made it easy to evict tenants who violate the occupancy laws currently on the books. One interesting case involves a single family house in Southampton rented by a woman known as Aracely Vilamarin DeCosta–who appears to have several aliases and who, for over a year, has proceeded to pack the residence with 10 to 15 subtenants claiming they are all her “family,” operating the expensive property like a boarding house. All the while, violating the existing occupancy laws. She reportedly paid by checks which have bounced higher than rubber balls (some from closed accounts), lied to the court about making these payments, and hired a local lawyer by the name of Melinda Rubin, from Hampton Bays, in order to keep her in the property. Obviously, the hotel business pays well when you stuff the boarders in. It took multiple courses of litigation to finally get a warrant of eviction and even then it was stayed by the court for additional months.The Heaney/Nuzzi/Kabot story about cleaning up the Town and restoring order and balance is just that-a story. There is no follow-up, little support for property owners and no logic in dealing with the problem of legal or illegal residents. It is only an election ploy. Don’t buy it. *

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