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May 9th, 2008

RUMORS & LIES: FAIR AND BALANCED IN THE HAMPTONS.

by Jack Torrance

Politics is the skilled use of blunt objects. Lester B. Pearson (1897 – 1972)

Two years after this magazine warned of the impending foreclosures that were going to happen, the Southampton Press has finally picked up on it.

Brokers still lie to customers but the protests about just exactly how weak the Hamptons real estate market is have evaporated. Brokers are still using the same routine in Manhattan–but that too will stop by year’s end. While oceanfront homes on Dune Road in Quogue have held their value, it will only take the folding of another major investment bank on Wall Street like Bear, Sterns to change that. For the multi-million dollar crowd in certain restricted areas like East Hampton or Southampton Village along Dune Road, the game is still active. Nothing is sacred beyond that. Builders have walked on land contracts, million dollar houses are in foreclosure and politicians are already dipping their fingers into sacrosanct tax coffers–including the Community Preservation Fund–in order to pay civil service salaries. Fred Thiele, the Assembly member who introduced the concept for the purpose of saving open land is now calling for an audit of the Fund. He’s long overdue. That fund has been used to buy political patronage since it was introduced. Now, it’s just being used to pay bills.

With California in deep financial trouble, New York State under water, New York City so far behind in tax receipts that the deficit is expected to top from six to twelve billion dollars in the next couple of years–will the Hamptons be far behind? Look for the Town to increase taxes and hit property owners with any and every method they can think of to pay for the bloated local government. And that includes any kind of fines or violations that they can engineer at the expense of New Yorkers.

Also look for a continuing trend in the Town of Southampton to target New York investors with the new rental law. Huge fines can be imposed when warrants are used to search houses for violations and criminal summonses are issued for even minor violations, like missing batteries in smoke detectors. This is known as a “long con.” Keep in mind that local VOTERS do not face the same scrutiny and this is nothing more than a ploy to generate income for the Town on the backs of non-resident property owners who cannot vote in local elections.

That brings us to a recent media circus, which was planned by the Town over its continuing anti-Latino immigration witch-hunt. The new game is to target local employers, landlords and investors who in any way treat Latinos as if they were human beings. It’s the Minutemen, D.A.R. and Gestapo, all rolled into one. And the local press does what it’s told. The only thing missing is the Lederhosen and yodeling.

Of course, the publicity machine of the local government (which is run by the Republican Party) works with the Code Enforcement officers under Fire Marshal Cheryl Kraft. They are euphemistically known as the “rubber gun squad,” and are about as subtle as Senator Craig trying to meet a new friend. Hamptons Republicans seem to hail from that same Reichstag School of diplomacy. While Marcus Stinchi, the Republican Party Chairman, has been seen using illegal immigrants to plant election signs, this in no way affects their anti-Latino public sentiment.

The Southampton Press and an online “news” publication called Hamptons.com both reported on a recent Code Enforcement operation which followed a warrant-search with guns and badges at 5 a.m. to roust Latino immigrants in the North Sea area of Southampton–a working class area that has never really prospered. During the real estate bubble, it was overbuilt.

The Town provided the reporters with information and briefed them on what was about to happen. Of course, the property management company had already resolved the problems for the landlords when it became clear that there were some problems. However, no notices, in fact, had ever been given by the Town. A few tenants, who had improperly occupied the properties without landlord permission, had assumed control from the original tenants and had turned the properties into rooming houses. These “operators” were making a small fortune off of the immigrants that they brought in without the knowledge of the owners or the managers and they could not easily be gotten out.

With the help of the church, the properties were cleaned up and the landlord’s management company helped them move – since the Justice Court takes many months to act. While the local judges make $60,000 a year they only work one week per month and evictions are difficult and time-consuming through Justice Court – as even Code Enforcement realized. In this case the property owners and management solved the problem legally and expeditiously when it became known.

Meanwhile, Hamptons.com reporter Andrea Aurichio, (who is a real estate agent in her real job) and Brian Bossetta of the Southampton Press, were still running around with their cameras and press kits, ready to dutifully report on an eviction that was about to happen. Of course, there was no eviction because the Justice Court is too slow. This was to be a show of force, which would terrorize the tenants into leaving.

The entire entourage arrived together — and the houses were vacant. Not to be denied a scoop, both reporters dutifully reported that the Town evicted the tenants and that Dan Russo (who claimed to have worked with the church) and Anna Throne-Holst, both Town Board members (obviously unaware of the truth) congratulated Code Enforcement officers and Town employees for a job well done. For doing nothing.

Here we have Journalism and Politics–Hamptons-style.

The postscript to this little dog and pony show is the fact that Aurichio is touted as a former New York Times reporter. Hamptons. com fails to mention that this was 25 years ago and that she wrote for their Lifestyle section. Investigative reporting, this was not. The Gray Lady hasn’t had so much fun since Howell Raines and Jayson Blair were handling the “news.” At least it was the Washington sniper story that brought Blair down, not a phony eviction in the Hamptons.

The Southampton Press makes no claims about its reporter. The lack of fact checking and accuracy speaks for itself for either of the two “news” organizations. Both the Press and Hamptons.com follow the local government’s Party line – in order to keep advertisers.

Of course, as the Town pursues the plan announced by “Skip” Heaney, Linda Kabot and Chris Nuzzi in a political ad that appeared in Suffolk Life about two years ago, most of what appears in the current local media is simply for show.

What has been going on behind closed doors in Town Hall and in Justice Court is the successful criminalizing of landlords–as if any landlord can control what tenants do (whether they are in this country legally or not) and how they protect and care for property. This is simply a plan to force Latino immigrants out of Town. This is High Noon and the gunslingers are out in full force.

Joe Lombardo, the Town Attorney, and his underling, Michael Sendlenski run this dog and pony show–attempting to extort as much money as possible from landlords once Code Enforcement has fulfilled its breaking and entering plan. Lombardo and Sendlenski are described as two mediocre legal intellects with the power of the prosecutor and a racist agenda, engaged in an adolescent contest, entering the Men’s Room together with tape measure in tow. Every morning, it is rumored, even before the Justice Court opens, Judge DeMayo from Hampton Bays signs a stack of warrants to search houses at 5a.m. where Latinos live. This is America? It is now. And everyone should be ashamed.

Filed Under: Articles | Commentary | Community | Politics | the Hamptons

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