Saturday, October 08, 2005

Politics as usual?

I'm sorry it's been so long since my last post. Things have been hectic and I've been under the weather with a nasty cold and sore throat. Yuck!

The last two weeks have been a rather wild ride around our newsroom. Political intrigue, anonymous letters, even copies of emails that somebody evidently accessed without the owner's permission. Just another boring local election season in Riverhead.

The beginning of the present strange journey started with those anonymous mailers blasting the two incumbent councilwomen, mailers that everyone denied having anything to do with. Well, you know they had to come from somewhere, and somebody had to pay for them. And you can bet that whoever did isn't about to abide by the campaign finance laws and file a statement with the board of elections. Although the law requires the filing, no law requires the sender to identify himself, so the filing requirement is a joke.

The only tantalizing link to the anonymous sender was the return address on the mailers, a vacant condo in a fairly new complex here in Riverhead. Tax records showed the unit still in the name of the developer.

The developer told us the condo was sold and would be closing any day. Figuring the new owner would be moving in, I went back to the condo to try to talk to him or her — and see if there was any connection to the anonymous mailers. It was still empty, but that's when I saw a small "for sale" sign in a window. I called the number on the sign, and hit a jackpot of sorts. The guy trying to sell the condo, who told me he's owned it for about a year, was the graphic artist named in Tony Coates' email correspondence between Tony and others involved in the GOP campaign (including Republican committee treasurer Russ Kratoville and Ed Densieski's campaign manager, Tara McLaughlin. The artist, Christopher Carbone, admitted to me that he worked on the mailers at Tony's request, but said he didn't know who they were working for. He said he used his condo address because the post office won't accept the mailer without a return address.

Now, Tony still — incredibly — maintains he has no idea who did the mailers. He just "threw some ideas out there" and — poof! — they ended up on these 8 1/2 by 11-inch glossy pieces mailed to every registered Republican in Riverhead the day before the primary.

The GOP chairman and candidates Ed Densieski and John Dunleavy all insist — quite indignantly — that they knew nothing about this either. Yet Ed's paid campaign consultant and his campaign manager were involved in the development of these mailers (the emails show them discussing language, punctuation, etc.) and GOP treasurer Russ Kratoville was also aware of them, getting at least one email from Chris Carbone.

So, how do we believe all these denials? Personally, I can't.

And why did the condo developer try to help with the cover up by saying that the condo had just been sold? Did he have something to do with this?

Mailers like these cost a nice chunk of change— to produce and mail. Who financed them? Even though there are laws on the books requiring such expenditures to be disclosed, we'll of course never know, because whoever sent them is sure to ignore the laws.

Then there's Robert Woodson, who needed four days to come up with "an address." The one on his voter record and nominating petitions was long-vacant. Trying to get this answer out of Woodson involved me in the most bizarre conversations I've ever had in my life. Refusing to answer my question about where he lives, he calls a press conference to announce his address and complain that The News-Review attacked his "patriotism" for asking him where he lived! At the press conference he says he lived at the vacant Aquebogue address until July. So we go to the Board of Elections to look at the nominating petitions he filed, and find that he's listed — hand written — the same address on his petitions all through the month of August! So the man signed the legal equivalent of an affidavit, lying about his residence.

I've had several people call me to tell me that Woodson has actually been living in Coram for years. I even have an address in Coram.

The Riverhead Conservative & Republican parties have political motives to want Woodson on the ballot. I guess their reasoning was he would have been likely to draw votes from a traditional Democratic base, the African American community. But how could the Conservatives stand with this candidate after it's pretty clear he doesn't live in town? And, by his own admisson, he filed false statements on his nominating petitions?

I'm disturbed that a reporter for another local paper was so willing to accept Woodson's allegation that he rented a room in the Aquebogue house from "a former owner" who, he said, was the owner until July. Real estate records are public documents. The person named as an "owner" by Woodson never held title to that house. The current owner, a corporation whose principal I located and interviewed last week, has owned the house since Sept. 2004. He never heard of Woodson. The prior owner lived in the house for several months after she sold it last fall, and she too said Robert Woodson never lived there. The house has been vacant since she moved out, the current owner said. How could you print a report stating that the house was owned by someone without checking into it? That's not responsible journalism.

Given what we've seen so far, it's safe to say the rest of this campaign is going to be nothing if not interesting.

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