Political Cartoons Hit Home

Elephant and donkey joined at tails, board is butt . . . of jokes
Frustration with Springs housing issues prompted Carol Buda, a k a Board Watcher, to pen a series of cartoons. Carol Buda

    The East Hampton Town Board has become the butt of a series of political cartoons drawn by a local artist and regular participant in town meetings who has channeled her frustration with town officials onto paper.

    Carol Saxe Buda, a Springs resident who helped found a group called Springs Concerned Citizens, has penned and distributed eight cartoons by e-mail to a wide list of contacts, with more to come.

    At first signed with her name, and now signed “Board Watcher,” they target not only the overcrowded housing issues in Springs with which Ms. Buda is concerned, but also the behavior and interaction among members of the board.

    In one, all five board members are lampooned, with the caption, “Can you please stop fighting long enough to pass a law!”

    Board members, in several cartoons, are depicted at a dais like the one they sit at, under the East Hampton Town seal, during meetings at Town Hall. Rather than the actual seal, which depicts a scrap of map overlaid with a windmill and the Montauk Lighthouse, it shows the backsides of an elephant and a donkey, joined at the tails, with the words, “East Hampton Town Board: Bringing Up the Rear.”

    In an interview this week, Ms. Buda called the cartoons “one more way to try to stimulate discussion.”

    “A picture’s worth a thousand words,” she said. “You can say some things in a cartoon that you can’t come out and say.” Also, she suggested, cartoons are more likely to be passed around than, say, a copy of a letter to the editor, “and maybe reach an audience that we’re not reaching through letters or board meetings.”

    The cartoons were originally sent only to those on the Springs Concerned Citizens e-mail list, but Ms. Buda has become aware that they “have been percolating throughout the community. That was our hope,” she said. “This seems to have touched a nerve.”

    Poking fun is “equal opportunity,” the cartoonist said, and nonpartisan. “If I am on a team, I’m on Team Springs.”

    She also sends the send-ups to town board members, who have responded in different ways. Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, a former Disney employee who often cites his experience there, and has made financial management his hallmark, wrote back to her about one, Ms. Buda said, in which he was depicted wearing a Mickey Mouse hat and a nametag calling him Dollar Bill. “There’s sort of a double entendre there,” she said, politely declining to report just what Mr. Wilkinson had to say about it.

    Judging by his responses, Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc “has a sense of humor,” Ms. Buda said.

    “We’re not really trying to attack anybody,” she said. “We want to work with them, and we want them to work with each other.”

    Ms. Buda said she and her husband, David Buda, who often speaks at town board meetings, became involved in town matters some years ago after a previous board’s decision paved the way for neighbors to subdivide their land and create a new building lot, which the Budas charged was counter to several formally adopted town plans. They then became concerned with increasing instances of apparently illegal housing, often supplying the board with information and photos showing evidence, they said, of residences occupied by non-family groups, which is against the town code.

    “This is our only home,” Ms. Buda said. Overcrowding, and its impact not only on neighbors but on the school system and taxes, is “a major issue for retired people, for young families — it’s a survival issue. We’re really trying to protect our neighbors. And what’s going on is wrong.”

    “Every other town with these problems is acting aggressively to protect the people that live there.”

    A painter represented by several galleries, who has published two books, Ms. Buda is not a cartoonist per se, though she is working on a book of dog cartoons. “I’m developing a style, I guess,” she said. “Cartoons may look silly, and simple,” but, she said, professional cartoonists work carefully to compose them, weighing matters of emphasis, contrast, and the like.

    Some of her ideas have come from other board observers. The Mickey Mouse ears spoof, for instance, “was a brilliant concept, but it wasn’t mine . . . a lot of humor, I think, comes from frustration and unhappiness. There’s really a lot of frustration out there.” She did, however, come up with the Board Watcher version of the town seal, accusing the board of “leading from behind.”

     “Literally, that is what they are doing.”

    She thinks of her cartoons as “a little bit of a game — but it’s not a game. The stakes are really very high. And, thank goodness, this board is just full of material.”

In her cartoons, Carol Buda lampoons the East Hampton Town Board and its meetings. Carol Buda