December 31, 2023
To the Editor,
Reading Chris Reutershan’s recollections of East Hampton as it was back in the day in last week’s edition brought back memories for me, too. I moved here from upstate New York in 1960 and enrolled at what was then East Hampton’s St. Philomena’s Roman Catholic Elementary School that fall. It was renamed Most Holy Trinity in 1964 when it was discovered that, like so many other Catholic churches, its namesake was, in fact, not a saint at all. Chris and I were friends, fellow altar boys, and after-school travelers.
East Hampton was then a much smaller, simpler place. Where, for better or worse, most everyone knew one another. A safe place, where no one locked their cars or houses. Where kids roamed at will from end of school to dinnertime without parental direction or dictate. Where every shop on Main Street or Newtown was owned by a local family and provided all the basics you could want. That included seven diners and restaurants lining Main Street and Newtown including three — Speeds, the Marmador, and Rem and Mills — that were all owned by one extended family!
Simple as it was on the surface, East Hamptons had its undercurrents like any small town. Economically, we had a thin crust of upper-level white collar business owners. They frequented the same restaurants, attended the same cocktail parties, spent Sundays in the same pews, married and divorced among their own kind.
The majority here were hard-working, middle-class folks who farmed, banged nails, worked the shops and restaurants. My family held tight to the lowest rung of that portion of the economic ladder. My father was an itinerant schoolteacher who supplemented his $3,500-a-year salary with a series of rather bizarre summer jobs to try to make ends meet.
One year, he was roped into selling local folks freezer plans. Frozen foods were the rage of the early 1960s, so why not stock up in bulk, save money, and get a free freezer to boot? Sounds great until your first shipment arrives. For every item the family craves, like ice cream and ground beef, you get 30 pounds of frozen creamed spinach. It didn’t take long for folks to drop the plan and send my dad back in search of some other get-rich-quick scheme. I have no doubt dozens of those rusted-out freezers litter local landfills.
Romanticized as they may be today, Bonackers took up the bottom stratum of the economic landscape, keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table by doing what their ancestors had since the founding of East Hampton, working the bays, oceans, and ponds in good and bad weather for whatever the waters would yield. If they were poor no one was so inconsiderate as to say it to their faces.
Of course, we had a summer colony. But it was smaller, concentrated along Lee, Ocean, Lily Pond, and Georgica. It was also more aware of its place here. As an appendage to the year-round community, deferring the actual running of the town to those generations that preceded them. Some, like Mrs. Lorenzo Woodhouse, contributed mightily to the town’s cultural growth by gifting us Guild Hall, Clinton Academy, the local library, the Nature Trail. By and large, they arrived on Memorial Day, enjoyed their summertime here, and disappeared by Labor Day weekend.
Chris’s family was one of the few local clans that bridged the gap between the year-round and summer crowds. The Reutershan family roots went back generations here and they were pillars of the community. Chris’s dad, Robert, was a very prominent citizen. Owner of a successful local insurance firm, he also served on a number of local boards and committees. Going to a Catholic school, where we all dressed the same, masked for a while Chris’s more elevated position in local life. Two things tuned me in.
One February, he mentioned he was going out of town for two weeks on spring vacation. “Vacation”? Never having been on one, that was one clue. But the “where” is what got my attention: the Virgin Islands! As exotic a spot as my 12-year-old brain could conjure, it also meant he’d have to take a plane to get there. And not just any plane, a Boeing 707! Never having even smelt the exhaust of a jet engine I was mighty impressed by my friend’s plan to hit the glistening sands of St. Thomas while me and the rest of my buddies froze our bones off back in Bonac.
Then there was the Reutershan home. Chris mentioned it in his letter but didn’t give it its due. Located just off Ocean Road in a private patch of greenery, it was an old carriage house that had been remade into an absolutely beautiful home. A living room two stories tall, built of centuries-old wood and beams dominated by a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that flooded the home with light. Dark, polished wood framed bookshelves loaded with family memorabilia and classics. Well-worn leather sofas and couches sat on scattered rugs. It was a blend of casual and elegant the likes of which I had never seen.
Much of that setting must have been due to Chris’s mom, Nanci. An elegant woman, she had an eye for design and architecture that fitted the rapidly changing aesthetics of the early 1960s — skills that served her well later in life, when she became a real estate agent and home renovator. Those skills were needed when, on a dark night in October 1964, the Reustershans’ seemingly idyllic life was turned upside down.
Robert and Nanci had just finished dinner with friends at the then popular Amagansett Italian restaurant, Gordon’s. Crossing the darkened Main Street, they stopped midway for traffic, only to be hit by a passing car. Robert was killed. Nanci and her friends survived.
As a somewhat withdrawn 12-year-old, I was either too stupid or lacked the basic empathy to understand the devastation that must have caused Chris and his family. I honestly can’t remember reaching out to offer help or comfort. If it was expected, I didn’t know it. If it was something a friend should do, I guess I wasn’t a very good one.
Whether it was part of the overall plan prior to Robert’s death or a reaction to it, Chris left Most Holy Trinity soon thereafter to attend private school. Although we lost touch I know he’s prospered in both public and private finance. Not bad for a local boy, huh?
Much as his letter reminded me of him and those days, there are concrete remembrances of those times that trigger memories daily. His house on Ocean Avenue still stands as distinctive now as it was then. Amagansett’s Main Street was repainted after Robert’s death, replacing a thin double yellow line down the middle with a broad stripe to shelter pedestrians from traffic.
Perhaps most enduring, what was a grassy patch behind Main Street and Newtown Lane has become our main parking lot. In the center, a weathered brass plaque hangs on a boulder. It reads, “The Robert G. Reutershan Memorial Parking Lot.” It was a dream of his to see that grass become asphalt, and his death no doubt accelerated the process.
East Hampton is a collection of grace notes like that, scattered throughout the town over the centuries that collectively make it what it still is. Home. Perhaps not as close or communal as it once was, but if you look closely enough you’ll see the imprint so many like the Reutershans left to collectively create this still beautiful, still unique corner of the world.
January 5, 2024
Last week — Jan. 4, 2024 — the town board conducted a hearing to decide whether to exempt a proposed 22,000-square-foot, $32-million senior center project from zoning and planning review.
Allowing sitting politicians to elbow aside necessary independent review by their own appointed boards renders our neutral planning process impotent. East Hampton’s planning, zoning, and architectural board appointees have longer terms in office than elected politicians, specifically to prevent political pressure. They are not town board employees; they are not expected to follow orders.
Common sense suggests that our town board cannot unilaterally judge publicly funded projects which they themselves singly propose and openly support. Independent apolitical zoning and planning board review is the strong guardrail which protects our town. One-sided, narrow political control smashes through that guardrail with predictably dangerous results.
The town board has telegraphed its intentions for the senior center. All board actions necessary to precipitously launch their favored project were scheduled during the holidays, with public participation predictably limited. The sole public hearing on Dec. 7 was attended by just two residents.
At that hearing, the board repeatedly made misstatements concerning the project and review process; they claimed the project would be subject to ordinary local board review, and would not be exempt from that process. (Yet, back in June, the planning board had already been instructed that the town board would control the review, and would restrict the planning board to submitting comments only.)
Kathee Burke-Gonzalez publicly denied that the project required Zoning Board of Appeals review for any variances. In fact, it requires several, including setback, building and total coverage, parking, and gross square footage variances! The town board also asserted that New York State law classified the project as having few impacts and did not require coordinated review with local boards. In fact, this project is presumed likely to cause significant adverse impacts, and does require coordinated review.
Despite the many inaccurate statements, the hearing was closed.
In a surprise Dec. 19 work session that followed, the town board supervised a presentation explaining the process to exempt itself from the normal zoning and planning process. Inexplicably, the board communicated that the discussion was unrelated to the pending senior center review.
Yet, just two days later, the town board reversed course and scheduled a public hearing on short notice to consider a zoning exemption. This is the Jan. 4 meeting that drew only a handful of residents.
Months before the holiday meetings and hearings, and in the absence of any formal zoning, planning, or environmental review, the town board revealed its intention to proceed with the project. East Hampton Star articles dated Oct. 19, Nov. 30, and Dec. 21, 2023, reported town board announcements that project clearing would begin in January, 2024.
Town projects fail when they proceed without required planning and zoning review. A 2018 senior center proposal supervised by Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, at a cost of some $300,000, failed when it was belatedly discovered to be too large to fit the site.
Another project, a proposed cell tower installation in the Crandall/Norfolk Woodland, also championed by Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, failed when an available and more appropriate alternative location was disclosed, sparing the destruction of a cherished neighborhood woodland.
A proposed 7,500-square-foot Aquaculture Center on Gann Road in Springs, promoted by David Lys, board member, failed to consider sea level rise and neighborhood impacts and was abandoned when those issues came to light.
Finally, the Hither Hills State Park location for a wastewater treatment facility, widely announced without any zoning or planning review, was promptly rejected by the County Parks Commission.
This current huge and shockingly expensive taxpayer-funded project must be submitted to the same scrupulous independent planning process required for every other project.
To those who say we cannot afford the expense and delay of a full and fair review — I say, we cannot afford the expense and delay of omitting that review.
January 7, 2024
In March 1973, The Star’s E.T. Rattray penned of Henry Sierp, who at the time was secretary of the East Hampton Town Baymen’s Association: “He formed a human blockade with a band of teenagers across the front of Bay View Avenue and Lazy Point.” The problem? Wetlands.
This was so trucks and the bucket loader operator couldn’t take fill to the “100 percent wetlands” where the first of two homes that today have GeoCubes would be eventually built.
If the Town Board had more backbone in 1972 they should have purchased the land. As The Star put it, the board position was it could not buy every wetland parcel in sight. Inaction and excuses of leaders past create the issue of today.
What would someone like Everett think of these continued shenanigans now?
Worst Since DDT
January 3, 2024
At the end of 2023, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Birds and Bees Protection Act, which for the first time in the United States will regulate a class of pesticides that have been called the most environmentally destructive since DDT. This is very welcome news, and I extend thanks to the governor and to Assemblyman Fred Thiele, a co-sponsor of the bill.
New York’s new law will curtail the use of neonicotinoids, or neonics, a class of insecticides that has caused a drastic decline in populations of bees and other pollinators. These chemicals are highly persistent in the environment, harm birds and animals up the food chain, and have negative impacts on human health as well. Neonicotinoids are already banned in Europe and restricted in Canada. In 2023, the Environmental Protection Administration found that neonics are likely driving more than 200 species toward extinction. Let’s hope that New York’s law will provide a model for other states to follow.
New York’s farmers will be given time to adjust their pest control practices. Meanwhile, the local corn we all love may continue to grow from seeds that are treated with neonics. But that harms other local crops dependent on pollinators — pumpkins, apples, berries, and more.
In the future, we can enjoy the agricultural bounty of the East End without poisoning the environment, and ourselves, and our farmers can continue to prosper.
Don’t Do It
January 1, 2024
I want to commend Christopher Gangemi’s excellent reporting on dumping and litter hotspots in last week’s Star. You are performing an important community service by keeping a focus on this easily avoidable blight on our community. We’ve been Wainscott residents for 45 years and I recently began serving on the East Hampton Litter Action Committee. Also, as a member of the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee, I’ve organized litter pickups and the C.A.C. recently adopted a portion of Wainscott Northwest Road. It seems that as soon as we complete a pickup, the litter reappears. We all need to be vigilant to counter this trend and to remind our fellow residents and service people that littering and dumping are not okay. Don’t do it! And we can raise awareness by each of us picking up litter when we see it.
January 8, 2024
American drivers and homeowners have President Biden to thank for largely keeping a lid on oil prices in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That President Biden is responsible for high oil prices and, in turn, the price of gas at the pump has been a chorus from MAGA sycophants with their only focus on the highest gas prices they could find. They ignore the administration’s efforts and success. Reality actually paints a far different picture than MAGA would want America to believe.
Just a year ago oil analysts were predicting that the benchmark price of oil would surge past $100 per barrel. The reality — futures on a barrel of Brent crude finished the year trading at $77 per barrel. The cause for the price stability, and decline? Actions by the Biden Administration and U.S. oil companies that resulted in a surge of petroleum supplies.
After the Ukraine invasion, novel price-cap measures designed by the Biden Administration curbed Russia’s oil revenue while its oil continued to flow into Europe, keeping prices lower.
U.S. oil companies pumped more petroleum this year than ever before (a fact Mr. Trump refuses to accept), largely due to increased drilling efficiency. The numbers: U.S. crude oil production is expected to average 12.9 million barrels a day. This production increase blunted efforts by OPEC to push prices above $100 per barrel through production cuts.
The efforts by the Biden Administration are visible at gas pumps and in the prices of home-heating products. The average price for a gallon of gasoline has decreased by 8 cents a gallon since the beginning of the year, and the decline in gas prices has largely been steady since the Ukraine invasion.
Of course, global disruptions (like the Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea) may cause temporary price disruptions, but it is irresponsible to pin responsibility for oil and gas prices on President Biden. One need only look at the year-over-year record profits (in the billions of dollars) by the largest oil companies to see what is really at the heart of higher oil and gas prices.
So, in addition to all the other accomplishments of the Biden Administration, the stability of global oil prices should top the list.
And on top of that, President Biden has been leading efforts here to speed the transition to a fossil-fuel-free environment. For some, this can’t come fast enough, but don’t lay the blame for that at President Biden’s feet.
January 7, 2024
To the Editor,
I read Fran Levy’s touching and important article in “Guestwords,” “Behind the Trade Parade,” on Dec. 21.
She reminds us how easy it is to marginalize and demonize someone who appears to be “not like us.” Tragically, it has been the history of woman/mankind to be tribal and racist.
There isn’t enough room in this letter to list all the wars, from the beginning of human history, fought for many reasons, including the idea of getting rid of the other (to name just a few: the American Indian Wars from the time of the earliest colonial settlements in the 17th century, World War II, the Rwandan genocide, the Bosnian conflict’s “ethnic cleansing,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, and on and on and on).
The underlying psychology of “us and them,” the tendency to split the world into groups as we marginalize “the other” in favor of one’s own tribe, is as old as humanity. But that would be a bigger discussion for another time.
What if each of us thought about how, in our own way, we can reduce discrimination, tribalism, treating the “other” with hostility and fear, including understanding how “the stranger” we hide from ourselves and project out onto the other is dangerous.
Let’s make a New Year’s resolution to remember the African proverb “it takes a village” and start with ourselves. It is our only hope for man/womankind.
January 6, 2024
To the Editor,
We are simply bedazzled by the offering of pablum contained in last week’s “Guestwords” column (“Bad Chemistry” by Jeff Gewert).
While this is not a suitable spot to begin an exegesis on the Middle East situation, we will take the opportunity to disabuse your readership of some of the more flaccid assertions put forward by the writer.
First, Mr. Gewert extols Hamas as “democratically elected” and an “effective and popular steward.” He neglects to mention that they are also highly effective and committed terrorists dedicated to the elimination of Israel, as evidenced by their October massacre of 1,400 Israeli citizens including rapes, beheadings, and the burning of babies.
Mr. Gewert must be smoking some funny stuff because he goes on to note that Hamas will probably be a good peace partner because it “has long since softened its political rhetoric and revised its Charter in 2017.” One should not be fooled by the 2017 document that does not even recognize Israel’s right to exist. Hamas has continued to demonstrate its genocidal agenda aimed at the extermination of Jews and the destruction of the State of Israel. Funded by Iran, Hamas is a clear and present danger not only to Israel but to our interests. Prime Minister Netanyahu has properly committed to the extermination of Hamas.
Additionally, Mr. Gewert fails to mention that on at least five prior occasions Palestinian leadership has turned its back on a two-state solution, instead opting for the goal that seeks the elimination of the State of Israel.
Why should Israel accept a massacre of its citizens as a precondition for a renewed interest in a two-state solution? The question answers itself.
These are just two substantial errors made by the writer. The essay is filled with more missteps. He calls his piece “Bad Chemistry.” We think a better title would be “A Bad Understanding of History.”
East End Jews for Israel
January 8, 2024
It is disgusting what is happening on college campuses across the country, including my alma mater, Cornell, as well as in other venues, as so many people are demonstrating in support of Hamas and radical Palestinians. I have donated to the Cornell Annual Fund every year since my graduation in 1970. Given what is going on at this radicalized campus now, I can no longer donate. There are rampant pro-Palestinian, pro-Hamas protests going on endlessly. Students with opposing views are harassed and threatened, if not actually assaulted. An associate professor of history, Russell Rickford, said this in a speech after the Oct. 7 massacre in Isreal:
“Hamas has challenged the monopoly of violence. . . . Palestinians were able to breathe, they were able to breathe for the first time in years. It was exhilarating. It was energizing. And if they weren’t exhilarated by this challenge to the monopoly of violence, by this shifting of the balance of power, then they would not be human. I was exhilarated.”
There were large calls for his termination, but he was given only a one-semester leave of absence. I had been proud to tell people that I am a Cornell alumnus, but I am no longer so. There is rot in the student body, as well as the administration. I hope that this can somehow be changed for the better.
January 4, 2024
To the Editor:
I’ve read that East Hampton Town is planning to import goats to help get rid of 15-foot-high invasive shrubs and vines along the 40-acre oceanfront Benson Reserve in Montauk from May through October over the next 10 years. I think the following GOATs would attract the most extra tourists to the Hamptons for the coming decade: Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, Novak Djokovic, Willie Mays, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Phelps, Lionel Messi, and Simone Biles! Can anyone suggest a better list of (living) GOATS who might be willing to summer in the Hamptons for the next decade?
The Narrow Left
January 4, 2024
To the Editor,
What insight Neil Hausig has on Mr. Trump’s sexuality. What insight he has on American men and their sexuality. If you do not agree with Mr. Hausig, you are not a man. How narrow in view the left has become.
We Are Confused
January 8, 2024
To the Editor,
Mind fog or “mind ——” is a state of delusion and ignorance that stops normal brain functions and kills any sense of empathy, love, or contrition. For example, after volumes of evidence to the contrary during the past three years, 9 percent more Republican voters believe the election was stolen. Or, Republican presidential candidates Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis say, they will pardon Trump if he is convicted for treason, wrongful death, voter fraud, etc., etc., because none of these things are serious offenses. Yet, five grams of crack can get you five years in the clink.
How do we elect a president who doesn’t believe in the rule of law?
We are confused! We, somehow, believe that elected officials are immune to punishment. Rather than thinking that if someone runs for public office they give up the right to immunity. We add immunity to privilege and we establish a state of being impervious to prosecution. Which, despite our extraordinary value system, is an invitation to criminality and corruption. Eliminating the concept of fiduciary responsibility. See: George Santos, Bob Menendez, etc.
Mind fog is when the president of Harvard is forced to resign because of antisemitism on campus regarding the Israel–Palestine war. Three points that the fog makes disappear:
1) College students, even smart ones, are basically ignorant and unworldly. Their limited, cloistered lives only reinforce how little they know about the world. We pretend to take them seriously for invidious political purposes;
2) The hearings on antisemitism are obscenely disrespectful to Jews and to the American people. Jews are not all morons. They don’t believe for a second that Congress cares about antisemitism. There is a minuscule connection between it and the Gaza–Israel war. Anyone who has ever studied antisemitism knows that the conversation begins and ends with the Christian church — 1,700 years of hard work. One wonders if the church replaced “Thou shalt not kill” with “Thou shalt hate Jews”? So, enough fake antisemitism hearings.
3) The Gaza–Israel war is the insane failing of political men. Men too dumb and lazy to find other solutions. Men whose minds are so fogged that they believe in what they are doing. They are privileged idiots. To see them otherwise seems absurd. Henry Kissinger was a war criminal. Not a problem.
Mind fog is when dozens of states pass anti-L.G.B.T.Q. laws to persecute and limit rights that everyone else doesn’t have to think about. Like antisemitism and racism, the institutional homophobia lies just below the surface and needs only the slightest nudge to come raging into public view. Elected politicians supported by the church preach sanctimonious drivel that generates abuse and sometimes death. Laws relating to gender issues are red flags that scream homophobia. They are baseless tripe like the purveyors of heaven and hell.
The enactment of these laws lifts homophobia to a new frightening level. (Imagine if Florida passed a law that limited the rights of Jews or people of color?) It’s perhaps the best example of mind fog: the belief that’s what’s happening in plain view is undetectable.
So, we see our country caught up in the mind fog of political chicanery and hatred. What our politicians do best. They inflame and agitate to erase the pressure of their incompetence from public view. They deflect and obfuscate, camouflage and obscure what really matters with fake antisemitism and real homophobia.
The issue we need to deal with in Israel–Gaza, besides the idiocy of men, is the purveying of arms. The complicity and insanity of war that we’ve normalized and don’t question.
Stonewall happened in 1969. A lot has changed for the better in the past 54 years. The pushback against those changes begs the question: Are we all the same, or not?