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The Mast-Head: A Pink Flamingo

Thu, 06/06/2024 - 10:57

It is a sign of a cynical age that, that upon hearing about a flamingo in Georgica Pond, so many among us thought first that it must have escaped from some billionaire's menagerie. No reports of a large, pink bird going missing have been filed with police, so far as we know. Nonetheless, the online commentariat remains highly suspicious, inured as it is to the foibles of the ultrarich.

Over the past 20 years, I have come to think that there is a distinct proprietary protectiveness of the very wealthy among us. It is as if an unspoken contract exists, in which, if I don't speak about your billionaire, celebrity, run-of-the-mill powerful person, you won't speak about mine. 

An example comes to mind from quite a while ago, when a deer fell into the director Steven Spielberg's generator enclosure at his Georgica property. The creature was alive and kicking, and the fire department arrived quickly to help pull it out. Yet, though we all knew, no one would speak Mr. Spielberg's name. I took that reticence as proof of an ingrained anxiety, that if we upset the oligarchs collectively, they might fly the coop and leave East Hampton a poor backwater.

There is ample evidence that the effort to limit noisy flights using the East Hampton Town Airport is held back by a similar impulse. Cut off the jets or the helicopters, the South Fork service industry says, and "They'll go someplace else!" 

Of course, the double standard is not just about fat landscape maintenance contracts; it also reflects the reality that the very, very rich can lawyer down the most well-meaning local governments. Indeed, one of the most cynical angles that the airport interests cite is the amount of money that the town spends to fight them. Hint to the helicopter operators and others: If the public spending were really a concern of yours, you could try to reach a negotiated settlement without taking the town's every sniffle to court.

I am reminded, too, of an unauthorized 2019 legal settlement involving the then-town attorney, the then-supervisor, and the present billionaire owner of a growing set of Montauk resort properties. When an improper agreement became public, the supervisor got red in the face and loudly defended the town attorney, who resigned shortly thereafter. Amid the legal wrangles that followed, a cozy, if tacky, email relationship among several town officials and the billionaire was revealed. 

Unfortunately, the Georgica Pond flamingo isn't talking, so we may never know if it alighted here of its own accord or not. There are plenty of people around East Hampton who seem sure they know, nonetheless.

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