Saturday, December 13, 2008

Vince Cannuscio, Former Supervisor of the Town of Southampton Dies at 66

Cannuscio was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in August and died December 6. He served as Southampton Town Supervisor from 1995 through 2001. Those just happened to be exactly the years I was involved in local affairs as a good-government advocate, appearing frequently before his board. The two of us butted heads often. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a little transference wasn't going on (and I mean in both directions, mind you.)

As he prepared to leave office in 2001, Cannuscio let his hair down in an interview, which was published in the Holiday edition of The Improper Hamptonian. In addition to liberally peppering the piece with 'bullshits,' and 'hells,' Cannuscio vented his frustration at me:
IH: What's the hardest part about being supervisor?

VC: The hardest thing about holding political office is trying to do the right thing. You get people up there, some of the fiercest critics who treat you like dirt, treat you like you have ulterior motives, treat you like you're an absolute idiot. You know they are wrong but they keep hammering away and it wears at your psyche.

IH: If that's the case, how do you get out of bed in the morning?

VC: I have a clear conscience. I know I have tried my hardest every day. They are the minority. That's another thing, they get tremendous presence in The Press. Steve Welch is a guy who has gone over the line at times and made slanderous remarks. I did a search on how many letters to the editor (in The Press) he had written in a five-year period. He's written over 100 letters. He's a columnist. The guy who is agreeing to publish that letter does not know if that stuff is true or false. Some of that stuff should have given rise to some question by the editor and publisher whether they should have been published. It's hard for an elected official to challenge it. You have to get a lawyer. You have to pay the bill. In a way you are better off by forgetting about it and saying that it is part of the political give-and-take and freedom of speech. That is what I have done.
That's hard to read now, even excusing the level of methinks-he-doth-protest-too-much. I certainly didn't try to make him feel stupid. He was the one with the dulcet tones and the good hair. In my comments before the board I would often go forward, "on a wing and a prayer," since errant information could elicit a forced response. But in my writing I was very rigorous and precise.

I remember one time when we fought over a politically connected, but wanton bar use called the Boardy Barn, in his hometown hamlet of Hampton Bays. I told him it was giving the whole community a bad rap---if fact, it gave rise to a nickname: Hump Them Babes. Cannuscio jumped up, "you are foul, I've never heard that! Shame on you! You are Mr. Venom of Southampton Town!" (But he then went on record for the first time as opposing the use.)

I replied, "No shame on you, Mr. Cannuscio! To see young girls staggering along the highway with vomit in their hair and their skirts hiked up, waiting to be struck and killed! Shame on you!"

When I found out that the Boardy Barn yearly purchased a full-page ad in the Hampton Bays high-school annual, I wrote a damaging letter about it to the press. An informant told me later about an after-hours scene of drunken men pounding their fists rhythmically in unison on the bar while shouting, "Kill Him! Kill Him! Kill Him!"---all about little old me.

I have to thank Vince and Company for the tutorial those years provided. Like the episode when $5,000 out of a purported $100,000 changed hands, regarding a proposed cell phone tower, but the jury couldn't decide if it was a bribe solicited, or a payoff extended, thus absolving all involved of guilt. In 2002, Cannuscio founded Beacon Wireless, a company that develops cellular communications towers.

But I owe his personal assistant from those years, Linda Kabot, a public apology. She went on to be elected our current Southampton town supervisor. They say of her, "ask her the time and she'll tell you how to make a watch," which is not criticism coming from me.

Kabot was attending a fund raiser on a bay-side deck in Westhampton Beach on the night of July 17, 1996. Before her years working in government jobs, she was a semi-professional wedding photographer. This is how I put it in a letter to the editor at the time:
The Republican candidates for supervisor and Town Board are using a metaphor, “The Home Team,” in newspaper ads that seek voter support for their lockstep slate. In the weeks following the disaster at the World Trade Center, the Republican ads also included the phrase “United We Stand,” an evocation of the widespread feelings of patriotism sweeping the country. This is not the first time some Republicans have tried to capitalize on a national tragedy.

After the TWA Flight 800 disaster, Linda Kabot, candidate for Town Board, and her husband, Lance, sold a photograph, which Ms. Kabot took, to the television tabloid news show “Hard Copy,” purporting to show a missile coursing skyward. When relatives of the victims denounced the Kabot's as having “no heart,” they promised that proceeds from the sale would go to the Red Cross. To date, Ms. Kabot has not disclosed the details of that charitable gift.

Despite the intense criticism, three months later Ms. Kabot’s attorney “released” the photograph to the Sigma photo agency, where it was resold around the world. When asked then if she had received payment from Sigma, Ms. Kabot said, “That’s not something I would comment on.”

This opportunistic act is in keeping with both Ms. Kabot’s record and the record of her running mate Ann LaWall. Neither candidate has any conspicuous public record of volunteer, community service or pro bono work. Both Ms. LaWall and Ms. Kabot have been well paid as they gathered experience attending Town Board meetings—Ms. Kabot earned $50,000 this year as Vincent Cannuscio’s confidential secretary.

That a public servant like Ms. Kabot would chose to benefit from disaster speaks to her character and judgment. Ms. LaWall’s work over the years as advocate, lobbyist and Town Hall “facilitator” for business and special interests has never been in the public interest nor has it been given freely. In a recent debate, supervisor candidate Patrick “Skip” Heaney referred to Ms. Kabot and Ms. LaWall as his “tools.” Voters should remember to support individuals based on merit and not “tools” or “teams.”
Mr. Welch is a member of the Southampton Town Democratic Committee—Ed.

Can you hear my resentment at my unpaid status? But I could never have conceptualized that not only was she right, she was justified! That a missile, in fact, did course skyward, not only that but the story we were told about the jetliner, after exploding due to static electricity in the gas tank, broke apart, but continued to climb upward for 1000 feet or more, which is the official story, is simply a crock of total FBI bullshit.

Linda---I'm sorry to have been SO wrong. That funny letter that Vince wrote, which your husband signed, defending your honor, wasn't nearly strong enough in rebuttal. May I never say another thing with great assurance again for as long as I shall live! I'd offer to undergo le grande knot, but you know I'd enjoy it too much. Peace. Right makes might!


This is not going to please are empty at all! I think by tacking it on down here, at least I show a certain becoming modesty.

This article was a set-up hatchet job by the political reporter for The Southampton Press, Donna Giancontieri, who segued soon after from journalism into a role as the personal assistent to the replacement town supervisor. Her anonymous quotes about my being "un-informed" or "a liar" are at odds with her gushing depiction of how I did my research, professionally organizing so much information.

However, her agenda was spoiled by the chance superb color photograph which ran on page one below the fold. If I were to project an image intentionally, one at a photogenic poundage, with attached "meaning," I think this image sends the right signal. I haven't dared to post it until now, when it can hopefully serve a larger purpose with the passing of Vince Cannuscio. The moral? Vince was rather a dear man, but a complete fraud. A politician adept at facades behind which sat the true agenda, where he spent his energy, deceitfully robbing the body politic blind. Sorry Cannuscio family.

My follow-up letter was a paragon of diplomacy, as I tidied up the facts. Looking back, I must say, my work holds up very well. I hope that will hold true with my present endeavors. Because venom? They never saw VENOM like we see it now!

An email arrived yesterday. How self-centered the world is! Mike must not have dipped too deeply into StevenWarRanLand. It is so not about him. But I guess, all politics is local. He can rest assured though---I won't disparage his deceased father again. And I shall continue on with my wing and a prayer regardless. The truth is, the apple doesn't fall far from the Barn.
Mr. Welch:
When I began reading your blog post, I was hopeful that there would be a positive theme to it. Possibly a scenario where you and my father disagreed on many matters 10+ years ago but you made peace with one another after my dad left office and you both found a bit of respect for one another. That clearly was not the case with your post. The piece that you wrote is likely a testament to your character. When a man dies he is no longer able to defend his character. You chose to disparage my father's reputation and character one last time (hopefully) with no opportunity for a response from him. I have no idea who you are, however, I get a very clear impression of the type of person you are and how you live your life.
My father was a good, hardworking man who left this world 7 days ago with a wife, four children and eight grandchildren. At one stage of his life he chose to dedicate himself to public service. My dad enjoyed his service to the town. I wish that he was around to address your piece but sadly he is not. I don't know what prompted you to write your piece. I guess you saw your opportunity to have the last word in your one-sided battle with my dad.
If you intend to continue with your hobby of attacking public servants - both living and dead- I suggest that you improve (or start) your fact checking and refrain from publishing commentary "on a wing and a prayer."
Mike Cannuscio


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