Column: Meet Valerie Smith, candidate and ‘pioneer’

06/03/2017 5:30 AM |

One might think that by May 2017 no audio recording of a political candidate could be outrageous enough to leave me stunned. 

After all, it was only a handful of months ago, pardon the pun, that a recording was released of a major presidential candidate talking about grabbing women by the … you get the point.

And, of course, in my teenage years there was the taped phone call of a White House intern confiding in a “friend” about an affair she’d had with a sitting president.

So by now nothing should surprise me. But I still couldn’t believe my ears when I clicked “play” Friday on an audio recording, published by The Southampton Press, of a white Southampton Village Board candidate using a racial slur while describing to police a group of black men drinking outside her home.

If you haven’t read the story — which was later picked up by the New York Post and Daily News, among others — it’s quite the shocker.

The candidate, 53-year-old Valerie Smith, not only used the “N-word” in her phone call to police, but repeatedly defended her use of that word in an interview with a Press reporter. She offered no apology, spoke freely with the reporter for an extended period and sprinkled in a few more “n—–s” during the interview. She even appeared to weigh in on the story with a comment after it was published, further defending herself.

“After our talk this is the conversation you want to impart?” a commenter identifying herself as Ms. Smith asked the reporter on the Press website, 27east.com, the following morning.

I could only imagine what more newsworthy topics she might have discussed. Zoning? Drainage issues? Maybe a little SEQRA?

The story, like so many too-crazy-to-believe news articles of late, had me shaking my head throughout the holiday weekend.

For those who haven’t read the piece, Ms. Smith’s defense of her remarks centered on her childhood viewing of “All in the Family” and her familiarity with the comedic stylings of Eddie Murphy. Oh, and of course, she lives in a black neighborhood within Southampton Village, so you know, she’s down.

“Sorry — I live in a black neighborhood,” she allegedly told Press reporter Greg Wehner. “I came here and didn’t see color … when you are a pioneer, like I am, it’s not easy.”

Apparently, in her mind, Ms. Smith is both the Lewis and Clark of the black Hamptons, and she can use the “N-word” as necessary.

Ms. Smith also reportedly explained that most of the problems in her community don’t involve her neighbors, but rather are caused by elements trickling in from Flanders and Riverside. Apparently she can tell where they’re from just by lookin’ at ’em.

On Tuesday, I reached out to Press executive editor Joe Shaw, a friend, to ask him a little bit about how they reported the story.

It started with a tip from a source that such a recording existed. From there it was a race against the clock to get an authentic copy of the recording from a village official, something they secured through Freedom of Information laws. (Interesting side note for media nerds and FOIL junkies: Mr. Shaw noted that they were able to acquire the recording because Ms. Smith called the regular number for police and not 911. A particularly nonsensical state law prohibits the release of 911 recordings outside New York City.)

Mr. Shaw said it was important to him that the story be released some distance before the June 16 election.

“It’s not a story I would have felt comfortable running much closer to the election, honestly,” he wrote in an email. “But I think it’s definitely a valid story that should be part of the discussion of the village race, especially since there’s no question about its authenticity.”

To anyone who thought the Press report and all the follow-up from the regional and national media might have Ms. Smith second-guessing her run for office, how very 2015 of you.

This is the new ’merica, folks. A challenger facing a pair of incumbents, Ms. Smith might even think such exposure will bolster her chances of winning.

On Friday, the same day the Press report ran, Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte won a special election despite having been arrested earlier in the day for having body slammed a reporter. Unexpected results just might be the norm these days.

All that said, I’d be lying if I claimed I wasn’t waiting to see what might come out of Ms. Smith’s mouth next — no matter how repulsed I might be by it. The Press is sponsoring a village debate this coming Monday, so I might not have to wait long. (Suggested first question: What are your thoughts on immigration? Ms. Smith, you first.)

No matter what she says Monday, the issuance of an apology would be the only proper way for her to move forward. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for one, though.

Of course, there would be one other acceptable ending to this controversy: a big fat election defeat for Ms. Smith … followed by eternal silence.

The author is the executive editor of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected].

Editor’s note: This column was originally published in print Thursday. Ms. Smith has since met with neighbors and issued an apology on her Facebook page.

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