Column: A silliness surplus, politically speaking

We in the news biz have come to call it “The Silly Season.” It’s the period of time that comes every other year between, say, Labor Day and Election Day, during local election campaigns.

That’s when reason, civility and logic are sometimes (or is it often?) put on the back burner for a month or two as candidates for local office vie for supremacy at the polls.

Even the big boys and girls do it, as evidenced by the recent incident in which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney ended up placing hands on opponent Rick Perry during a televised debate. It wasn’t quite a fistfight, but neither was it particularly presidential.

I was reminded of TSS this week as I read this headline on The Suffolk Times’ website: “Southold supervisor candidates clash at Saturday forum.” So, OK, upon closer reading perhaps it wasn’t as much a “clash” as the Romney-Perry touchy/feely incident, but Democratic candidate Bob Meguin did end up saying: “Obviously, I’m not here to be liked” after he and Republican incumbent Scott Russell engaged in a heated exchange relating to cellphone towers. (For full details click here)

Having covered local elections in Southold for some 34 years now, I have observed multiple examples of TSS. To wit:

• There was the time I wrote about a candidates debate in Greenport (so, yes, TSS, also can be applied to the first quarter of the year when municipal elections are held) and quoted candidate Paul Juliano as saying something like:

“The village has many problems, including crime and drugs and litter, and I hope to contribute to that.” Mr. Juliano probably knew what he was trying to say, but it didn’t come out right, and I knew it.

A more experienced reporter might have “cleaned up” the quote to reflect his real intentions, but I did not, realizing that he might be embarrassed when it was published in the paper. And he was (embarrassed) even more so when the quote was published by The New Yorker in one of those little ironic blurbs that sometimes run at the bottom of a page.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he lost the election and refused to speak to me until he left town several years later. (Another candidate for office in Greenport — who shall remain nameless because he still lives in town — has for decades actually walked across the street when he sees me coming because we had the audacity to endorse his opponent. That’s how Silly and personal it can get.)

• Or how about the time I was assigned to cover Southold Republican Party headquarters at the American Legion Hall in Southold in a year when we endorsed as many local Democrats as Republicans. (Remember, this was back in the day before candidates like Pell, Murphy and Wickham ever were elected, when the other paper, The Traveler-Watchman, actually would have Democrats pose on either end of group photos of candidates so their images could be cropped out prior to publication.)

As I was walking through the crowd that night, I came upon the wife of Republican councilman Larry Murdoch (sorry, I don’t remember her first name), who, when she recognized me, reflexively punched me in the arm with the vigor that only the wife of an unendorsed candidate can muster. It might not have been feely, but it certainly was touchy.

• Finally, Suffolk Times editor Tim Kelly has reminded me of the granddaddy of all Silly Season examples. It came in the politically pregnant year of 1993, when Southold Democrats endorsed the entire GOP slate, including then-Republican point man George Penny, in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the United Southold movement.

Like many of the antics that occur during The Silly Season, it did not work.

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