2001-11-10 / Columnists

On The Beach… With Beverly Baxter


   All I can say is that I am so glad that the political season is over. As I write this column it is Tuesday evening and the final results are still not in. A part of me wants to wait until the final votes are tallied, especially for the City Council race; however, why play it safe! In fact, I deliberately chose to not run a cheerleading column for a particular candidate in last week's final paper before the election; and instead, opted for a piece about the wonderful Knights of Columbus Benefit. Besides, by now, everybody knows whom I have chosen to publicly endorse, and that was
John Baxter, of course! I felt that what I have to say now would have more credibility if I waited until after the election and I assure you it's still
too early at this hour to tell who won.
   With all that said, now let me tell you about the "Great Debate" and how it came to be. First of all, although I have always loved the "sport" and contest of a campaign, I had no intention of becoming involved in this one, except in a peripheral way. I had decided that when John Baxter decided he would enter into the race and run on the Independence line, I would use my "real estate" in The Wave on his behalf. I never guised it in any other way.

It was not until the R.B.C.A. hosted their debate and decided to exclude Baxter and Curran, the two Rockaway candidates, that I became incensed and galvanized into action. The notion of such appalling unfairness toward our two LOCAL candidates was enough to set me in motion. My initial intention was to provide a forum where Robert and John could be heard. It was of no importance to me whether either had a "chance"; but rather, since both had earned their place on the ballot, it was tantamount  that they be given an opportunity to fairly compete. It was out of this sense and spirit of equitable fairness that the debate came to be.
   I called and enlisted the assistance of The Wave, and then I called upon each of the candidates. Although candidates are rarely ever given their
choice of panelists, I decided that, out of this same spirit of fairness, I would offer them the courtesy and ask each whom they'd prefer. I immediately called John McLoughlin, whom I had always regarded as a personal friend,
colleague, and fellow Republican. I was certain that he would clearly be Joann Ariola's choice. He was certainly mine. I've known John for about eight years. Our lives have crossed paths on several occasions. When he left The Wave after its Publisher Leon Locke passed, I presumed it was to pursue greener pastures and advance his career. An opportunity had presented itself where he was able to buy into and be a partner of a mainland paper. Although I would miss his presence at The Wave very much, I wished him well.  We maintained our friendship; and after he had endured a horrendous year personally, I decided to nominate to honor him as Deputy Grand Marshal in our parade last year. I wrote a full-page profile on him. Genuine friends write genuine things about their friends. John's record of involvement and accomplishment in the community speaks for itself and he was deserving of the honor. So, I called upon my friend to invite him to sit on the panel on behalf of Joann Ariola. He was more than willing and generous with his assistance.
   I then called upon Joe Addabbo to ask if he had any preference in a panelist. His response was immediate, "Beverly, I appreciate you asking me; but I will leave it up to you." Even though he hadn't any preference and seemed to trust my judgment, I still operated from a spirit of fairness and called some of his known supporters. Dan Tubridy had another engagement that night, Sandy Doremus was recovering from knee surgery, and Dan Mundy never did get back to me. C'est la vie! I tried. I then asked another friend of mine, Joanie George to participate on behalf of Rob Curran.  And then there was me, acting on behalf of John. Ready, set,.....but no go. Wave Managing Editor Howie Schwach called me and said that The Wave would not sponsor a debate if John McLoughlin were on the panel. They cited a conflict of interest since he is the Editor of a competitor Newspaper. All of a sudden all my efforts began to unravel. I soon found myself in the midst of an out of control political spin. I felt like the mother of eight boys who are bashing and beating each other up. Trying to mediate, I was stuck in the
middle and I was about to get hit.
   I had to call my friend McLoughlin and tell him he couldn't be on the panel, I cited the reasons why (whether I agreed with them or not), and asked that he ask Joann to choose another panelist. I relentlessly called Joann for the name of her choice, but she wouldn't return my calls. Finally, after several calls to McLoughlin, she called and I explained to her The Wave's position and again, I invited her to choose another panelist. I asked for Eddie O'Hare from Broad Channel or Mary Lenihan from Belle Harbor. It could be ANYONE other than John McLoughlin as per The Wave. Over the past couple of weeks, I had even seen Ed O'Hare with Joann and I personally asked him to be on the panel. He just smiled that adorable smile of his, but said nothing in effect. I soon after received word that Joann herself might renege on her decision to participate if she couldn't have McLoughlin. I spoke with Pat Adams, Publisher of The Forum, who told me that Joann's operatives are so
angry that she can't have the panelist of her choice and they may decide she
ought not attend the debate. I graciously told Pat that if Joann were my candidate, I would advise her to "turn the page", move on with what's in HER best interest, and simply choose another panelist. Otherwise, if Joann did not attend, then the result would be that she would be a casualty of the debate. I didn't want to see that. I wanted her there and I was willing to accommodate her in any way to ensure that end. Everything was in place.

The panelists were to meet to discuss the format; however, as of the Saturday before Monday's debate, I still neither knew the name of her panelist, nor whether the candidate herself would even show. It was not until she walked in the door at 8 pm the night of the debate did I know for sure.

Even at that point, I gave her the opportunity to put a panelist on. And
then I realized what was really going on.

It had occurred to me throughout the tenuous task of getting Ariola to the debate that she and her operatives were grasping for an excuse to not attend. And I could understand why. She had complained that regardless of her performance, she would not get fair coverage from Howie Schwach, whom she felt was clearly supporting Addaboo. Also, with John Baxter participating, you never know what he will say. Although I have always remarked that Joann is extremely savvy, has an intricate understanding of the issues, and is not easily rattled, perhaps she felt there was potential for embarrassment.

Although John is brilliant and does his research, even I have a tendency to cringe when I'm not sure where he's going. No, none of this would faze the seasoned Ariola. There was something else... On the morning of the debate, Joann called me with some concerns. She asked that I fax to her a copy of the format. I had no problem with her request. She had a right to know. Then she called me back at my office and asked for the phone number and contact name at the League of Women Voters.

She stated that she wanted to confirm their involvement. I was eager to
accommodate her and understood her measure. However, at 3:30 that afternoon I received a call from the League of Women Voters stating that Ms. Ariola had made a complaint against me. She stated that she was not allowed her choice of panelist and she cited that there may be a conflict of interest with my presence on the panel since I was related to one of the candidates, (whom I have been overtly in support of. Come now, Joann, you know how families work!). I explained to the League representative that I indeed share the same last name as one of the candidates; and although Ms. Ariola had known this all along and it hadn't been an issue with her up until then, I would still offer to recuse myself from the panel if it would ensure her presence at the debate...just hours away!
   It became crystal clear. Joann, for some reason, wanted an out. She wanted a reason to not attend and she was about to pin that reason on me!

There was no way I'd let her. I suppose she anticipated that after all the
work I'd done, and after all she put me through to accommodate her, she was perhaps certain I'd dig in my heels and refuse to recuse myself from the panel. I can only imagine her shock when I agreed to yet another of her demands. You see, this was never about me. It was about my determination to host a fair debate for all the candidates. The debate would take place whether I sat on the panel, or in the audience, or made the opening remarks.

Neither was this personal between Joann and I as we have always enjoyed a cordial relationship whenever we have seen each other. I've been to her home several times. She even announced her candidacy for this race in my column as early as the spring of 1999. No, I knew this wasn't about she and I. Now, I'll "speak up" and heed Mr. Dennis Hazel's advise in last week's Bag of Mail and I'll tell you what this was REALLY all about......
   It was about money, profit, power, revenge, and intimidation. All the things you learn in the hood. There was nothing "polite" about this political season.

There was nothing seasoned about the height of bad behavior displayed and with an attempt at compromising my integrity and honorable intent. Call me perhaps naive, (I mean, if you told me Saint Thomas was over the bridge, I'd actually be foolish enough to eventually believe it and run to him), but please, for your own sake, don't ever say I'm unfair.

Once I understand the game being played, or rather, that I am the game being played, I can become a fierce and willful competitor. There were two campaigns going on here. One was the race for City Council. The other was a campaign between two newspapers. It was decided by the hosting entity, The Wave, that there'd be a conflict of interest if McLoughlin was on the panel.

Of his own admission, he is suing The Wave. Although I pitched for John's presence, I don't tell a company I don't own how to run its business. If John was truly acting in the best interest of his candidate and friend, he would have advised her to choose anyone else. It was if Joann became a useful tool to ensure the success of the Forum Newspaper as it comes to Rockaway. That's what this was about.  Community newspapers have a responsibility to decide whether they are in fact in the paper business or they are in the candidate-making business. There's a clear line of distinction.

It goes to the core of credibility and that line should never be compromised or blurred. That's what happened here and that's what this IS all about.

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