Aviation Comedy – Letter to the Editor, East Hampton Star, March 9, 2015

Dear David,

I am a community activist. For years, I have worked trying to solve the problem of noise caused by East Hampton Airport. Aviation interests find it intolerable that anyone should even imagine that their interest in flying when and where they please, or making money from those who do, might have to yield a bit to the natural desire of other people for the quiet enjoyment of their own homes.

For years they attacked me with an outright fabrication, claiming that my interest in protecting the community from the scourge of airport noise was because I owned “developable property” near the airport and stood to make money. You can read that stuff in your own letters pages. Never had any such land, still don’t.

These days, the blatant lying has given way to sly innuendo. Of my service as chairman of the East Hampton Town Board-appointed airport planning committee’s noise subcommittee, your competitor, The East Hampton Press, wrote a “news article” (yes, that needs to be in quotes) saying, “Mr. Gruber’s history of activism where the airport is concerned has left some raising questions about his motives.”

Gee, given my history of activism concerning the problem of airport noise, what would be my motives for serving on a public planning committee created to address the problem of airport noise other than activism about airport noise? In truth, the shoe is on the other foot. Should the fact that the Louchheims, who own The East Hampton Press, have interests at East Hampton Airport lead us to question their motives in publishing scurrilous attacks and innuendo in the guise of news?

The capacity of aviation interests for self-parody is seemingly boundless, as the Press article immediately proceeds to quote the former East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stan­zione. “ ‘Even to the fairest person, it’s problematic,’ Dominick Stanzione, former town board member and liaison to the airport, said of Mr. Gruber’s position on the committee. ‘[The Committee to Stop Airport Expansion] had a strong influence over airport operations, unfortunately, during my time on the board.’ ”

Really? This is the same Stanzione, the very epitome of probity and fairness, who while a councilman sent himself on an unauthorized and undisclosed trip to Washington to lobby the Federal Aviation Administration to issue the town another grant so that the town would never recover control over its own airport. Then he had the town’s aviation counsel hide his travel expenses in a legal bill. Might Mr. Stanzione’s covert, unauthorized lobbying against the interests of the people of East Hampton (followed by sticking them with the bill for it) lead someone to question his motives?

“Influence” is not really the word Stanzione is looking for. What he means is that I got in his way by calling the F.A.A.’s attention to the multiple falsehoods in the F.A.A. grant application that he had the town submit in the hope of extending F.A.A. control over the airport for another 20 years. No grant was issued.

Due to the expiration of the final F.A.A. grant agreement at the end of last year, the town has now recovered the power to regulate its own airport to control noise, something Mr. Stanzione apparently regrets. That might explain why the people of East Hampton showed him to the door in the last election.

As entertaining as this perpetual aviation self-parody can be, there is something deeper here that needs to be addressed. The point of the whole smear effort by the Louchheims in the guise of news isn’t really directed at me so much as at the process the East Hampton Town Board established a year ago to address the noise issue.

By design, the airport planning committee is composed of two subcommittees, an aviation subcommittee that consists entirely of people with aviation interests, and a noise subcommittee, that consists entirely of activists who have been leaders in community organizations working on the problem of airport noise. This structure was intended to ensure that the interests of both sides would be represented by those with the greatest interest in protecting them.

Being a community activist on the issue of noise was not a disqualification for serving on the noise subcommittee. It was the necessary qualification for serving on the noise subcommittee. When appointing the members, the town board took note of their organizational ties.

Likewise, the aviation subcommittee. For example, Cindy Herbst, owner of Sound Aviation, is on the aviation subcommittee. Bonnie Krupinski, owner of the other aviation business at the airport, also sits on the aviation subcommittee. Is this suspect? Of course not. Who better to represent the interests of airport business owners in the process of redressing airport noise than airport business owners themselves?

Rounding up the aviation comedy routine is Elliot Meisel, described in The Press as a member of the East Hampton Aviation Association. He is an aircraft owner. He too sits on the aviation subcommittee. Strangely, he thinks it is suspicious, hinting darkly that the issue of airport noise is “personal” with me. As opposed to what? Does he suspect that I am self-interested, as he is? Or is it suspicious that I am not self-interested, as he is?

The essence of the matter is this: People who never do anything other than out of greed and self-interest cannot imagine that there exist other people who do things not for their own benefit but to make the community they live in a better place. Hence they have to fantasize hidden self-interest where they cannot see any, even to the point of inventing property interests that never existed.

So here’s to you, Dominick, and to you, Elliot, and of course to the Louchheims and their ever-so-entertaining notions of journalistic ethics. As to your motives, nothing is left to the imagination.

Everyone with an interest should please attend the East Hampton Town Board hearing on its proposed airport noise legislation, today, March 12, 4:30 p.m., LTV Studios, Industrial Road. Democracy works best when people stand up publicly for their interests and join with others who share them.