Category Archives: A Rye Oldtimer


Column: Rye over 50 years ago

Fifty-plus years ago there was no Rye City Hall, only a gas station on that side of the Village Green. Most city departments except police and fire were run out of the Square House. To say that our venerable 18th century treasure was under strain would be a huge understatement.

The city council also met at the Square House in those days. Seated at the council table with the mayor and six members was Rye’s elected supervisor, a member of the County Board of Supervisors. There were no county legis-lators then.

In those days, there were more small or medium-sized homes in Rye than there are today; so many of them have been torn down to make room for much larger homes. One house to be built is supposed to have at least 10 family bedrooms, according to its drawings.

Where there is now a short street called Forest Cove, there used to be vacant land known as the Ford Estate. Marble Hall, a ladies’ spa, stood behind the high brick wall that still bars passers-by from peering into the homes that replaced the hall. There was no Martin Butler Court then, since Marty was still living.

Marty Butler’s brother Tom and I were the first people elected to the city council on the Democratic ticket. The only problem I recall us having was when the mayor declared that some of our cost-saving proposals were nothing but “cheese-paring.” Since then, other Democrats have been elected to the council and to the mayor’s office.

The office of city manager has gone through many twists and turns in the past 50-plus years. Continuity has been provided as needed by the presence in town of former City Manager Frank Culross. We hope the newly installed manager will have a productive and satisfying experi-ence here.

Fifty-plus years ago, there was no Rye Marina, only an island called Sedge, added to over many decades by silt flowing down Blind Brook from points upstream. The island had to be dredged out to make way for the present floats and piles. On the shore where Milton Harbor House now stands, there was the William Edgar John Shipyard, where craft for the Navy had been built during World War II.

Fifty-plus years ago, there was no official observance of the Fourth of July like there is today. Labor Day was well-observed with the traditional William H. Ball Memorial Field Day, held from the 1920s until the late 1970s. Now there is Summerfest, run by Leaders of Tomorrow, to provide “fun for kids of all ages.”



Column: Pluto or Iran: which is harder to reach?

From the Wright brothers’ flight a few feet off the ground 112 years ago to a three-billion mile journey through space, and from a threatening nuclear standoff to a promised 15-year-long reprieve, which is the greater accomplishment?

The Pluto fly-by required enormous physical power controlled by huge amounts of software. The Iran deal called for the ultimate in persistent bargaining skills and support at the highest levels of U.S. executive and legislative branches.

Now we are at a stage where pundits come forth to proclaim their views. Two of whom, put forward by the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations on its website, are Elliott Abrams and Micah Zenko.

Abrams, a conservative stalwart of long standing, published his views in National Review, the magazine founded by my late friend William F. Buckley Jr. Abrams declared that “the structure of sanctions that took decades to build has been destroyed, but there is no end to the Iranian nuclear program. There has been a fundamental shift in U.S. policy toward Iran despite its actions and the nature of its regime.”

Zenko takes a much more optimistic stance in Foreign Policy: “U.S. defense planners were one of the biggest winners of the Iran nuclear deal. The concepts, informal arrangements, and detailed plans that go into defense planning would have all been vastly more difficult, costly and risky if the deal had failed, bringing with it the greater possibility that Iran would eventually possess a nuclear weapon and a reliable delivery system. Now, however, it is vastly less likely that Iran will have the bomb.”

On Monday, July 20, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved the agreement with Iran, which had already been supported by the council’s five permanent members—the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and the United States—together with Germany. The council’s action was taken despite complaints that U.S. congressional approval should come first. Congress has several months to express itself before the Security Council’s approval becomes final.

Also early this past week, 48 countries met in Paris to discuss greenhouse gas emissions, in preparation for a final meeting near the end of the year where the objective will be to reach a binding agreement specifying how much each country must reduce its output in order to limit climate change.



Column: Getting elected to the Rye City Council

I spoke with a person the other day who is not on the council now but is running for a seat. We touched on what you have to do as a non-incumbent candidate. The list is quite long for a small-town political race.

My vantage point is having been elected a council member or mayor four times. Nevermind how many times I ran and lost, though you learn a lot when you lose, maybe even more than when you win.

I suggested the candidate prepare a schedule of doorbell-ringing commitments, so that the percentage of Rye’s thousands of homes to be visited by November can be calculated in advance and its sufficiency assessed. Doorbell ringing is hard work, but Rye is small enough so it is feasible, and it is therefore essential.

Key appointments to be made early on are a campaign manager, a treasurer and a public relations manager. There should also be a general campaign committee with lots of old friends to help raise money and spread the word among their own friends and neighbors. Some of these appointments can be made jointly by two or more candidates or by a political party organization.

We used to believe that $5,000 would suffice for financing a local campaign, but I imagine several times that is needed now. Even if all workers are unpaid, there are newspaper ads to be bought, pamphlets to be printed and mailed and other unavoidable costs. If you are thinking about buying local TV time, forget it—not for sale. But you could pay a local TV producer to create shows about yourself, which might be approved for airing despite the taint of money.

Candidates, just like incumbent council members, should arrange to be interviewed. They could consult Nicole Levitsky, the Rye TV access coordinator, 967-7242, or Joel Louis-Ferdinand, production coordinator, 967-9106, to find out which volunteer interviewer/producers might be available.

The treasurer must be diligent, conscientious and punctual; the last thing you want is to get your financial reporting snarled up. The public relations person must be a skilled wordsmith who knows how to sweet-talk the media. The manager must be cool-headed, fearless and at all times a rock of resilience and reassurance.

There are four months between now and elections, but key decisions must be made now before supporters vanish for vacation hideouts. Which key areas are to be stressed during the weeks following Labor Day? Issues to be stressed must be selected and persons designated for follow-up identified.

In fact, City Council candidates should as much as feasible insert themselves into the work of the council and present themselves as ready to step up to the dais in City Hall and take a seat, ready to pull their separate weights as fully qualified local legislators.



Column: Hero’s kiss spurned, face slapped

The New York Times on July 3 told how our most illustrious French ally was received here in 1824 with “a frenzy that would put Beetlemania to shame.” Be that as it may, Lafayette did not fare so well on that same visit with a five-year-old Quaker girl from whom my late mother was descended.

Lafayette may indeed, as the Times recounts, have “scoop[ed] up the 5-year-old Walt Whitman for a kiss outside a Brooklyn library, Whitman later recollected.” But the famous hero had less success with my own 5-year-old ancestor. When he tried to kiss her, she slapped him in the face with her tiny hand.

This is the stuff of family legend, but my Quaker mother would never have passed the tale on if she had not been convinced of its factual foundation. And what is even more fascinating is that I came to inherit the very same couch on which the great man was sitting at the time of his no-doubt-rare rejection.

The couch is a Duncan Phyffe original, brought to Philadelphia, Penn., from New York, to grace the home of its original owners. That home is now a historic house museum called Wyck, in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, close to where the Battle of Germantown was fought during the American Revolution.

Lafayette’s triumphal tour of the former colonies in 1824 must have given him great pleasure. Too bad the reception arranged for him at Wyck did not go altogether as he would have wished. The family legend has it that it was a hot day and tiring for the elderly Marquis. At one point he needed a break, so he found a vacant room in which to sit a bit.

When a tiny girl appeared at the door, he urged her to come closer so he could see her better. Then he told her she was a very pretty little girl and that she should come and sit on his knee. When she did so, with due caution, he told her she was so pretty a little girl that he would like to kiss her. It was then that her Quaker upbringing came to the fore, and she smote him across the face.

Please don’t ask me who was there to witness this event and give a proper account of it. No amount of cross-examination will shake my firm belief in the veracity of this most favorite of all the family tales I learned from my beloved mother.

Another of mother’s favorite family tales described “caves along the banks of the Delaware River,” where her immigrant forebears had lived on first arriving from England, where they were no longer welcome. Family stories can be an inspiration to succeeding generations and should carry on, as long as it is clear that exaggeration can creep in with the telling.



Column: A Rye TV masterpiece

Back in the days when Rye TV was called Rye Community TV, or RCTV, there was one amateur-produced program that outshone all the others. It was called “What’s Your Rye Q,” and was organized and staged by Ted and Pat Levine.

Pat Levine was an elected member of the Rye City Council and is credited with having persuaded Frank Culross, our recently retired city manager, to leave the chilly shores of the St. Lawrence River and venture south to manage Rye.

I take great pleasure in recalling that it was when I was Rye’s mayor that Culross became a member of our community, a unique member since he has served as city manager on various occasions over time, the most recent occasion being the departure of Scott Pickup, our former manager.

When Pat and Ted Levine were organizing “What’s Your Rye Q,” which was a quiz show based on Rye trivia, they rightly foresaw that there might be differences of opinion about some of their rulings. They wanted someone to lay down the law, if necessary, and keep order. They asked me to do that, and I readily agreed.

There would be two teams competing, and Ted would decide how many points each team received for their answers. Each team consisted of two or three residents. Many people wanted to compete, but not that many wanted to serve on the production crew, operating cameras, adjusting sound levels, or directing in the Control Room.

The answers to the questions thrown at the contestants by the Levines could generally be found in the pages of local newspapers. If the program were going on now, the questions might be such as these:

Which City Council seats are up for election this year?

What persons occupy those seats now?

Who chairs the Rye City Board of Education now?

Who chairs the Rye Neck Board of Education?

How many games is the Rye High football team playing this fall?

Ditto for girls hockey?



Column: A (round) trip to Dannemora

Quite a few years ago, I was appointed by the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division in Brooklyn to represent a man incarcerated at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y. We exchanged letters, and he demanded that I come there and visit him.

A lawyer has extensive responsibilities toward her/his client, whatever the origin of the relationship. Basically, the lawyer must do everything within reason for the client, so long as it is legal. A client must reimburse the lawyer’s reasonable expenses to the extent possible.

I decided to do the right thing, so flew to Burlington, Vt., where I drove a rental car onto the ferry that crosses Lake Champlain to the New York side. Then I drove west to Dannemora, where I proved who I was and was admitted inside the forbidding walls. Lawyers and their clients meet there on either side of thick plate glass and communicate through it electronically. Of course you can’t be sure who else may be listening.

The client and I discussed the case for a while, and I told him what arguments seemed to be worth making. He made little comment, but told me to draft and send him the brief that would be filed for him in the Appellate Division. So I retraced my route back to Vermont and thence home.

I don’t recall the nature of the case or the legal issues, but do remember feeling we were on solid ground legally. I revised my draft several times before mailing it back to Dannemora. I waited a couple of weeks and then got a shock. My client wrote that my brief was hopelessly inadequate and that I was forbidden to file it in the court.

I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation vis-à-vis the court. Should I file a memorandum explaining why I was not filing a brief on schedule, and risk violating attorney/client secrecy rules? Or should I go ahead and file my brief despite the client’s apparently self-destructive contrary instructions?

As the time for filing was about to expire, I received in the mail from the court a brief acknowledgment of receipt of my client’s brief. This was astonishing. I discovered that he had removed my name from my brief and substituted his own name, purporting to file pro se, or on his own behalf. Why would he have done such a thing?

It dawned on me that my client might have believed that, with no lawyer in court in Brooklyn to argue his case, he would be allowed to argue it himself, in person, in Brooklyn. This would have been a most welcome excursion for him, to get out of the prison for a couple of days and glimpse once again the sights of New York City. I do not recall if he got to make the trip.




Column: Can Kurds take on ISIS?

Kurds won legislative seats in Turkey’s June 7 elections. This could augur well for an ancient people with no country of their own.

When King Richard of Britain, known as “the Lionhearted,” made ready to wrest Jerusalem from the Muslims, he was opposed by a leader named Saladin. While commander of the Syrian army and vizier of Egypt, Saladin was a Kurd. His fellow Kurds may today hold the key to a new order in the Middle East.

In 1187, Saladin invaded the Crusaders’ Latin kingdom of Jerusalem and defeated Crusader forces in Galilee. The Crusaders lost Jerusalem, after which the Third Crusade was launched in an effort to regain the city. In 1192, Saladin and Richard agreed to leave Crusaders on the Mediterranean coast but keep Jerusalem in Muslim hands.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and we see the Kurds to be a people spread among four countries with their own language and culture but no homeland. Kurds are found in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. They were brought into the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century, and were promised their own land by the 1920 Treaty of Sevres between the Allies and Turkey. The promise was not kept, leaving Kurds to struggle for autonomy.

There are estimated to be approximately 30 million Kurds, predominantly Sunni Muslims, with a Kurdish diaspora of two million. Kurds helped the US-led coalition oust Saddam Hussein from power in 2003. The coalition established a no-fly zone over Kurdish areas to protect them from attacks by Saddam Hussein’s forces.

But the significance of Kurdish force is even greater today, in opposition to the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Germany has armed and trained Iraqi Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, meaning in Kurdish “those who face death.” And the US-led coalition has provided air support for Kurdish ground operations.

The Iraqi city of Kirkuk, with its oil resources, saw the possible future of Kurdistan in 2014. Iraqi military fled as Islamic State fighters approached, whereupon peshmerga forces took control of the city with its oil. Hydrocarbons also exist in northern Syria, where Kurds took over in 2012 and now provide protection against Islamic State forces. Wherever Kurds can oust ISIS, they may be well along on the path toward autonomy if not independence.



Column: Is Rye ready for another Hurricane Sandy?

Now that June 1 has passed, we are officially into hurricane season. And we will be in it until late October. The question is: are we ready?

I was not in Rye in September 1938, when the unnamed and unpredicted hurricane swept up the east coast, causing massive damage and destruction. One really old timer told me that half of Milton Point was under water; exaggeration, no doubt, but fair warning, not to be ignored.

It was bad enough where I was, further to the Northeast. I spent the next week on one end of a two-man saw, cutting up fallen trees (no power tools back then). It struck me that there was a moral to be observed in which trees were blown down and which were not. Those with shallow roots could not withstand the fury of the storm.

If you haven’t heard the blast, or really the shriek, of a very high wind, you have an experience ahead of you that I hope you can sidestep. I heard it three times in tropical typhoons at Okinawa, during my time there in 1945 on USS PC-1245. The sound of very high wind is frightening.

In Rye, we face not only the damage caused by high winds but also the threat of flooding, fresh water pouring down Blind Brook and over its banks into neighborhoods, and salt water backing up from Long Island Sound.

The flooding scenes we have recently seen from Texas should warn us of the kind of perils we might face between now and late October. Where would you go if your lights suddenly went out and the device that helps regulate the heartbeat of an elderly family member will not function without electric power?

Where would you go for a night’s sleep if your home was cold and damp? Suppose you needed medical attention in the middle of the storm.

The answer to these questions is preparedness, and that is the responsibility of local government. Here in Rye it is the responsibility of the City Council. We have two months in which to prepare, so let’s get on with it.

As a first step, I would recommend looking at how the comparable community of New Canaan, Conn., does it. Their preparedness is remarkable, way beyond Rye’s.

So, City Council, have a look, and get a move on. Let’s develop contingency plans for whatever may come our way as summertime wanes and fall approaches.



Column: No death penalty, nor any other, said one jury

The decision by the Boston jury in favor of death for the Boston Marathon bomber brings back to me an altogether different decision in a homicide case I prosecuted in the 1950s. The applicable law allowed the jury to opt for death if a killing with malice aforethought was premediated and deliberate.

There was evidence that a man driving with his wife in the passenger seat stopped for a red light, at which she got out, walked around the front of the car while extracting a pistol from her handbag, and blew his brains out through the driver’s window.

I felt that the time to walk from the passenger’s side to the driver’s side could suffice for premeditation and deliberation if the jury believed beyond a reasonable doubt that this is what happened. Therefore they could opt for death, and were entitled to be instructed on the relevant law.

I expected a long wait while the jury deliberated, so grave were the possible consequences of their verdict. I assumed they would find the wife guilty of manslaughter if not murder, or at the very least some degree of criminal assault. The wait was not long. In less than an hour, the jury trooped back into the court room, casting smiling glances at the defendant. What could this possibly mean?

The defendant stood, as directed by the court clerk, and faced the still-smiling jury. One by one, the clerk recited the possible verdicts and asked for the jury’s decisions:

“Murder in the first degree; how say you, guilty or not guilty?” “NOT GUILTY.”

“Murder in the second degree, how say you, guilty or not guilty?” “NOT GUILTY.”

Voluntary manslaughter, how say you, guilty or not guilty?” “NOT GUILTY.”

Involuntary manslaughter, how say you, guilty or not guilty?” “NOT GUILTY.”

Then similar questions as to the various degrees of assault, all “NOT GUILTY.”

I approached defense counsel and offered congratulations on his/her remarkable accomplishment. Then I went to see my boss, the elected district attorney, thinking he might be a bit put out. Not at all. As a deeply experienced trial lawyer himself, he simply quipped, “That’s how it is with juries; you never know what they will do.”



Column: Back at college seven decades later

Later this month, my Yale class will be having a reunion. We are invited to describe to each other our present activities and what they mean to us. This is not to be just exchanging family photos but a search for significance in the present structures of our lives.

For me, this is an occasion to reflect not only on the joys of family and friends but also on two current activities that give me satisfaction. One is the weekly column in the Rye City Review, and the other is my weekly Rye TV show on the United Nations.

Why am I one of the few who regularly write in English about the UN? It is because it is in my blood. The predecessor League of Nations fascinated my parents, who were deeply disappointed when the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the Versailles Treaty, thus keeping us out of the League.

When I was quite small, my parents took a trip to Geneva, just to observe the League up close. Imagine what poetic justice there was when I was privileged many years later to journey there frequently at state Department request, to help present American views and values.

One quick story shows how exciting that was.

There was a Syrian ambassador present, impeccable in both his suits and his French. But he kept claiming publicly that Zionism was like Nazism in being based on racism because of the Old Testament notion of the Chosen People. I raised my hand and was eventually given the floor by the Polish chairman.

I began by stating that, while I was new at the UN, I had observed that there were a few unwritten rules, one being that you do not insult another member’s religion. I said that I had attended a Christian Sunday School as a child, and knew that the Chosen People idea did not mean domination but rather a heavy responsibility. You could have heard a pin drop, so unusual was it to say anything of that sort. The Syrian did not bring up the subject again in my hearing.

I have no ability to write fiction, much as I would like to. For me, it’s expository writing or nothing. Maybe that’s a problem with being a lawyer; when you present written material to a court, it had better not be fiction, only facts and cogent legal arguments, couched in as few words as is consistent with clarity. I treasure the opportunity to hone these skills in the pages of the Rye City Review.