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Warwick Officials Warn Warwick Valley Dispatch
Warwick officials' earlier warning to the Warwick Valley Dispatch about partisan articles was posted after misinformation-based attacks on Democrat Town of Warwick justice candidate Liz Cassidy.
A warning to the Warwick Valley Dispatch from Town of Warwick Supervisor Michael Sweeton, Village of Florida Mayor Daniel Harter and Village of Greenwood Lake Mayor Jesse Dwyer was recently posted on Facebook by Harter, although it was dated March 2, 2022. They threatened to discontinue the paper’s status as official Warwick newspaper if the Dispatch persisted with “one-sided journalism.”
The letter was written early last year after Village of Warwick Mayor Michael Newhard, a Democrat, was targeted by Dispatch articles, also just before an election. A particular focus was an incident when a prank $1 million check for the Village from the Albert Wisner Public Library was apparently found in Newhard’s pocket at a dry cleaner. Harter requested permission from his co-signers to post the 2022 letter on Facebook last week, Sweeton said.
Sweeton recalled the motivation for the letter last year, when a group of about ten people had appeared in his office to request that the official Town of Warwick newspaper cease to be the Dispatch because of its partisan articles. They had asked him not to put his weekly column in the paper.
“They wanted to put it out of business, but I put my column there for information,” he said. “The official newspaper is just a place for public notices. I didn’t feel it was appropriate to revoke the designation. For a paper begun in the 1800’s, it should be given the opportunity to right itself.”
He agreed to Harter’s request to post the letter from last year.
“The message is still valid,” Sweeton said. “We still expect valid representation. The U.S. has been littered with partisan papers. We hadn’t wanted that locally, but the Dispatch has taken a partisan slant. I don’t know what to say about it. If you don’t like the slant, you oppose it. If you’re receptive to the point of view, you like it. We urged (Dispatch manager) Stephen Kitar to take a different tone. Has it gotten to a point beyond what’s acceptable?”
Sweeton said he followed the Dispatch for six to eight months after the 2022 letter was sent to Kitar.
“I didn’t see anything inappropriate or one-sided and the discussion dissipated,” Sweeton said.
However, the Dispatch has not been Florida’s official paper for some time, according to Liz Cassidy, attorney for the Village of Florida, who, as the only Democrat in a competitive Warwick race, has been attacked by the Dispatch as has Mayor Harter . Cassidy is running for Town of Warwick justice against Republican Karen Amundson.
The recent conflict arose when some constituents were at odds with Harter about a property access issue and filed an Article 78 lawsuit. An Article 78 proceeding is a legal challenge to the actions of an administrative agency or government body.
“The Dispatch picked up on that, whether they were valid or not,” Sweeton said. “In an election season, they took a partisan position, and they’ve been running stories on rumors. They took issue with the Village of Florida board for defending the mayor in a lawsuit. That’s incorrect and not fair. If the mayor is performing duties of the office, it’s routine for the Village attorney to defend him. Dan Harter is a good man, with the best interests of the Village at heart. I don’t like people taking political shots, but you have to put up with it.”
Harter, meanwhile, has defended Cassidy. The Dispatch has accused her of wrongly defending the mayor in the Article 78 lawsuit, the defense that Sweeton called “routine.” The Dispatch also criticized her for her performance of basic escrow duties, for giving back money as instructed by a court, she said, and for declining an interview on the radio station WTBQ, which is connected with the Dispatch. Like the Dispatch, it has a reputation for favoring Republicans and demeaning Democrats.
Kat Leslie wrote in the Dispatch of Cassidy’s unwillingness to be interviewed, “The abrupt cancellation has fueled speculation that Cassidy may be concerned about facing tough questions related to the scandal and the pending lawsuit she is part of . . .” — likely a reference to the Article 78 case.
Asked about biased and inaccurate reporting, Stephen Kitar, who manages the Dispatch, said, “Charges were filed against the mayor. That’s true. Facts are double-checked and triple-checked.”
However, the context and language of reportage can insinuate what may not be true. Calling Cassidy’s radio interview cancellation “abrupt,” saying that it “fueled speculation” about a “scandal” suggests hidden illicit activity related to a case that Sweeton described as “routine.”
\Village of Warwick Mayor Michael Newhard had a similar experience last year with WTBQ when he was interviewed before an election. At the radio station forum, he said he was surprised when Kitar showed him a prank check Newhard had written 12 years before.
“Kitar took the million dollar check out of his pocket, and I said, ‘I don’t know what this is.’ They replayed the clip out of context to support the story,” again insinuating hidden illicit behavior.
The million dollar prank check had been found in Newhard’s clothes at the dry cleaner Kitar owns, Newhard said. The check had been written to the Village by the library director for the water bill, leaving the amount blank. Newhard had filled in the amount to kid the library about excessive water use. Kitar held the check for all those years, Newhard said.
“It was silly and innocent. The check was made out to the village, not me. Would I be feathering Village coffers with library money? It goes back to inuendo and the power of the press. I would have hoped he would have come back to me before blasting,” Newhard said. “I worry about people whose pockets are gone through at Kitar’s dry cleaner.”
As for “double and triple fact checking” of letters, they are not subject to such scrutiny, Kitar said.
Also, he said, “We don’t solicit or seek out opinions.”
However, letters from Democrats are scarce.
“We have sent many letters to the Dispatch that weren't published — it’s almost a running joke,” said Gail Buckland, a Warwick Democrat with many Democrat friends.
Asked about presenting balanced views, Kitar noted that New York State Senator James Skoufis (D-42) and Congressman Pat Ryan (D-18) write for the Dispatch weekly. Republican Mike Martucci, though no longer a state senator, also writes pieces for the Dispatch.
Those subject to dark inuendo are left to defend themselves elsewhere. At the end of a recent Village of Florida board meeting, Harter said, “I want to make a quick statement regarding Elizabeth Cassidy with what’s going on in the paper, questioning her integrity with the Village and the board. We as a board can say with the utmost confidence that she’s shown nothing but professionalism and performed with top ethics and integrity. We’re sorry she’s getting slandered.”
“They make allegations and don’t ask for responses or clarifications,” Cassidy said of the Dispatch. “They make allegations of wrongdoing as narrative, and the damage is done. They’re trying to manufacture conflict of interest. Cases turn on small details that get glossed over. I can defend the mayor and board vigorously in a court of law, but I can’t say what I advised the board because of attorney-client privilege. A Dispatch piece said I failed to give advice, but I can’t say anything about ongoing litigation. ”
Meanwhile, Cassidy notes that Kitar has Amundson’s billboard on his lawn, and he attends her fundraisers.
“His partisanship is manifested in the paper,” Cassidy said.
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