NEW MONEY VS. OLD IN THE HAMPTONS

By Published on .

In october of 1993, the village of East Hampton arrested Jerry Della Femina for displaying pumpkins in front of his grocery store, the Red Horse Market. Some 25 charges were filed, illegal advertising among them, the miscreant was printed and booked, and Jerry accused the village of false arrest and violation of his civil rights.

Nothing this shocking had happened in genteel East Hampton since 1919 when Captain Spaeth came home from The Great War to find his wife in bed with her second cousin Herbert and took a shot at him.

Missed. The captain, said a fellow member of the Maidstone Club, "never was much of a shot."

Now Mr. Della Femina has informed The East Hampton Star that he most likely will be running for a seat on the village Board of Trustees June 18. As the Star put the situation:

"Take a detail-oriented village government that tends toward the conservative. Take a flamboyant and successful New York advertising man who becomes a local entrepreneur. Pit the two against each other, and what happens?"

What happens, the newspaper answers itself, "After two and a half years of confrontation, including an arrest, exoneration and three lawsuits, the ad man puts his money where his mouth is."

Jerry and his wife, TV personality Judy Licht, also own two very successful East Hampton restaurants, have a magnificent home perched atop the dunes overlooking the ocean (Mort Zuckerman is next door, Calvin Klein and the Fords of Detroit are just along the way) and like that.

The last time I was there for a party we spied Barbra Streisand in the kitchen. So when we consider the Della Femina lifestyle, we are not talking Levittown and a two-car garage.

Then why is Jerry so cross?

Some years ago East Hampton's was selected by a national magazine as "the most beautiful Main Street in America."

The village and the surrounding town are pretty conservative because they think that's what local people want, to keep the place much as it's been all these 300 years. The Ladies' Village Improvement Society (as John LeCarre once wrote of a character) "can sniff out a sin before it's committed" when it comes to preserving East Hampton's aesthetic integrity.

Are they too zealous? Do they occasionally go too far? Were those pumpkins really a threat and an abomination?

Well, yes, yes, and probably not.

There are real concerns in the village. The railroad wants to knock down the old station and put in an elevated platform. The A&P wants a greatly expanded new site approved. As one trustee says, "The most important thing is to keep the integrity of the village the way it is."

And along comes Jerry, who enjoys a fight, likes a little ink, and has the muscle and the dough to toss his weight around.

I like Jerry; I also like village Mayor Paul Rickenbach, one of his special targets. The mayor is a local gent who makes his living house-watching, checking on the houses in winter and other times to make sure they're OK when the owners are back in Manhattan.

Some time ago, in the paper, Jerry seemed to be patronizing the mayor for doing that for a living.

It is New Money versus Old; big bucks versus little bucks; newcomers versus old-timers.

Such frictions exist in every picture postcard town in America. The irony is that the beauty that draws a Jerry Della Femina to the place is the thing his local adversaries are trying to preserve.

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