VIEWPOINT: WINNERS ARE HARD TO FIND IN HAMPTONS' 'PUMPKIN CASE'

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Jerry Della Femina is one of the most successful, articulate, delightful people I know. He is also complicated, relentless and, even as we speak, pretty sore.

Why is this so? The man has created and sold off (at a considerable profit) several major ad agencies. He is back in the ad business today and even though constrained from using his last name in business, is apparently doing very well indeed. He has an attractive, loving and talented (for 20 years a staple on New York television) wife, Judy Licht, and several appealing moppets. The Della Feminas live well, having a number of homes including a spectacular pleasure dome sited atop the dunes of East Hampton overlooking the ocean, and cheek by jowl with such neighbors as Mort Zuckerman, Calvin Klein and two or three generations of Fords from Detroit (they make cars and own the Detroit Lions).

To give you an idea of the scope and style of Jerry's life in East Hampton the last time I attended a party at his house, Barbra Streisand was hanging out in the kitchen.

So why is Jerry kvetching?

But he is. And in a recent newspaper column for The Independent, a local East Hampton newspaper in which he owns a piece of the action, Jerry wrote, "I have made up my mind that as soon as I can, I will sell off my share of these three properties, and I will never invest another penny of my money in East Hampton again."

Wow!

The three properties are his classic Della Femina restaurant on North Main Street; the Jerry & David's Red Horse Market on Montauk Highway, a gourmet food emporium; and East Hampton Point, a vast operation on Three Mile Harbor comprising a big waterfront restaurant, a marina, a boatyard, and adjacent condos.

What angered Jerry began three years ago when he first tangled with village authorities. It was autumn and outside the Red Horse Market he had erected a small display of pumpkins. Innocent enough? So one might think. But not if one were the government of East Hampton Village, which informed Jerry this display was against the rules regulating outdoor advertising. They went back and forth on it, arguing the rules, arguing freedom of speech, until the village, in what I think can be characterized as pecksniffery (an unctuous and pompous manifestation of high moral superiority), threatened to arrest Jerry.

Until then, the whole thing was in reasonably good spirit. So much so, in fact, that when the arrest was scheduled Jerry showed up only to find the cops weren't prepared and he cheerfully agreed to come out from the city (about 100 miles) on another, more convenient day, to be cuffed and booked.

Lawsuits followed. More lawsuits. Legal bills started to pile up. Good cheer turned bitter. Jerry was not only suing the village, he was running for office on a "Throw the rascals out!" plank. He lost, spending 40 grand or so and getting the fewest votes. The Maidstone Club, he thundered, was ganging up on him. But the courts kept knocking down the village's case and sustaining Jerry. And he kept demanding his court costs be covered.

Until, last month, an out-of-court settlement was reached. Wrote Jerry of this defining moment, "The check from the village covering my settlement will arrive any day now. I am forbidden to discuss the amount that the village gave me when they threw in the towel on the 'Pumpkin Case.' All I'm allowed to say by law is that I'm 'happy' with the settlement. But am I happy? Even though I won, I feel strangely sad."

He isn't the only one. The other newspaper in town, The East Hampton Star, wrote a letter demanding to know more. Why a gag order? Why shouldn't village taxpayers (of whom I am one) know how much this damned case cost all of us? Was Jerry really selling off his share of properties because he was angry with the pettifoggery of village rules? Or was business off in a largely seasonal resort and was this the opportune moment to bail out?

In the village, you hear the debate. Some are all for Jerry; others support the village. Some feel strongly both sides were stubborn and silly. Did Old Money East Hampton gang up on New Money Jerry? Did the Maidstone Club establishment delight in his problems, happy to see an "outsider" put in his place? As an "outsider" myself whose house sits within view of the Maidstone, I am fascinated.

But isn't it precisely the crotchedy ways of antique villages like this one (founded in 1640) a part of the reason why "new people" like Jerry and me and so

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