Tempers Flare Over Cook’s ‘Gun’ Comment
Dozens of town residents traded verbal fire on the steps of Town Hall Wednesday over a comment supervisor candidate Gene Cook made last year.
The explosive exchange came as about 20 gun-control advocates, mothers and teachers, led by Former Suffolk County Legislator Jane Devine, a Democrat who represented Huntington from 1978-1987, demanded during a press conference Oct. 9 that Cook drop his bid for supervisor because he joked with a constituent about bringing a gun to town hall.
The comment was made as Cook updated members of the Conservative Society for Action about his first 30 days in office. At that Jan. 26, 2012 meeting, one man in the audience suggested Cook carry a camera with him at all times.
“Document everything. And then put a slide show together,” the man said.
Cook replied, with a smile, “I think it’d be a whole lot easier to carry a gun.”
The line got big laughs from the audience, but more than a year later, Devine is hardly laughing.
She argued the comment should disqualify Cook from being town supervisor. Speakers also noted that Cook made the comment about two and a half weeks after former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was nearly killed by a gunman during an Arizona community meet-and-greet.
The event quickly became a shouting match as Cook’s supporters and detractors clashed. Some of the people who came to Cook’s defense shouted insults about elected officials; invoked the closing of Jack Abrams School, which they blamed on elected officials turning a blind eye to Huntington Station; alleged political “thuggery” by Democrats; and accused Cook’s opponents of running a smear campaign against him.
When a man recording Devine accused her of attacking Cook, she agreed that she was.
“I don’t think we should have a candidate for the supervisor of the Town of Huntington who thinks that it’s OK to have this kind of reckless behavior,” she said.
Democrats have sent two mail pieces and Friends of Frank Petrone produced a television ad denouncing Cook. Devine said she has heard from Republicans who are horrified by Cook’s gun comment.
Petrone, a Democrat running for reelection with runningmate and fellow incumbent Mark Cuthbertson, blasted the comment when video of the meeting surfaced last April, and is continuing to do so.
“I find it reprehensible that an elected official would joke about bringing a gun to town hall to solve his problems,” Petrone said in a statement announcing the ad campaign.
However, Cook said he’s not going anywhere, adding that he was confident the ads would backfire.
“It’s an attempt by a 20-year supervisor and a 16-year councilman to cling to power,” he said of Wednesday’s press conference. Neither Petrone nor Cuthbertson attended.
Cook said the current ad campaign against him is analogous to criticizing an “X Factor” contestant for saying “I’m gonna kill it” before going on stage.
“All of these things are taken out of context, and that’s what Frank Petrone and Mark Cuthbertson did. It’s a shame they would stoop to that level,” Cook said.
On Wednesday, Devine and Northport’s Sherry Pavone, a former New York City police officer, evoked the horror of Oct. 11, 1979, when nine people, including then-Town Clerk Kay Ferraro, were taken hostage by Dana Simmons, then 28, who stormed Town Hall over a five-year dispute over his right to rent a subsidized apartment.
Ferraro, who now lives in Florida, said she didn’t find anything funny about Cook’s comment, which his supporters have described as an off-the-cuff joke.
“There was one gun too many in Town Hall, as far as I’m concerned. It was very scary,” Ferraro said.
Pavone said she fears Cook’s rhetoric could invite tragedy.
“After Connecticut, after Aurora, some poor soul who is not mentally balanced reads Mr. Cook’s remarks and believes it’s OK to bring a gun into Town Hall. It is not!” Pavone said.
However, Halesite’s Dave Biernacki, who attended the press conference in support of Cook, said the hostage situation reference is inappropriate.
“Maybe it was poor timing with the joke, but… don’t smear his campaign by dredging up violence that happened over 30 years ago that has nothing to do with the current political environment,” he said.
Huntington Station resident Chris O’Donnell said some were blowing Cook’s comment way out of proportion.
“He’s not this madman that they’re portraying him to be,” O’Donnell said.
Democrats are also using Cook’s comment as a springboard to criticize his running mates – Republicans Councilman Mark Mayoka and Commack attorney Josh Price – as out of touch on public safety and gun issues.
In TV and web ads, the Democrats allege Mayoka backed cuts to public safety funding. The claim is based on a 2011 Mayoka proposal to cut town spending by 5 percent across all departments, a motion that was not seconded.
“Reckless across-the-board cuts to the vital town services that residents depend on is not how we are going to keep Huntington families safe,” Cuthbertson said in the statement announcing the ad campaign.
Mayoka argued that the commercial takes his proposal out of contest.
“I don’t believe I ever said that I would cut the fire marshal and that I would cut public safety,” he said. “It’s being applied to magnify it and make it look like more than what it is.”