Somebody once asked the comedian Jon Stewart if his show might not suffer a bit from not having George Bush and Dick Cheney to kick around. After all, Barack Obama doesn’t make such good comic fodder.
That’s the kind of question every satirist faces. Years ago, people told me they thought my column suffered somewhat when Vince Cannuscio left office. Somehow, his successor, Patrick “Skip” Heaney, just wasn’t as funny.
It’s true, I derived quite a bit of humor from Vince. In one 1998 column, I took off on a letter writer’s comment that Vince was a “madman” and reported that Vince had secretly placed a phone call from Town Hall to Saddam Hussein. I said that Vince had sought Saddam’s advice on how best to handle his rivals and critics.
Saddam told Vince that his best bet would be to elevate Jim Zizzi to the title of assistant supervisor and have everyone else gassed. That’s how things were done in Iraq, and Saddam thought it would probably work in Southampton, too.
What readers may not have known back then was how Vince reacted to these lampoons. Unlike Skip—whom I did not roast nearly as much, yet who often reacted with venimous rage—Vince was never anything but a gentleman.
Indeed, Vince would sometimes call me and say, “Hi, Ren, this is your old friend Vince!” and then go on to chuckle at something I had written or correct a fact that he felt I had wrong.
Indeed, there was a lot for a satirist to make fun of in Vince: his defense of Ira Rennert’s monstrous Sagaponack compound (remember his famous “palace envy” crack?); his telling the farmers of Water Mill that people who favored open-space preservation were being greedy; his helping to develop every parcel of land he could find, then complaining when the people who bought the properties didn’t want one of his cell phone towers next door. There was something grandly, gloriously screwball about the man—and I never tired exploiting it.
But there was another side to Vince that I never talked about. He seemed to be a genuinely humble man and one who did not take himself too seriously. He was not vainglorious, did not surround himself with minions, and was capable of acting boldly and quickly when his populist leanings were challenged. (Remember how he ordered bulldozers out within hours after an arrogant oceanfront property owner tried to block access to the beach?)
He often answered his own phone, and even after he left office he would call me to offer an opinion on something that was happening in Town Hall that he thought I should write about. (Of course, it was usually something critical of Skip.)
As much as I disagreed with Vince, darn if I didn’t like the guy, and the thought that cancer could fell him at such a relatively early age is hard to get my mind around.
A couple of years ago I had to have some X-rays at Southampton Hospital. I was summoned to the X-ray room by an attractive middle-aged technician, who made me disrobe and lie down on the X-ray table. (Some of you may know where this is going.)
As she was about to place the lead shield over my private parts, she said, “By the way, you have written some not-very-nice things about my husband.”
Needless to say, this was a bit unnerving. Having no idea who the woman was, I said, “And who might your husband be?”
“Vince Cannuscio,” she said, and then, warning me to “lie very still and don’t move,” she left the room and zapped me.
Afterward, I chatted with Carol Cannuscio awhile and learned that she seemed to be as warm and full of life as her husband. “You do realize, it was never personal,” I said. She said she knew that but added that I should really keep a closer eye on Skip, because there were things there the public didn’t know. (She was right—there were.)
It may be hard for Carol and some of Vince’s other close friends to believe, but for me Vince’s passing leaves a hole in the landscape that will not soon be filled. I remember another one of Vince’s critics, Kevin McDonald, then vice president of Group for the South Fork, telling me, “At least with Vince you always know where you stand. That’s not always true of some of the others in Town Hall.”
So here’s to you, Vince. With your husky voice, your ready smile and your gleaming white oxford-cloth shirts, you occupied a unique space in Hamptons life. For that, you will be sorely missed.