Damage Control: Special FIPPOA Meeting 5/2/15

By Shoshanna McCollumFire Island Pines, New York – Troubled waters are surrounding beautiful Fire Island Pines, and the season has not even started yet. Social media chatter about a possible boycott of nightclubs, hotels and fine restaurants that service the upscale LBGT community reached a frenzied pace over the past week, necessitating the board of directors of Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association (FIPPOA) to call an emergency meeting at Whyte Hall, at noon, on May 2.“All of us on the board have been receiving emails and calls about the boycott both for and against,” said FIPPOA President Jay Pagano, as he addressed the full auditorium. “One thing I have heard loud and clear is that there is a passion for equity of life in the LBGT community.”It all began with the New York Times article of April 23, reporting that Ian Reisner along with his business partner, Mati Weiderpass, entertained conservative Republican Presidential Candidate and same-sex marriage opponent, Ted Cruz and his wife for dinner. The now infamous “fireside chat” sparked reaction from LBGT blogs and major publications across the nation.Weiderpass and Reisner are proprietors of The Out Hotel located on 42nd Street in Manhattan, which caters to gay clientele. Reisner is also the most recent owner of nearly 80 percent of the commercial property in the Fire Island Pines business district, a deal that closed only months ago in February 2015.A Facebook page called Boycott Fire Island Pines Establishments & The Out Hotel NYC was created not long after the NYT article, attracting 10,000 likes within a week. Reisner posted a public apology on Facebook, saying he made “a terrible mistake,” but many felt this was insufficient. Then a subsequent May 1 interview with Reisner in New York magazine only fueled matters by quoting him as saying, “gays are cheap” and “entitled.” Now the livelihoods of shopkeepers, table staff and many others hang in the balance.With the promise of a “safe and open forum,” audience members were welcome to approach the microphone and address the audience at three-minute intervals, moderated by FIPPOA Treasurer Henry Robin, with Pagano and Vice President Edwin Schulhafer looking on. Some read from written statements, others improvised. A few were serious and emotional, while others broke the mood with a touch of humor.“What would be the good of driving innocent people out of business?” asked FIP resident Alan Braderson. “Think of the consequences of a boycott.”“I RSVP Facebook events I don’t plan to attend all the time too,” said a man named Teddy to the chuckling audience. “There is really only one person who posts on that page. This is not like boycotting Chick-fil-A, real people will get hurt.”Nicole LaFountaine, owner of C.F. LaFountaine Plumbing and Appliances as well as other properties, addressed the audience as part of the 20 percent minority whose business interests could be harmed in the fallout.A soft-spoken man with a South American accent named Jorge admitted that when he first heard about the Cruz dinner he was angry and liked the boycott page. “I cannot eat any longer at the Blue Whale. I cannot support a business that is against myself.”After more than an hour, there were some takeaways. Perhaps reparations could be made to support organizations already harmed by this boycott in New York City, including the Gay Men’s Choir and Broadway Cares. Maybe political candidates more in keeping with the values of the Pines could be supported throughout the summer to neutralize the sting of recent events. Most of the speakers spoke out in support of Reisner’s Fire Island business partner P.J. McAteer, who they said has done only good for the community. While McAteer did not speak at the podium himself, he was in the audience and pledged to “help any way” he could. The feeling seemed positive by meeting’s end, like the healing could now begin.Yet conspicuously absent were those who were pro-boycott, a fact that was not missed by some gentlemen waiting for the next ferry back to Sayville, who asked not to be identified.“If Reisner has so much money why does he keep sending emails seeking investors?” said the tall one. He added that Reisner had not been around very long before the property purchase, and therefore an unknown entity in the FIP community.His companion then made a startling suggestion; maybe the boycott does not exist. Rather it’s a phantom created by someone looking to seize this opportunity to purchase the valuable properties at a competitive price. Names were named, but beyond gossip facts could not be substantiated.Back at the Fire Island News office, an email arrived the following day in which an anonymous source forwarded an email exchange purportedly between Reisner and Eric von Kuersteiner, former owner of the property empire between 2004 and 2010. It contained an offer by von Kuersteiner to purchase the OUTpost Pines Hotel. In the dialogue, von Kuersteiner writes that he’s “only doing this for the good of the Pines.” Both gentlemen confirmed the email thread’s authenticity. Reisner however also wrote to Fire Island News that, “There is no current negotiation with von Kuersteiner.”In his emailed response Reisner described himself as an active member of the Pines community since the late 1980s, supporting important events like Broadway Bares and Fire Island Dance Festival for the past 25 years. He further added that any talk about any mass fundraising efforts being undertaken is also untrue.“My partners and I selectively went to friends and select homeowners to see if they wanted to be part of the revival of the Pines,” wrote Reisner. “I am actively working with FIPPOA and the community at large to come up with amicable solutions to all of their concerns.”Von Kuersteiner also went on record to state that he is not the person behind the Boycott Fire Island Pines and The Out Hotel Facebook Page.“To think there is some grand scheme? Absolutely not!” said von Kuersteiner in a telephone interview. “I would not even know how to start a Facebook page, and I do not know who is behind that boycott page. Do people think I hired Ted Cruz to be invited to that dinner party, too? Did I insult the gay population twice?“I offered a buy-out so he could divest his holdings and come out of this whole,” added von Kuersteiner. “There is not a lot of money to be made here. Profit margins are not large and a 20 percent loss can cost dearly. This is not an issue that’s going to just go away. People are confused and do not know who owns what on Fire Island. They are now going to think twice before spending their money here.”“People who’ve gone through so much in recent years should not be punished for the ills of one,” said FIP business owner Nicole LaFountaine as she addressed the audience last Saturday.Standing room only in the auditorium of Whyte Hall. “People who’ve gone through so much in recent years should not be punished for the ills of one,” said FIP business owner Nicole LaFountaine as she addressed the audience last Saturday.Folks take a moment to unwind and enjoy the sun once the meeting adjourned.