Photos making fun of the first couple in a Republican weekly newspaper - dubbed "racist" and "despicable" by critics - have spurred Democrats to call for the Smithtown Messenger to be stripped of county legal ads.
But Phillip Sciarello, publisher and part owner, called the criticism "completely wrong," claiming photos were meant as "political satire." He added he is printing a retraction if he offended anyone and maintained Democrats are "jumping on it for political gain."
The picture spread headlined "Before and After," showed each first couple, dating back to Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn, on how they looked while in office and then later. While one picture of President Barack Obama and his wife showed them hugging, a second depicted the old TV show "Sanford and Son" where Sanford's sister-in-law Aunt Esther, played by LaWanda Page, had her fists up facing comedian Redd Foxx.
"It's outrageous," said Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, describing the picture as "clearly racist," and maintaining the paper be dropped as an official county newspaper. "They shouldn't be an official paper of anything," he said.
But John Jay LaValle, his GOP counterpart, said Democrats do not have the right to change the Republican choice of official paper and will fight them if they try. "What's going on here is Democratic race baiting," LaValle said.
"While I do not share such taste in humor since when is freedom of the press and freedom of speech a selective endeavor," he said. "Where were Rich Schaffer and the Democrat Party when former President George W. Bush was depicted as a chimpanzee?"
But Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the photo "is playing to racial stereotypes, no way around it" and he will propose a resolution to drop the Messenger as an official paper at next Tuesday's meeting. He has the backing of Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook).
"It's despicable. It's disrespectful," said Tracy Edwards, the NAACP's regional president. "If it was meant as satire it clearly missed the mark."
The photos also appeared in sister papers, the Brookhaven and Ronkonkoma Review, papers with a circulation of about 30,000 total, according to the owner. The weeklies are also official papers in Brookhaven as well as a half-dozen schools, fire and library districts. Officials say the Messenger got $54,223 in county legal ads last year.
Legis. Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) minority leader, said, "I certainly don't think it was malicious but at a minimum it was in poor taste."
Brookhaven's town board unanimously voted Tuesday to remove the Brookhaven Review from the town's list of official newspapers.
Supervisor Mark Leskosaid, "The reference to racial stereotypes is where the line was crossed."
Before the vote, Brookhaven Councilman Dan Panico asked the supervisor to clarify that the Brookhaven Review's censure wasn't based on "whether or not [the cartoon] is positive" but on the racial caricature. Lesko said the Review deserved to be removed because of the "abhorrent" and "outrageous" racial stereotype portrayed in the cartoon.
Brookhaven now has 12 official newspapers, including Newsday.
Tawaun Whitty-Weber, president of the Greater Gordon Heights Civic Association, said she agreed with the board's decision.
"For the town to say, you can have your joke but we're not going to be a part of it, I commend the supervisor," said Whitty-Weber, whose organization serves a predominantly black community.
With Stacey Alther and Patrick Whittle