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Dec 11, 2008 10:40 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Larger than life

Dec 11, 2008 10:40 AM

I’ve said it many times, and it’s absolutely true: There are only two people in the world I permit to call me “Joey” in a non-ironic way. One is my 86-year-old mom. And the other was Vince Cannuscio. From him, I always kind of liked the way it sounded.

I can still remember the first time I met Vince, in the “People’s Room” at Town Hall just days after arriving at The Press. I walked up to introduce myself, and he greeted me with, “How are things in Zelienople?”

I froze. Zelienople is the tiny little Pennsylvania community next door to where I went to high school. In the brief biography published in the paper upon my hiring, I never mentioned Zelienople. How on earth did this man know about Zelienople? Had he done research on me?

No, it turned out he had been through tiny Zelienople one time, and he remembered it (and, more impressively, pronounced it correctly) when reading about where I came from. It might have been luck, or coincidence. Either way, it was a spooky first impression.

A few weeks or months later, a particularly biting editorial appeared in The Press, targeting the supervisor. Vince stopped me on the street and began to deliver a hot-tempered reply for me to deliver back to the Press offices, to whomever wrote it. “Vince,” I stopped him, “I wrote that.”

For the next 10 minutes, he delivered a rebuttal right on the sidewalk along Hampton Road—shouting, poking me in the chest, grimacing, stopping on occasion to smile and wave at someone passing in a car, then turning back and immediately picking up where he left off, mid-grimace.

It wasn’t the last time I faced his wrath. The next time, I definitely deserved it.

While still supervisor, he’d sent an e-mail suggesting something we might want to write about. Late one Tuesday evening, I passed his e-mail along to the Town Hall reporter, adding a message with something offhandedly snarky, like, “Check it out, because you know you can only believe half of what Vince says.”

At 7 the next morning, my office phone rang. It was Vince, and I quickly came to the realization that I had, in fact, hit “reply” instead of “forward”—and Vince had gotten the message.

He had called me while riding his bike to Town Hall from Hampton Bays. In between puffing and panting, and the sounds of traffic passing him by, he weaved a tapestry of obscenity and hurled it at me. I could do nothing but glumly agree with him—I was indeed a @$%^*#@)$. And, no, I didn’t really think that about Vince—and that, ultimately, was the most important thing to him.

Over the years, we butted heads time and time again. Politically, there were distinct disagreements. Ultimately, it reached a point when the newspaper chose not to endorse Vince for reelection in 1999, even though he was running for reelection all but unopposed, since his two opponents on the ballot had dropped out.

“Mr. Cannuscio will not get our endorsement for supervisor,” we wrote in October of that year, blasting his administration for being “in charge during the worst years of Southampton’s development,” and saying that administration was “the greatest threat” to the town’s rural character.

To balance out the negative stuff to come, we included the following, which was sincere and accurate: “The incumbent is a remarkable man in many ways—he’s clearly a political animal, a man who loves his job immensely, who has grown into it over the years, who puts in a full work day and then some. He does a lot of the little things right: he is a charismatic guy who knows people’s names, responds to constituents, and is mindful of his public image.”

A few days later, I heard a campaign advertisement on WLNG quoting only the favorable paragraph, then ending with, “So, listen to The Southampton Press and vote for Vince Cannuscio!” I had to laugh ... it was a nifty bit of political jujitsu, and pure Vince.

A few other things were pure Vince: His absolute, unabashed love for his family, friends and community. His larger-than-life presence. His giant smile. That voice, which I will hear always, greeting me with “Joey!” and that mischievous smile.

I’m really going to miss that an awful lot.

Joseph Shaw is executive editor of the Press Newspaper Group.

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