At Tuesday’s Town Board work session, Supervisor Jim Dougherty made a brief apology for telling a controversial joke at the April 22 State of the Town luncheon sponsored by the Shelter Island League of Women Voters (SILWV).
The joke was about a woman who was sexually assaulted and indicated that she enjoyed it.
“Some people thought it was disparaging to women,” the supervisor said in the “round the table” part of the meeting, when members can speak on topics not on the agenda.
“I’m sorry if any of you feel that it was so. It wasn’t intended. I’ll make sure my lame humor is either dispensed with in warming up an audience … or I’ll be much more careful.”
Resident Vincent Novak said from the audience that “it’s much more than lame, Jim.”
Mr. Novak had written a letter to the editor of the Reporter last week (“A joke?” May 4) castigating the supervisor for his remarks.
The remarks “meet the legal standards for being obscene,” Mr. Novak continued, noting there had been minors in the audience at the SILWV event and “that’s really a problem.”
He suggested the board “come up with something to send a message to men and women and especially the young people that it’s not O.K. Joking about it hurts a lot of people who have been victims of sexual assault.”
Mr. Novak said there was a student at the high school who had done her senior thesis on sexual assault and she should be invited to a Town Board meeting to discuss it. He also suggested a public service announcement on public access channel 22 on the issue of sexual assault.
“It’s up to our generation to say this is not O.K.,” Mr. Novak said. “And we’re going to do something productive to counter it.”
He asked to poll the board members — Mr. Dougherty, Councilmen Paul Shepherd and Jim Colligan and Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams, with Councilwoman Chris Lewis absent — if the issue of sexual violence “qualifies as an issue the town should speak to.”
Mr. Dougherty said the board would talk “in a group abut it.”
Mr. Colligan recalled working as an educator to put courses on domestic violence in the curriculum of the secondary school where he taught, and related an anecdote of disciplining a student who had physically abused his girlfriend. He also mentioned that he “had seen enough of it growing up” and it was “appalling.”
Mr. Shepherd weighed in, saying that “it’s a deep subject and I don’t know if this is the venue for it.”
The supervisor remarked that “if we’re going to tell war stories,” that when he was president of Pathmark, “I was a hero to the women … they adored me,” and he had “women managers of $25 million supermarkets. I’m very proud of my record” of endorsing women’s rights “early on.”
He then turned to Ms. Brach-Williams and asked, “Amber, do you want to tell a war story?”
“No,” she replied.
Mr. Shepherd said that he “wouldn’t want to make too much of a bad choice.”
“A guy tells a bad joke,” Mr. Dougherty said.
“That’s just the point,” Mr. Novak said. “It’s not just a bad joke.”
Mr. Shepherd said Mr. Novak was reading too much into it.