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Codger’s Column: The old president

Codger is not running for president this year.

He claims it was an easy decision, but he may be putting up a brave front. How can giving up power ever be easy, losing the head seat at the table, the access to inside information, the top spot on the letterhead, that momentary hush when he entered a room: The president has arrived.

Wasn’t he concerned about the many matters left undone, especially in the areas of transportation, nutrition, finances and communication? Didn’t Codger have obligations? He had allowed himself to be drafted for office promising his predecessor to continue her good works. Had he fulfilled the promise?

So why did he refuse to run again? Did Codger, who is even older than Joe Biden, feel he had passed his use-by date? Was Codger, who has 91 fewer indictments than Donald Trump, feeling the hot breath of the new ethics board? Could Codger, who never took campaign money from the likes of AIPAC, the NRA, Big Pharma or the fossil fuel industry, much less the Pridwin or the Chequit, be concerned about the costs of running for office?

In a cordial response to those and other questions, Codger said, “It’s none of your business.”

It’s not as if he’s leaving the electorate in the lurch. The new officers have deep connections in the community and are unusually experienced, as befits people who are unusually old. This is, after all,  the presidency of the Shelter Island Senior Citizens Foundation that Codger is forsaking, a group that would be wasted on the young.

Codger was recruited to the group in 2017, although he thought Crone was a better choice. But she was already overbooked — the Shelter Island Association, the Friends of Music, the League of Women Voters — while Codger was a husband she had laying around.

It was a good time to join the group, which had been brought into public attention in the last century by a television producer, Sy Weissman, who described himself as “a flame thrower,” and Mimi Brennan, a beloved and canny operative. They understood the needs of seniors, an unusually high percentage of the Island population, for rides to doctors and the IGA, meals delivered to their homes, and companionship.

Their group, then called the Senior Citizens Affairs Council, was formed to raise money to help subsidize the local senior services, which is funded by the town and the county. In recent years, it has been run brilliantly by Saint Laurie Fanelli.

Both the Council and the Foundation kept up a relationship with the supervisor, including one Gerry Siller, who seemed to have mixed feelings about the group. Siller did not believe in institutionalizing support, but rather in “the Shelter Island Way,” which was everyday people helping each other and in crises tapping the very rich.

At least that’s what Siller told Codger a quarter-century ago when the ex-president was working for another newspaper. Codger dubbed the Island an “Elder Dorado” although he was struck by the class and economic divisions among the elderly that made impossible the building of a $750,000 senior center. (In comparison, East Hampton’s currently proposed senior center could cost a highly-unpopular $31.6 million.)

By the time Codger was aboard the Board, Barbara Silverstone, a highly-accomplished nonprofit executive, was president. She began a campaign to improve medical services on the Island, an ongoing concern.

She was replaced by Chris Lewis, a former Town Board member who had been its liaison to senior services. In time, Chris became a friend and mentor to Codger, her vice-president and loving disciple.

It was in Prez Chris’ time that the Foundation originated some of its signature projects, including buying the town an $85,000 22-seat wheelchair accommodating bus, the so-called Silver Streak; making a $75,000 vanguard donation toward the expansion of the Shelter Island library; helping fund the Historical Society’s Living History project of long-form interviews with Island elders, and joining with the Lions Club to purchase vision-enhancing machines for seniors suffering from macular degeneration and other visual disorders.

Codger was president for less than a year, at best a bridge from Chris’ death to last week’s election of one of the strongest rosters of officers in memory — Joanne Sherman as president, Glenn Waddington as vice-president, Janet Jernick as secretary and Jeanne Woods, reprising her historic role as the Foundation’s first treasurer.

Codger is not exactly staggering into the sunset; he will remain on the Board because he wants a front row seat to the Foundation’s continued response to its share of an existential question.

In a time when America is not fulfilling its moral responsibilities to its most vulnerable citizens — the very young, the old, the poor, the underserved — can a small town nonprofit make a difference, be a model of hope?