Shotgun Dinner

Posted October 18, 2004 at 6:44pm

It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall this week at Monday’s editorial board meeting of the Elmira Star-Gazette.

The paper is located in the 29th district of New York, where newly uncovered divorce records paint the Republican candidate as an unruly wife-abuser. In recently surfaced divorce papers, state Sen. Randy Kuhl (R), who is running to succeed the gentlemanly Rep. Amo Houghton (R), is described by his ex-wife as an abusive drunk who once threatened her with two shotguns during a dinner party at their home.

[IMGCAP(1)] At Monday’s editorial board meeting, Kuhl said he felt “ambushed” when he saw his Democratic opponent, Samara Barend, show up at the paper with three aides, according to sources in the room. Kuhl said he’d been under the impression that Barend, a former aide to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), would not be there.

Kuhl says the divorce papers were released illegally and that their publication is the result of dirty politics. So he was none too pleased to see Barend with her staffers in tow. Kuhl, who was alone, demanded that the Barend aides leave the meeting. “Senator Kuhl kicked us out,” one of Barend’s aides told HOH.

David Kubissa, the associate editor of the Star-Gazette, told HOH there was a “misunderstanding” because of scheduling difficulties. “To me, he was a little annoyed, I think, just because he hadn’t been told” that Barend would be attending as well, Kubissa said.

It was an easy fix, however. The three staffers left the room, Barend stayed and the editorial board interviewed both candidates to make a final determination on which one of them the paper will endorse, Kubissa said.

The paper will make a decision by the end of this week. Kubissa said it’s unclear yet how heavily the editorial board will weigh Kuhl’s divorce records. After one preliminary meeting, he says, the board was “pretty split.”

The papers also note that Kuhl was arrested in 1997 for drunken driving and, according to the divorce papers — which were first reported on the Web log rawstory.com — refused his wife’s requests to attend counseling.

Kuhl refuses to discuss the contents of the divorce proceedings and instead has focused on the fact that they were released against his wishes. We do know that he learned of the Sept. 9 release of the divorce records from the Steuben County Clerk in Bath, N.Y., to an unnamed individual.

More than two weeks after learning of the release, Kuhl sat down with Roll Call and the Rothenberg Political Report during a fundraising visit to Washington, D.C. He requested the meeting, though he had already visited Roll Call several months earlier.

Kuhl was asked whether his opponent had anything to use against him in the campaign. Kuhl replied, “I may have hit a sour note sometime during eighth grade choir.” (Sour notes, shotguns, DWIs, violent threats against one’s wife — what’s the difference, right?)

The Barend camp is saying very little publicly about Kuhl’s reported shotgun dinner antics. Don Weigel, a spokesman for the Democratic candidate, says, “It’s up to the voters of this district to decide if this is the kind of person they want representing them in Congress.”

More Rowdiness. NBC affiliate WOAI in San Antonio described Sunday night’s debate between Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) and GOP challenger Roger Scott as “political pandemonium.” And according to Scott, it got physical. The Republican candidate filed a police report alleging that Gonzalez assaulted him on the television set of PBS affiliate KLRN after the debate ended.

The way Scott tells it, Gonzalez didn’t like Scott challenging his record, so he grabbed Scott’s arm. “I had to ask him twice to let go of my arm,” Scott told HOH. “He was trying to apply pressure. My thought is that he was trying to intimidate me, make me feel belittled. It was threatening.”

Scott claims Gonzalez said to him: “You little shit.”

Michael Torra, a spokesman for Gonzalez, said, “Oh give me a break! The guy’s got a failing campaign and he’s desperate.” Torra said the arm grab was merely a “little touch of the elbow.” He deemed the police report a “publicity stunt” and said the bad words were never uttered.

Scott tells HOH that after the “altercation” he “felt terrible” for not having believed Gonzalez’s ex-wife, Becky Whetstone, who accused her ex of “cruelty and selfishness with the marriage” and then got back at him by running against him after their divorce.

Roy Flores, the director of production at KLRN, says there was definitely shouting but no cursing — nothing, one might say, that was outside the realm of today’s political scene.

Beware the Belz. The Creative Coalition is bringing a number of its member actors to town this week, including Joe “Joey Pants” Pantoliano, to celebrate publication of the nonpartisan group’s book “If You Had Five Minutes with the President,” edited by Ron Reagan. The book party will be held Thursday at the Georgetown office of the booksellers Kinsey Marable & Co.

“I think these types of books should come out all the time, not just when the world is about to end,” says Richard Belzer, a stand-up comedian and actor best known as the grizzled, leftish Detective John Munch on “Homicide” and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”

The book compiles brief essays by Belzer and more than 55 other actors, comedians and even a few pundits, all giving their two cents on what they’d say to the president of the free world if given the opportunity.

Belzer tells HOH he’d use the time to rail against the “right wing” media. “The media we relied on in the past have become tainted, skewed to the right.” He says it’s “chilling stuff” and “really shocking” how mainstream news organizations have been co-opted by the right. “It’s the beginning of fascism.”

It’s clear who Belzer’s voting for. “I’m an ABB guy: Anybody But Bush. Bush is the worst president in the history of the United States.”

And there’s more where that came from. Of his own Senator, Hillary Clinton, Belzer tells HOH, “Hillary is kind of a militarist.” (That’s because she voted in favor of the Iraq war resolution, he says.)

Belzer, a Creative Coalition board member, says he got involved to educate others about politics and the importance of voting. But the Belz (as he’s known to friends and fans) might want to do a little studying between now and Election Day. Asked who his House Member is, Belzer paused, let out an “ugh” and whispered, “I don’t know.” He’s said he’s been too busy getting rid of Bush.

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.