“We’re All Done Now”

From Gazette editions of April, 1984:

When Jeff Norton stands up in front of town meeting, something happens. It’s hard to explain, but anyone who has ever been to a town meeting in Edgartown knows that Jeff Norton has the ability to make a town meeting fun. He reads the long, boring language in the warrant articles like an auctioneer. He stands on the stage of the old Whaling Church, scuffing one foot like a schoolboy while he waits for a couple of voters to argue it out.

At the second half of the annual town meeting this week one voter asked if there was someone to explain a highway department request. Without hesitating Jeff Norton looked at highway superintendent Laurence Mercier and said, “Mr. Mercier is going to talk to you right now.”

He has an unmatched ability for understatement. He lets voters get away with some things that other moderators might not. But in Edgartown, where there is often back-biting and personality clashes on the town meeting floor, he seems to have a knack for just how far to let things go. He never uses the gavel, except to tap it absently in the palm of one hand. For him a gavel is not necessary for control. At the first half of the annual town meeting one voter began to make accusatory remarks about another, and Jeff warned her, “You’d better watch it, Terese: Just be careful.”

The arguing is done, the meeting is over. Jeff Norton doesn’t ask for a vote to adjourn. Doesn’t need to. Besides, it’s not his style. He just says, “Thank you very much, we’re all done now.”

Edward Redstone, who owns 54 per cent of the Martha’s Vineyard National Bank stock, is offering to buy all outstanding shares. “As an investment this not sound,” Mr. Redstone said. “I bought the first eight percent out of affection for the bank and the Island. Then it kept going up. Now I’m thinking in terms of protecting my investment.”

Rep. Gerry E. Studds has introduced his own striped bass bill, calling for individual states to comply with a 55 per cent reduction in striped bass landings by December 1984 or face a federal moratorium on fishing for the species. Meanwhile, several Island restaurant owners said this week they plan a moratorium of their own — on the serving of striped bass for dinner. Restaurateurs are showing a new sensitivity to the striped bass issue as the summer season approaches.

Matt Young, owner of the Ocean Club in Vineyard Haven, says he has no plans to serve what he calls “the king of the sea” this year. “It’s beautiful looking meat, my biggest fish item along with swordfish, but if you look at the numbers, you can see it’s in trouble. It’s partly a selfish thing. I want to be able to eat bass in years to come. So we’ll pass on it for now.”

Jack Livingston, fish buyer for the Black Dog Tavern, said he has no plans to buy striped bass this year. “It’s the principle of it. The fish is getting wiped out. I’d like my kids to be able to catch a striper.”

Jerry Ottinger at Martha’s Restaurant and Scott Caskey at the Harbor View said they will not serve bass this year. And Primo Lombardi, owner of the Brass Bass in Oak Bluffs, says that despite the bass being his restaurant’s namesake, he will not serve it. “You have to be community conscious,” he said.

The Vineyard Gazette this week completed its first major building expansion and renovation at South Summer street and Davis Lane in Edgartown, the newspaper’s home since early 1939. This week, as the newspaper enters its 139th year of publishing without missing a single issue, the Gazette will open its doors to all the Vineyard community for a house warming and public inspection.

The Gazette had outgrown its plant in the house built in the 1760s by Bradford Smith, a militia captain in the Revolutionary War. The paper faced a decision: build and move into new quarters, or expand its offices in Edgartown. There were strong arguments for a new plant. But outweighing them was the Gazette’s sense of its own history and commitment as a community newspaper.

The building project was accomplished literally on top of the Gazette staff as it went through the process of putting out the newspaper each week. The production staff grew accustomed to working with the noise of construction over their heads, and the press had to be entirely wrapped in plastic each week to shield it from the dust.

“Old and new combined in the home of Martha’s Vineyard’s newspaper,” proclaimed the headline over photographs of the new Gazette offices in 1939. The “new” at the Vineyard Gazette has changed since then — the linotype machines are gone. But still the sense of history lingers in the restored Revolutionary house in the front, in the pressroom where the old Seth Adams hand press which printed the first Vineyard Gazette in 1846 is visible — even in the newsroom where video terminals coexist with venerable Underwood and Royal typewriters and seasoned wood desks.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner