To begin an article about the infiltration of New York State politics by socialism in as restrained a manner as possible, I'll start with an interview I had with the very mannerly City of Geneva Councilor Jan Regan.
Now, Regan is a democrat who could be described as a bridge-builder. So I wouldn't disparage her just because she leans blue. I sat down with Regan just after a meeting of the Geneva City Council to inquire about a fellow councilor who is a committed socialist and the community's villain you love to hate.
Regan usually votes with her colleague, and I thought she might have some insight into socialist activity in the city. Regan said of the socialist on the council:
"Councilor Salamendra is on the more ... I don't know ... more aggressive side of these issues than me, but we do tend to vote a lot alike here and there because you get to vote yes or no. That's it. And there are many nuances in your vote but you still come out on one side."
Regan is a democrat like many you could have issues with but still recognize as a good neighbor. The difficulty is the type of good neighbor she is—someone who could have a BLM sign on their lawn and take it at face value and not as a political statement. She opens the door to people who use the same sloganeering to cover heinous acts.
Regan said of Councilor Laura Salamendra:
"It's unfortunate because Laura is ... When I was first running, and I attended a meeting with her, I thought, 'I just don't know if I can work with her,' to be honest with you, but, boy, if you give yourself the time to listen to what she says rather than the way she says it. Or, as I said tonight, she put forward a resolution, and the comments in the paper were all about Laura and all about her motives. No one really commented on the resolution itself. Or very few.
She has just brought about this reaction that is unfair. Because if it were in writing and you didn't hear her voice, I think there'd be much more agreement with what she has to say."
I had mixed feelings about Regan's observations but understood her completely. At one time, I'd been where she was regarding Salamendra. Regan's musing on how reasonable Salamendra can seem if taken only for the content of her proposals—often read aloud by Salamendra in meetings from notes—was an exceptionally provocative statement considering something I'd been told. Regan, however, hadn't meant her observation about Salamendra to be anything but kind. You'll understand in a moment what I mean about the thought being provocative.
To continue with the good neighbor analogy, Salamendra and many of her socialist sisters in New York State are not good neighbors. They'd call anyone to the carpet for perceived uncouth behavior but live to push boundaries flagrantly themselves. Nevertheless, they've found their way in the door, partly following on the heels of people like Regan.
The socialists I have in mind—all women—but maybe that's my current preoccupation— often make a conspicuous show of the blue-collar employment they've had in their lives. That's a second entry point for them. There is the most famous of the bunch, former bartender AOC. There is also nurse India Walton, who could have been Buffalo's mayor if not for her challenger's squeaker of a write-in campaign.
But there is at least one other for the purpose of this article, Laura Salamendra. Salamendra doesn't accent her blue-collar employment the way Cortez and Walton have. Still, maybe that's because Salamendra's work as a waitress is an established fact in the small city of Geneva. If the three women don't share some hidden knowledge, if it's unintentional that they're all known by their blue-collar work, that could suggest socialism has caught like wildfire with the working-class women of New York State.
I wondered, however, as I ran up against bizarre facts about the three women if what I was looking at was an organic phenomenon or something else. As I started this article, it seemed possible there was, at least, a strategy considering how significant the women's blue-collar employment is in their sometimes-sketchy biographies.
What I'd been told about Salamendra while working on a previous article made me think something else was happening.
The picturesque city of Geneva, New York, situated at the head of one of the state's Finger Lakes, is a lovely place to spend time, and I'd spent considerable time researching Salamendra for an earlier article. Her thin-skinned nature made for nearly addictive viewing as I'd poured through hours of taped council meetings where her feelings took centerstage. I thought of her very much as Geneva's version of Cersei Lannister. Moody, conniving. Despite not sharing Salamendra's politics, I became quite a fan.
Along with Salamendra's theatrics went someone I believed was her own woman. She could be crass but also thoughtful in an interview I'd once read. The article resulting from my research was a dual portrait of Salamendra and another of the region's notable social justice warriors. Unfortunately, despite the work that had gone into it, the article never saw publication. There was a concern over legal liability.
In the article, I was, at times, complementary to Salamendra. I viewed her favorably as a leftist version of the admirable and fearless provocateur Laura Loomer. Both women are perhaps at their most impressive while at odds with a mob.
Though I'd spent hours with footage from Geneva Council meetings, soaking up Salamendra's attitude and making notations about things she'd said, it never struck me as odd the time she'd spent on her cell phone. Her cell phone will come up again in a moment.
So not to waste time I'd spent digesting Geneva politics—with an accent, of course, on Salamendra research—I began work on a second related article. The new article—accepted for publication—featured an extended interview with Salamendra's chief ideological rival of the time, fellow councilor William Pealer.
Pealer had something to say about Salamendra and her phone. This is the surprising bit:
"She's heavily coached, live in meetings. That's the 800lb gorilla in the room. It's hard to see in a zoom session but easy in person. The amount of times she's checking her phone and then reading responses live in council is many. Many, many. If you sit in a meeting and focus on the interactions, you can see people in the public seating giving her signals, texting her. Every step of the way.
She has a very activated, intelligent cohort of people that help her along in meetings and in her writings. So, I don't know if this person from Buffalo (India Walton) has that as well, but what we're talking about isn't illegal. It's just highly bizarre to have a person who's an elected official not be a polished speaker or thinker."
Of course, I'd been entirely oblivious to what was going on with Salamendra. I hadn't been in the room viewing her interactions from the dais. I requested an interview with Salamendra at the time of the unpublished first Geneva article, which she agreed to but put off to the next day. By the next day, she had stopped returning calls. I requested another interview after the publication of the second Geneva article for her to explain herself, to which she did not respond.
To loop back to what Regan observed about Salamendra:
"Because if it were in writing and you didn't hear her voice, I think there'd be much more agreement with what she has to say."
A related statement also might be true: if it's something Salamendra has supposedly written, it's anyone's guess if you hear what she has to say.
When I interviewed Pealer, what wasn't known to me was who exactly Salamendra's alleged contributors might have been. An educated guess would be that they'd fall into one or both overlapping camps—area communists and college professors—which is something you could guess from articles about Salamendra available at the time. While Pealer didn't address who exactly the alleged scribes might be, both communists and academics came up during our talk. For example, Pealer said during our interview:
"There's a large college community that backs her based on several Marxist activist groups like the Geneva Women's Assembly, which is a culturally Marxist feminist activist group, and they've got members that are also part of the Geneva communist party which is called The Party for Socialism and Liberation. And The Party for Socialism and Liberation, they've got sections in Syracuse and Ithaca and all these other regions."
A second quotation from a different point in the interview:
"And there's video of Laura doing interviews for the PSL—The Party for Socialism and Liberation—where she is boasting about how her and her camp—her and her comrades—have swung the Democrat Committee of Geneva far left. So, while she doesn't have the support of the people, she has the support of the money. These are all college professors, right? I think we used to call them 'dinks' in social science class: Double Income No Kids. So, you've got people with tons of free time, all the intellectual tools at their fingertips, all the publishing tools at their fingertips, technology at their fingertips. Time and money, and technology, right? And those are the people who are in the Democratic Committee fueling individuals that won by a margin of 16 votes, 18 votes."
CONTINUED IN PART II