Long Story Short: Lock them up
Never kick a man when he’s down, unless the man is confessed felon Chris Collins—then, have at it. That seems to be the philosophy of the media and everyone else with an insatiable desire to react publicly to the former Congressman’s guilty plea.
Last week, the Buffalo News again published the Collins’ family saga, detailing the entire crime and punishment narrative, start to finish. The story has been reported by virtually every news organization in the country, from the New York Times to Denver’s Gephardt Daily.
Buffalo News and Politico report that there are eleven Republican candidates vying for the opportunity to replace Collins. The choice will likely be made by the Republican party, but everyone agrees that if Army veteran and Medal of Honor winner David Bellavia wants the job, it’s his. At very least, he’s the clear frontrunner. To get a sense of Bellavia’s politics, all you need to know is that Republican consultant, Michael Caputo—friend to Donald Trump, Roger Stone, and Carl Paladino—backs him. Bellavia has not shown an interest in the job thus far.
I voted for him, now throw the book at him
Conservative radio talk show host, columnist, and author Bob Lonsberry wrote a fiery letter to U.S. Court Judge Vernon Broderick, invoking the name of Jesus in his pitch to go hard on Collins: “Jesus drove the money changers from the temple,” Lonsberry writes. “His punishment must be significant.” Lonsberry had previously announced he would vote for Collins despite referring to him as “a crook.”
In another letter, Democratic candidate Nate McMurray also urged the judge to go hard on Collins. He is calling for the ex-Congressman to return his congressional salary from the date of his indictment, and for his pension to be revoked going forward. Turns out, though, the law doesn’t allow for this action in response to nongovernment-related crimes. Broderick may know this, but it makes for good press.
A pitch for mercy
Collins, on the other hand, is pleading for leniency. And he’s asking friends to write to the judge to do the same. "It is important for us to get letters of support from those who know me best and can attest to my character and years of service and accomplishments," Collins writes in an email to friends and associates. But a group known as Citizens Against Collins is asking people to do just the opposite.
The Buffalo News delved deeply into the likely outcome of all this, which it says will be “fines, prison,” and “SEC penalties.” They figure Collins will owe “tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars,” as will his son and his son's future father-in-law. And there might be civil suits as well.
While we’re talking about Collins
New York magazine reports that Collins may have been extorted into becoming the first Congressman to endorse Donald Trump for president. “As a moderate back-bencher looking to move up in the world, why would you endorse an authoritarian demagogue over the strenuous objections of your party’s leadership?” the article poses. The answer they say, can be found in an article on Syracuse.com. Turns out, failed Republican New York gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino, told local Republicans that they should “endorse Trump to salvage their ‘pathetic careers’ in government.” Paladino threatened to “unleash a series of attacks against Republican members of New York's congressional delegation who refuse to endorse Trump.” Collins was the only one to buckle under pressure, suggests New York.
Collins has announced that, henceforth, he will be living in Florida. “I'm now a Florida resident and will be in Florida for a while as the press settles down and moves on,” he states to friends in the same email in which he asks for support.
“For a while” might not be too long. Sentencing is January 17.
Nowhere to hide
Cameras have become so ubiquitous, that it’s near impossible to commit a crime these days without having your picture snapped. I realized this last week, when a series of criminal photo ops hit the internet.
“Does anyone know this scumbag,” asks one Facebook post, “He is breaking into homes in the day time.” The accompanying picture is a pretty good shot of a balding white man appearing to lift up a window from outside a house. Another picture in the comments shows the man’s car, which he apparently parked in the victim’s driveway. By the end of the comments, someone reports that he “got him.”
Channel 7 reports that New York State Police are looking for help identifying two people who stole $1,900 worth of merchandise from Walmart in Clarence. Again, decent pictures.
Video played a role in the arrest of a man who committed three holdups in one evening. He was described as “5-foot-3, 150-pound male wearing a green paper shopping bag over his head with holes cut out for eyes.” Was this the Gong Show’s unknown comic? Nah, it was Andrew J. Patterson, police say, who was arrested a day later, partly thanks video showing the masked bandit in action. The 29-year-old had just gotten out of Mid-State Correctional Facility five days earlier.
The secret life of Shark Girl
Recently, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (AKAG) announced that “Shark Girl, the wildly popular public sculpture from the museum’s Public Art Initiative, will be temporarily removed from her location at Canalside Buffalo during the second week of October for some well-deserved pampering in the form of artwork conservation.”
Why? Because Western New York loves the little girl in the blue party dress with the head of a shark so much that the poor dear requires sprucing-up as often as twice a year. And the truth is, she’s not as rugged as her admirers imagine. “She’s cast in fiberglass, then painted with auto paints,” says Cincinnati artist Casey Riordan, “then I go in and do detail paint work.” Shark Girl was designed by Riordan, who first modeled the sculpture in plasticine, after which it was sent to Kris Swain, of Hamilton, Ohio, who cast the sculpture.
It’s a testament to Buffalo’s high regard for the work, that it’s never been seriously damaged. But even durable auto paint wears off with constant handling, and this toothy young lady virtually implores the public to sit by her on her stone perch and interact. It’s among the most popular selfie sites in the region. But “Shark Girl has recently begun looking so bad,” says Riordan. AKAG representatives have been in discussions with the artist for at least two years to come up with a long-term conservation plan. “It’s a challenge to fund ongoing maintenance,” she says.
Never meant for long term display
“In Cincinnati they didn’t want her,” says Riordan. Shark Girl was originally funded by a Cincinnati citywide project to create and exhibit temporary public art. “She was on display for maybe six months or a bit more,” the artist recalls, “and she was covered in graffiti.” The city insisted that it was the artist’s responsibility to clean and restore the damaged work. “Of course, she has gotten more popular here, says Riordan referring to Buffalo, “I think it’s validation.”
In conjunction with the artist, and with assistance from Swain, the AKAG is structurally reinforcing Shark Girl, giving her an upgrade, as Riordan puts it. The museum will employ a variety of approaches to ensure that the sculpture remains on display, looking pristine, for many years to come.
Will the real Shark Girl please stand up
Speaking with Riordan, it’s sometimes unclear just where the artist ends, and Shark Girl begins. Riordan had been drawing people with animal heads since elementary school. She started working with sharks in the 1990s, and eventually began drawing Shark Girl images with great frequency. “She and I were like-minded when I started,” says the artist. Like minded? “I’m a recovering alcoholic,” explains Riordan, who has been sober for seven years, “Shark Girl is a product of bad mental health.” The artist believes this is the secret to the work’s popularity. “That’s why people identify with her,” she says, “She seems cute at first, but when you begin to think about it, she’s pretty sad.”
Shark Girl currently exists in numerous forms: paintings, prints, drawings, more than one sculpture, and now licensed merch. Riordan sees the character’s many permutations as reflections of her emotional obsessions. “I was trying to figure out my own mental health and she was a way of coming to terms with it,” she says.
Success and recovery
The artist graduated with a BFA from Ohio University in 1994 and soon had an exhibition of Shark Girl paintings in Chicago, where she was living at the time. When around a dozen works from the exhibition sold, she knew she was onto something.
“She’s getting better,” says the artist of her creation, “She created her own narrative.” As Riordan speaks of Shark Girl’s recovery, it’s clear that the character’s evolution is a metaphor for the artist’s own journey toward mental health. She says Shark Girl’s recovery is manifested in a series of paintings. Riordan now seems ready to let go of her close association with the character. “I think it’s the public art aspect,” she says, “She has this whole life without me and it’s interesting to see that.”
To a large degree, the character dominates the artist’s life. “I plan Shark Girl projects out so far in advance, she’s sort of my job now,” Riordan reflects. “She’s taken over my art career.” Licensed Shark Girl products are sold in the AKAG store, and Riordan is currently working on a series of limited-edition prints, “and they are beautiful,” she beams.
A sharing nature
Like most artists, Riordan wears more than one hat. She is currently a licensed professional counselor for mental health at the Art Academy of Cincinnati (AAC). After teaching for five years as an adjunct at AAC, she decided to pursue an MA in mental health counseling at University of Cincinnati. At the academy, professors had been regularly sending students to her because of her knack for compassionate communication. Does she have any Shark Girl items in her office? “A couple small things, and sometimes a client will say, ‘You’re Shark Girl?’” she says, "but after a half hour they know me as their counselor instead."
Riordan wants to share her personal triumph with others, especially those entering the art field. “Artists have a little extra load of anxiety and depression,” she says, “just from making work.” So, Riordan is there for the students. And Shark Girl is never far away.
Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.
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