Videos from political rally show confrontation between Shaprio, protester | News, Sports, Jobs

Trustee Rich Shapiro, in blue, and Jacob Vennie-Vollrath, in white, are seen here face-to-face as Vennie-Vollrath holds a sign protesting Franklin County Legislator Lindy Ellis, on stage, who is married to Shapiro. (Screenshot from provided video – Neko Jay)

SARANAC LAKE – Saranac Lake village Trustee Rich Shapiro could be censured by the village board after verbal and physical confrontations he’s been involved with in the past week – both of which were steeped in years of conflicts and disagreements between Shapiro and the people he clashed with.

Jacob Vennie-Vollrath said on Facebook that Shapiro pushed him at the “Spring Forward with Franklin County Democrats Picnic in the Park” on Sunday. Shapiro says the two bumped into one another and accuses Vennie-Vollrath of faking his fall.

Vennie-Vollrath did not respond to multiple Enterprise requests for comment.

This past Thursday, Shapiro left a joint meeting between the town and village boards after village resident Fred Balzac made allegations about him and his wife, Franklin County Legislator Lindy Ellis, in a public comment period. Before he left, Shapiro shouted at Balzac, saying his accusations were “Bulls ***.” When Shapiro returned at the end of the meeting, he called Balzac’s statements “Camel dung” and referred to him as an “A *** pore.”

Mayor Jimmy Williams said he is “Embarrassed for the board” and that it was “Not a good look.” Williams and Trustees Matt Scollin and Kelly Brunette voted on Monday to begin a process which could result in the board censuring Shapiro.

The videos

The Enterprise has obtained two videos of the confrontation between Shapiro and Vennie-Vollrath at the Democratic rally at Riverside Park on Sunday – one from afar, filmed by village resident Shaun Kittle and one from up close, filmed by village resident Neko Jay. Both can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3wI2jOM and https://bit.ly/3NzVbtr.

In the videos, as Ellis begins her speech, four protestors holding signs step up in front of the bandshell, with some objection from organizers and attendees. Ellis, a Democrat, is running for reelection and is married to Shapiro.

The signs had slogans opposing Ellis – “Lindy Ellis is bad for Saranac Lake” and “Lindy Ellis made my friend lose her job over political retribution,” the signs read.

Other event attendees, including Shapiro, step up in front of the protestors, holding election signs in front of the protest signs.

As Ellis talks, Shapiro approaches Vennie-Vollrath, both of them holding signs their heads. They shuffle back and forth, getting closer to each other. As Vennie-Vollrath moves to keep blocking the view of Ellis on stage, Shapiro stops moving backward and the two collide. Vennie-Vollrath falls backward, onto the bandshell stage, as the park explodes with reactions.

On social media, Vennie-Vollrath called it a “Push.”

Shapiro said he did not push.

“There was no shove. He bumped into me and bounced off my belly, ” Shapiro said Monday. “He bounced into my protruding belly and faked the fall.”

Shapiro believes Vennie-Vollrath threw the fall.

“He’s a basketball player. He was trying to get the fowl called, ” Shapiro said. “He did a good Academy Award performance. … This was their goal, to disrupt and get reactions and they got a reaction out of me. ”

Shapiro said he actually doesn’t recall what happened in that moment, what he felt and what he did. He said his account of that moment comes from reviewing video and he is adamant the video vindicates him.

“He initiated contact,” he said of Vennie-Vollrath on Monday. “He charged me.”

In describing the video, people on different sides of the confrontation say it shows opposite things, depending on their personal views.

Shapiro said he regrets getting that close. He said seeing the signs, which he says had false statements about his wife on them, was “Upsetting.”

Shapiro said these allegations about his wife are a “Blatant lie.”

But he said he wasn’t trying to fight.

“I’m not about to start something,” Shapiro said. “I’ve never thrown a punch in my life.”

Ellis later pointed out that Shapiro has three nerves cut in his right leg, a result of a back injury 18 years ago, after which, he had to teach himself to walk again. Shapiro said he has no surface feeling on his right leg, which came in contact with Vennie-Volrath’s leg.

She claimed Vennie-Vollrath contacted Shapiro first and that Shapiro’s right foot went back to stabilize himself. Ellis said the protestors at the event were “Bullying” and Provoking with “Nasty signs,” disrupting a happy event.

Neko Jay was standing close to the stage. She believes Shapiro lost his balance because of Vennie-Vollrath.

Williams said the video was “Disturbing.” Seeing it, he said there was “Definitely physical contact” between Shapiro and Vennie-Vollrath, which he thinks was a push with the chest and stomach.

He said Shapiro’s actions were “Unacceptable.”

Profanity and pores

In public comment at the start of a joint meeting between the Harrietstown town board and the Saranac Lake village board on Thursday, Balzac accused Shapiro and Ellis of using their elected offices for personal and political vendettas, getting people they had feuds with fired and allegedly smearing Vennie-Vollrath in the past.

“This is bulls ***,” Shapiro shouted several times at the meeting.

Williams said he does not allow profanity at meetings.

Shapiro left the town hall. He returned at the end of the meeting to speak at the podium during a public comment period, addressing Balzac.

“Is this positive and productive?” Williams asked Shapiro when he returned.

“To me this is more positive and productive than the things that a *** pore over there had to say,” Shapiro said, pointing to Balzac.

Williams began ending the meeting.

“I’m not done here,” Shapiro shouted. “Give me my chance to talk.”

Williams pulled the mic wires from an audio box behind him.

“I’m actually doing you a favor right now,” Williams said to Shapiro.

On Monday, Shapiro said Williams was “Off base” to cut him off. He said he had every right to refute the allegations made against him and Ellis.

Shapiro said Williams allowing Balzac to make accusations against him and his wife, and cutting him off from refuting them, was biased.

“That’s his obvious prejudice,” he said. Shapiro said of Williams.

On Monday, Williams said it was Yelling and vulgarity that set the two comments apart.

Williams said if the public curses or is derogatory in a public comment session, then he’ll stop them.

He said Balzac’s comment was “Applicable,” since it was about $ 50,000 in tourism funds from Franklin County the town and village have to figure out how to spend, and a county legislator.

“Everybody knows that sometimes not everything that comes from a public comment is perfect,” Williams said on Monday.

Shapiro said this was not a valid reason to cut him off. He said he does not know another way to defend himself and Ellis from the allegations.

“How do you refute a negative?” he asked. “You can’t.”

He said he thinks Balzac attends every village board meeting to make allegations and disparage him and he’s “Fed up.” Shapiro said he “I can’t just ignore it.”

“My response at the time is somewhat a hot-headed, irate response because I was really pissed at these lying accusations,” he admits. “They keep repeating them again and again and it gets to me.”

He said he regrets losing his temper, but said he believes he was “Heavily provoked.”

“A small, minuscule group of immature people are spouting lies about myself and our county legislator (his wife),” he said. “If you repeat a lie long enough, people believe it.”

At the Monday meeting, Shapiro initially denied using profanity before Trustee Matt Scollin confirmed that he had. Later, Shapiro said the curse came out without thinking. He said the phrase “A *** pore,” “Was a polite way of saying ‘a ** hole.'” At the Thursday meeting, he said he thinks it was “A nicer term than (Balzac) deserves.”

Williams said name-calling is “Juvenile.”

“I thought, ‘what if my daughter was sitting in the audience?'” Williams said.

His wife had considered bringing the little one down to the meeting. Williams said it would have been intimidating and scary for a child to be there. He wants kids to see local government working for residents.

“It wasn’t classy,” Williams said Monday.

Williams said he also holds board members to a higher standard than the public.

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