Mistaken Identity Can Be Hazardous to Your Business

Published in Golocalprov.com, October 24, 2014

Just three weeks before the City of Providence’s election for Mayor, Eastside customers of The Camera Werks, a long-time fixture on Hope Street, expressed concern over a recent letter to the editor (LTE) written by a Patricia Louise Zacks, who they surmised was the retail store owner. The small neighborhood retail establishment has operated for over 27 years, serving three generations of customers.

Unaware of the published letter, visitors and emails began coming in regarding the LTE, which left the shop owner. Patricia Susan Zacks, confused. Through conversations, she quickly learned that emails were circulating throughout the East Side neighborhood, linking her to the editorial letter that she never wrote. In sharp protest to the views of the editorial letter, longtime customers pledged to bring their business elsewhere.

Last week’s political drama came about because of mistaken identities. The October 15 LTE, was actually penned by Providence resident, Patricia Louise Zacks, who is now married to the retail store owner’s former husband.

The mistake of mixing up the two Zacks’ identities might not have occurred if Providence Journal newspaper readers had gotten the facts straight before they circulated the LTE to Eastside friends among the Summit Neighborhood. Each Zacks has a different middle name and reside in different cities, one is an East Side resident in Providence, and the other is a Pawtucket resident in Oakhill, just across the Providence city line.

Patricia Susan Zacks, the camera store owner, attempted to use Face Book to clarify that the author of the LTE was not her, but rather a Providence resident, stating “I am a Pawtucket resident who has been a Hope Street merchant for over 27 years and have proudly served my customers. I extend best wishes to all the candidates and look forward to working with whomever the voters decide for the future of Providence.”

Coming to Like Buddy, More

The LTE’s heading, “Journal’s fear of Cianci leads us to support him,” summed up Providence resident Patricia Louise Zacks’ personal journey to ultimately support the former Providence mayor, she says. The Eastside resident of 10 years who works for the State’s Department of Transportation notes that she and her husband “sat on the fence,” for a while not able to decide whether to cast their vote for Housing Court Judge Jorge Elorza or Cianci.

The couple knew of Cianci’s previous felony convictions (acknowledging he served his time and legally had a right to run for mayor) but that he was able to run a City and provide needed services to its residents. Elorza had “impressive credentials,” too, making their political decision, virtually “an impossible choice,” noted Patricia Louis Zacks. She also pointed out in her LTE that Cianci has little to hide, he’s an open book to the voters because of the coverage in the Providence Journal, editorials, op eds, and debates.

Finally, the LTE noted that the straw that broke the camel’s back was the continual attack on Cianci by the Providence Journal combined with an attempt by East Siders to secretly raise $1 million to defeat the two-time convicted felon.

Patricia Louise Zacks notes that after she went public with her household’s support for Cianci, several spiteful messages were left on her answering machine. One caller gave his support for her candidate, but others made typically insulting remarks.

“I expected I would get all sorts of flack, but I didn’t get upset or angry because I could just hit the delete button,” she said.

But, Patricia Louise Zacks also learned of the negative impact of her LTE on another person, one who carried her last surname.

Looking back, “What kind of world do we live in where I cannot exercise my constitutionally-protected right to express my personal opinion in a local newspaper without causing professional and possibly even financial damage to a woman [with the same last name] who owns a small photography and framing business, and is also someone I personally know, admire, and hold in high esteem,” says Patricia Louise Zacks, quipping. “How in God’s name can such a thing happen?”

Chiding those who punish merchants because of who they politically support, she believes offering a quality product or service at a fair price should be more than enough for any businessperson to offer. “Making that owner’s religion, sexual orientation, race, and gender – especially that person’s political ideology – a part of the transaction is, in my opinion, vindictive and small-minded,” charges Patricia Louise Zacks.

A Political Moral

Living in a democracy gives us many rights and privileges, including the entitlement to support a particular political candidate and the right to publically publicize that choice.

Over the years, political campaigns have become a blood sport, even more so in controversial campaigns like the Cianci-Elorza race. Patricia Louise Zacks voiced her support for Cianci, giving us examples of how she reached this decision (to the dismay of many Eastsiders) in a LTE printed in the Providence Journal, the largest major daily in the Ocean State.

But, it was Patricia Susan Zacks who faced the wrath of Eastside readers, many of her customers, because they mistakenly believed she was endorsing the former Providence mayor, a candidate that they were working hard to defeat. Circulating emails with this LTE attached only added fuel to the intense political drama in Rhode Island’s largest community.

One well-placed Elorza supporter told this columnist that he saw no problem boycotting businesses if the owner was not in sync with their choice of candidates. But, in my opinion winning an election should not be based on a “torch and burn” mentality because of differing political views.

For those who want to use their economic clout to support their candidates, I urge them to get the facts straight. Here is a situation where people took action based on faulty information.

If people have differing positions on candidates or policy issues, they can just agree to disagree. When the dust settles after the upcoming Nov. 4 election, whoever carries the day, the sun will surely rise the next day. I can guarantee that one.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues, who just happens to be the husband of Patricia S. Zacks. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com

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