A Martha’s Vineyard cab driver found himself at the center of national attention this week after a confrontation Sunday with a Republican videographer, eventually holding a press conference Wednesday evening to address the incident, saying he meant to shield his young daughter from the camera.
In the most recent development, Sen. Scott Brown weighed in on the incident Thursday by sending a letter to Oak Bluffs selectmen urging them not to take away the taxi driver’s license.
Morgan Reitzas, 36, was driving a Martha’s Vineyard Taxi vehicle Sunday for Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who was on the Vineyard this weekend and campaigned in Ocean Park. As Ms. Warren was leaving and getting into the cab, Mr. Reitzas got into a verbal back-and-forth with a Republican “tracker” who was recording Ms. Warren’s movements.
The 44-second video shows Mr. Reitzas asking the videographer to get out of his face, with the cameraman responding that it was a public event. At one point, the camera was knocked or fell to the ground. The two argued back and forth, and the driver ended by saying “you are messing with the wrong people.” Ms. Warren and her staffers appeared to be in the vehicle while the incident occurred.
The video was posted online and picked up by numerous media outlets. As of early Thursday afternoon, the video was viewed more than 128,000 times on YouTube.
Mr. Reitzas is listed as the president of Martha’s Vineyard Transport, which owns Martha’s Vineyard Taxi.
“What hasn’t been reported is he had his four-year-old daughter in the cab at the time he went to pick up Ms. Warren, and a person with a camera approach him . . . and my client simply held up his hand, which he was legally entitled to do, because he was worried that the cameraman was going to photograph or record his daughter,” attorney Daniel Larkosh said Wednesday evening during a press conference with his partner Linda Jackson in front of their law firm on Meshacket Road, where television cameras and a Channel 7 satellite truck were on hand.
“It wasn’t my client’s intention to knock the camera out of this individual’s hand . . . my client feels that the camera was dropped,” Mr. Larkosh said.
“My client’s here to take responsibility for his share of what happened. Clearly he overreacted,” the attorney continued. “He’s very sorry for creating a distraction in both campaigns. He has a lot of respect for Senator Brown; he has a lot of respect for Elizabeth Warren. This matter has been blown out of proportion; it is a distraction. My client is a hardworking man. He supports a family. He just wants to get back to work and put this matter to rest.
“I know that Senator Brown would never knowingly subject my client to this kind of distress,” he said.
On Thursday, Senator Brown wrote a letter to Oak Bluffs selectmen urging them not to revoke Mr. Reitzas’s license.
“It has come to my attention through media reports that you are considering revoking the taxi cab license of Mr. Morgan Reitzas, a driver for Elizabeth Warren who was involved in a recent confrontation with a videographer employed by the Massachusetts Republican Party,” Mr. Brown wrote in the letter.
“As a public figure, I encounter ‘trackers’ daily. Their constant presence is part of the political process, and candidates and their staff need to respect their right to participate in that process. When candidates bring in outside help, they need to make a good faith effort to make sure those individuals do not overreact to people who are just doing their jobs. In this instance, it is clear Mr. Reitzas was not educated about the dos and don’ts of the campaign trail,” he said.
“Mr. Reitzas was put into a situation that is foreign to most people; he did not understand what was going on and he let his emotions get the better of him. While this doesn’t excuse his behavior, Mr. Reitzas has recognized that he was out of line and his attorney has expressed regret on his behalf for what happened.
“I do not think that taking away this man’s livelihood is the appropriate response to what occurred. We are in tough economic times. Mr. Reitzas has a young daughter, and I am concerned about how he would support his family if he lost his license. He seems like a regular guy who’s just trying to get by like everyone else. It is my hope that he will be allowed to continue with his job and get back to his life.”
The Oak Bluffs selectmen briefly addressed the issue at their meeting Tuesday, but ultimately said they had no jurisdiction over Mr. Reitzas’s license, which is based in Tisbury. Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel said the town is looking into the matter, but no action was planned.
At the press conference, Mr. Larkosh said he wasn’t aware of any action being taken against Mr. Reitzas, and Ms. Jackson said he has a current valid taxi license in Tisbury.
Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake told selectmen that the police did not receive a report about the incident.
The incident began to draw attention Monday, when a press release from the executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party called Mr. Reitzas a campaign aide to Ms. Warren, and called for the candidate to address the situation.
In a statement, Ms. Warren’s campaign said the incident involved a taxi driver, not an aide, and that the confrontation was wrong.
Mr. Larkosh reiterated that Mr. Reitzas was not affiliated with Ms. Warren. “He is in no way affiliated with Ms. Warren’s campaign or personally a friend of hers, he was just simply acting as a cab driver,” he said.
Mrs. Jackson said Mr. Reitzas is an unenrolled voter in Oak Bluffs.
“We feel very firmly that this should not reflect negatively on Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, and it shouldn’t reflect negatively on Senator Brown’s campaign,” Mr. Larkosh said.
Kate Feiffer, an Oak Bluffs resident who attended Ms. Warren’s event last Sunday, told the Gazette that the candidate acknowledged the video tracker and asked the group to wave and say hello. “She was extremely respectful of the tracker and set the tone for us to be gracious to him as well,” Ms. Feiffer said in an e-mail.
“There’s been a lot of negative fallout, negative reporting that’s happened since that time, and my client has been subject to some threats and also some harassment and we’re just here to present my client’s side of the story. We hope that by doing that to diffuse some of what’s going on right now,” Mr. Larkosh said.
“It’s been a very uncomfortable situation for my client and his family. He’d like this just to stop and go back to being a private person,” he concluded.