By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Call it an era of excess.
That era came crashing to a close five weeks ago, as Stephen Wissink unexpectedly and abruptly resigned.
When the news was announced to a stunned roomful of Wissink's former staffers -- not by Wissink himself but by Mark Jones, the Sun-Sentinel's new human resources director -- late in the afternoon of Friday, October 17, the reigning mood was one of bewilderment. "There was a lot of confusion, a lot of questions," according to Colleen Dougher-Telcik, a staff writer who has worked for the magazine since its inception.
There weren't, however, a lot of answers. The assembled staff was told that Wissink had left for "personal reasons," she recalls. Later Jones, speaking to a reporter from another paper, added some detail. "Among other reasons, he wants to spend more time with his family."
That's true, Wissink says, but it's also misleading. Yes, he would like to involve himself more closely in the life of his eleven-year-old daughter, Erin, who moved to North Carolina in February to live with her mother, Wissink's ex-wife.
But the implication that he was so overwhelmed with parental guilt that it caused him to abandon the paper he'd helped found is simply not the case, he says. It was a deception by omission.
Wissink claims he didn't want to leave -- at least not yet. The paper had just changed its name a month before his departure and was in the middle of trying to redefine its goals and content. "In my heart I know that I was forced out," he says. "I had no choice."
The pressure came in the form an "intense" interrogation conducted earlier that week by Jones. Wissink says he'd been forced to endure questioning regarding his relationships with two women: Sandra Schulman, a current Sun-Sentinel arts columnist and former XS freelance writer, and Somer Simpson, the weekly's current online editor. (Ronnie Greenspan's name did not come up.)
Jones gave him the strong impression of being dissatisfied with Wissink's descriptions of those relationships -- relationships Wissink felt were legitimate and proper. Although neither Jones nor Wissink will detail exactly what was said in that meeting, Wissink says "it gradually became clear to me that they would rather not have me around." He obliged them.
So despite the words coming from behind the smiling mask of the corporate spokesmen, it seems clear that Wissink was forced out in a cloud of suspicion regarding sexual improprieties. But other factors also played a large part. One of these was alcoholism. Another was greed. The most important, however, was revenge.
For a man only recently given the Jonah's heave over the side of the corporate yacht, Wissink seems in a remarkably sweet mood as he sits down to breakfast in a diner near Young Circle in Hollywood.
"Bitterness will eat you up if you let it," he says. "It will devour you." The redemptive quality of forgiveness is a relatively new theme for Wissink, who once defaced a competitor's photograph with hair spray and nail polish because the man had criticized him in print. Inner peace, he explains, came in 1994 following the realization that he was an alcoholic. Under pressure from friends who could see he was losing control, he checked into Community Psychiatric Centers (which has since changed its name to Fort Lauderdale Hospital) and fought his addiction for six weeks as an inpatient. He beat it, finally, and has managed to stay clean ever since.
He asserts that his battle with alcoholism taught him the danger of destructive and negative thinking. Even so, the name of Sandra Schulman still manages to dredge up a sudden surge of malevolence. "I've heard Sandra Schulman was trying to shake down the Sun-Sentinel for money she could use to move to Nashville," he says.
He's right. "I was hoping to get some money from the Sun-Sentinel so that I could move," she says. How was she hoping to accomplish this? By making allegations of sexual harassment against Wissink. But greed wasn't her only motivation. It was actually "revenge and greed," she says. Her secondary goal was to accomplish an act of vengeance against Wissink. In this she was successful.
Schulman is a regular contributor to the Sun-Sentinel whose columns on the South Florida music scene appear once a week. She also writes the occasional music or cultural piece for Billboard and the New York Daily News.
An acerbic New York City transplant whose Northern roots are still evident in a leftover Bed-Stuy nasal whine in her voice and a Village hipster's penchant for wearing black, Schulman apparently also knows how to nurse a grudge. Last year, when Michael Koretzky, the former XS arts and entertainment editor, was tweaking her in his column regularly, she not only responded in an immediate spasm of anger, she also clipped every mention of her name in XS and saved them in a scrapbook for future reference.
Those column items were only the latest in a list of complaints Schulman had about Koretzky. She also blamed him for forcing her out of XS in 1994. In the early Nineties, she had been a regular music and arts writer for the magazine, and she says when Koretzky was hired in 1994, he started making her life miserable in order to get rid of her.