Sidney's story, done right

There is a truly excellent feature story in the Associated Press about Sidney today.

It's a compassionate, lengthy article by award-winning feature writer Helen O'Neill, who specializes in nuanced, well-reported portraits of towns and people struggling with tolerance.

The article is a  look at the news that made headlines earlier this year: Sidney supervisor Bob McCarthy's controversial decision to investigate the cemetery of a local Sufi community for what turned out to be illusory legal problems. The scandal rocked the town to its core as televised pundits characterized Sidney as a bigoted backwater.

And that's where O'Neill is brilliant. She spent what looks like weeks in Sidney talking to locals, visiting the Sufi dergah, and interviewing McCarthy. And she paints a portrait of a town that is full of tolerance and civility. 

Read the whole thing. For anyone who feels that Sidney was slighted by the national press coverage of the scandal, this should heal old wounds. Here's one scene from the story, where Hans Hass, the most outspoken member of the Sufi community, drops in on the Trackside diner, the domain of McCarthy supporters:

Other diners invite Hass to join them. Soon a dozen people are engaged in a lively debate about politics, religion and the fate of their once thriving riverside factory town. Old-timers lament that the cemetery controversy is just the latest in a string of misfortunes, including the recession and a 2006 flood.

They ask Hass about his background, and he tells them of growing up in South Portland, Maine, of going to college in Connecticut, of embracing Sufism after years of searching other religions and ways of life.