Rep. Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.) was greeted in this secluded resort tonight with two standing ovations from several hundred residents and summer visitors who turned out for the congressman's first town meeting since he was censured by his House colleagues for sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old male page.
Studds was in clear control during the 1 1/2-hour session, alternately delighting and enthusing his audience with a combination of pear-shaped tones, rapid-fire delivery and dry wit.
Not all the questions were friendly, however. One person asked why he did not resign his seat from Massachusetts' 10th Congressional District. Studds replied that he had not considered resigning.
A woman launched into several questions about the affair with the teen-age page, including whether Studds believed a 17-year-old can be a consenting adult, which the congressman seemed to be saying in his speech on the House floor a few weeks ago.
"You've done wonders for Martha's Vineyard, but now we have to get down to the nitty-gritty," she said.
"I would not presume to try to tell people what is an appropriate age for a human relationship," Studds, 46, replied. And he said he did not intend to "excuse or defend" his actions of 10 years ago.
Most of the comments, however, were not only friendly but fervently so.
One young man, who described himself as a painter, said he had received help from Studds on a book he is writing about the Alliance for Progress.
"And because of guys like you and like me, there's faith that it will all work out--I love you!" the man concluded.
"So much for your reputation," Studds answered as his audience erupted in laughter.
Studds told the crowd, which punctuated his remarks with frequent applause, that "I feel very, very good about myself, and when any human being feels that good . . . they tend to be very effective in every sense."
He said relationships with his House colleagues "are better than they have ever been," but he later said he has not decided whether he will seek a seventh two-year term.
"I did not come tonight . . . seeking your votes," he told his audience at the end of the session.
Studds, first elected to Congress in 1972, five times has won reelection overwhelmingly. He has been particularly popular on this island, whose voters gave him 76 percent support in 1982, according to figures supplied by the state election office.
Next week Studds will hold a town meeting in New Bedford, a seaport with a large Portuguese population that supports him for his lead role in passing the 200-mile fishing limit and for his stands on other issues of local interest.
From there, he will go to Cape Cod, holding a town meeting in Dennis, which accorded him 64 percent of its vote in 1982.
Martha's Vineyard, a favorite summer place of the affluent and influential, has a year-round population of 10,000 that swells to 56,000 in the summer. The area is no stranger to scandal and controversy, having endured unwanted attention and notoriety after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's 1969 auto accident on nearby Chappaquiddick.
Residents here have been highly supportive of Studds so far, though many say they cannot condone his actions.
"I was horribly shocked. I just couldn't believe it," said Henry Beetle Hough, editor of the Vineyard Gazette and resident poet-philosopher, who has lived on Martha's Vineyard since 1920. But he added that he thinks Studds should stay in Congress.
"He has been an extremely able and intelligent congressman, far and away the best we've ever had," Hough said.
Edgartown harbor master John Edwards voiced similar sentiments.
"I would vote for him again," Edwards said. " . . . To each his own."
At the same time, Gazette executive editor Richard Reston said that the early outpouring of sympathetic comments from Studds' liberal supporters was not surprising, adding that the situation could change.
"I'm not sure the early reaction is all that meaningful," Reston said, noting that within the last week his paper received a letter or two against the congressman.