Column: How Greg Blass made me a big, fat liar

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01/27/2013 8:00 AM |
 TIM KELLY PHOTO | Greg Blass on the front porch of his Jamesport home last week.


TIM KELLY PHOTO | Greg Blass on the front porch of his Jamesport home last week.

How Greg Blass made me a big, fat liar

I found Greg Blass on his front porch in a pea coat reminiscent of his Navy days, scribbling on a note pad in a lattice-back chair Monday afternoon. The snow had yet to fall.

Before we exchanged greetings I reached into a pocket, pulled out a package of M&Ms and tossed it his way. He smiled, his eyes sparkling.
Old habits die hard, for both of us.

Back when my beard was red and my temples gray-free, I worked in an office at One East Main in Riverhead for a publication now but a memory and my job included covering the county Legislature. Actually, our county legislator, who at the time was Mr. Blass, was based just up the road on Second Street next to the old post office.

Snooping for news — actually, I prefer the more genteel term “sourcing” — involved a call or a walk up to the legislator’s office. Invariably that involved bringing an offering of chocolate, preferably a huge Hershey bar, because to come empty-handed was to leave empty-handed.

I’m not kidding, the guy had and/or has a serious chocolate jones. And in the search for newspaper fodder, I gladly became an enabler.

During such meetings I’d often speak in disparaging terms about this official or that, and he’d say “never take pleasure in the misfortune of others” and mention some stuff about karma. Back then I missed the obvious irony.

The occasion for this week’s unforced offering of the processed seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree was the news of Mr. Blass’s retirement from public office. I’m not one to quote The Grateful Dead, but, in Mr. Blass’ case, “what a long, strange trip it’s been” seems quite an accurate description.

Think of it, a young guy from Freeport takes on Suffolk’s GOP and Conservative power brokers in winning his first term in the Suffolk Legislature and then goes on to challenge LIPA’s predecessor, the Long Island Lighting Company, over a multi-billion-dollar nuclear plant and Brookhaven National Laboratory, not to mention various elected officials of varying political pedigrees. And always with a smile on his boyish, all-American face. Drove the old guard absolutely nuts.

During his legislative years this guy was a reporter’s dream. Thank you, Mr. Blass, for saving me from the mind-numbing monotony of the Zoning Board of Appeals. Uh, not that they don’t do wonderful work, of course. God bless ‘em.

I later learned what it was like to face the indomitable Mr. B in the political arena. In the mid-1980s I worked on Capitol Hill as press secretary to Congressman William Carney, then representing this fair district. In 1984 Mr. Blass challenged us (yes, we always said “us,” even though it was someone else’s butt on the line every two years) in a GOP primary. A three-term incumbent against some guy from Jamesport? Get outta here, will ya?

We didn’t take Gregory seriously, which was a mistake. He came within 500 votes of wresting away the nomination and that scared the hell out of us.

And so it was that the job of dealing with the media on primary night fell upon yours truly. Lord forgive me, but I lied through my teeth, to none other than Doug Geed, then a reporter with WALK radio in Patchogue.

“Well, it went exactly as we expected,” said I. “We knew Greg was popular on the East End and that he’d do well there and we counted on our base in the western side of the district. Don’t forget, a primary is an interesting political dynamic…”

Had no idea what that meant, but hey, I was on a roll.

To this day whenever I see good ol’ Greg he screws up his face and through gritted teeth says, mockingly, “A primary is an interesting political dynamic…”

Hey, that was a lifetime ago, right? It’s all water under the bridge, or over the dam or through the hose or out the hydrant or whatever.
In discussing his future he told me he plans to write a book, maybe not quite “Politics for Dummies,” but close. And he said it would be sprinkled with anecdotes about his experience.

Ah, a politician who gets to be a writer. Sure hope there’s nothing to this karma business.

tkelly@timesreview.com