03/29/12 7:00am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | EPCAL's north gate on Route 25 in Calverton.

I used to drink way too much. I would joke that I was “young and irresponsible.” Then one day, I realized, I wasn’t so young any more and my behavior was long past the point of being cute or funny.

Maybe you know someone like me. Maybe you are like me. I could be your son or your daughter, your aunt or your friend. I can only speak for me but one day I got tired of disappointing my kids. I was tired of wasting my talents — I wanted to actually lead my life, not just be an actor in it. I wanted to soberly enjoy whatever path lay ahead for me. I sought help. I’ve made changes.

You might have read about me in last week’s News-Review. I was proposed for a position with the Town of Riverhead. In the course of covering the story this paper saw fit to focus on my past drinking. I’ve been doing politics a long time and I’ve never seen coverage like last week’s. In my opinion, this paper got its facts wrong and brought forward personal issues in a way this town hasn’t seen before. When I confronted the reporter about what he wrote, he said, “Oops.” My daughters cried and, frankly, it was embarrassing walking up Main Street to catcalls and stares, but I hold my head high. I am proud of the way I’ve turned my life around. I am at peace with the person I am. I have the love of two great children and a wealth of special friends.

Lost in the titillation is the valuable discussion Riverhead needs to have about the position that was proposed, and where we are headed as a town. I was up for appointment as director of the former Grumman property at EPCAL. The job requires a driven individual, first, to pass the legislation creating a commission to expedite the approvals process to stir development activity at that property and, secondly, a person to become salesperson in chief, to attract clean, high paying, meaningful job-creating businesses to EPCAL so that we can finally begin to relieve the tax burden placed upon our citizens.

When I was a candidate for that job some local wags blogged that we should not create any new jobs at Town Hall because two years ago we laid off some part- and full-time workers. Those layoffs are exactly why we should put financial resources into EPCAL. Riverhead is a hamster on a Habitrail in a stationary race that we can’t win. Seventy percent of our town budget is salaries, 15 percent is debt service and 15 percent is contractual obligations. Unless we create tax base, we as a town are destined to a permanent future filled with layoffs and tax increases. We have a jewel at EPCAL, an annuity that no other municipality on this island possesses.

Yet in the 10 years I have lived here we have not tapped EPCAL’s potential bounty. Instead, EPCAL has been the place where silly and embarrassing ideas get floated and deals that should never see the light of day get proposed. The Town Board has embarked upon a plan to subdivide the property into smaller, more marketable lots; a good plan — but it won’t happen without a commission, marketing, seed capital, strong advocacy and a roll-up-your sleeves attitude to bring action to this long dormant property. EPCAL isn’t just going to happen. Baseball stadiums, airports, trade centers and skyscrapers don’t sprout up like crocuses. Somewhere in the life of all major municipal projects there are voices that prod, advocate and cajole to get results. We need new leadership and a strong voice to properly develop and market EPCAL.

Personal foibles make for good gossip and water cooler humor but the issue here is much bigger. It is about the future of our town.

As for me, I intend to stay in public service. I intend to be a voice. I will continue on the proper path in life and I will work my heart out to move Riverhead forward.

Editor’s note: The reporter referred to in this piece, longtime News-Review staffer Tim Gannon, denies saying ‘Oops’ or making any factual errors in his reporting. The News-Review stands by the report.

Mr. Coates is a Riverhead resident and political consultant to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.

09/08/11 5:36am

I read with a chuckle Phil Cardinale’s column last week on how to improve downtown Riverhead. Listening to Phil Cardinale lecture about how to improve downtown is like listening to a blind man describe the wonder of an evening sunset.

As our former town supervisor, Mr. Cardinale had the luxury of presiding over downtown during the best real estate market Long Island has ever seen. Yet, while Mr. Cardinale was supervisor, I could have set up a table and chairs, lit candles, placed down formal china, held a quiet dinner party in the center of Main Street and not worried about being hit by a car.

When Mr. Cardinale took over from prior supervisor Bob Kozakiewicz, downtown was filled to the brim with stores, shops and offices. Mr. Cardinale’s administration brought us a multitude of “For Rent” signs and the return of the tumbleweed. Mr. Cardinale’s grand plan for Main Street was the Apollo project. You may remember a gorgeous artist’s drawing that appeared on the front cover of Long Island’s daily newspaper when Mr. Cardinale outlined his “comprehensive” development plan. Mr. Cardinale painted a vision of a downtown that would look like something out of the Jetsons or the ’64 World’s Fair, but all of that balderdash never came to pass because the plan wasn’t real. It was public relations.

Under Mr. Cardinale, Riverhead was constantly subjected to a litany of “It’s coming soon” press conferences, false hopes, idle thoughts and artist’s renderings. If Mr. Cardinale has such brilliant ideas for how to improve Main Street why was it a ghost town during the six years he served as supervisor?

Enter Sean Walter. His administration has a novel plan for improving Main Street; the old fashioned way; hard work, and a store-by-store, block-by-block approach. In one of the worst economic times this nation has ever seen, this administration has brought you The Red Collection antique store, The Riverhead Project Restaurant, expansions at Dark Horse Restaurant, Cody’s Barbeque, Long Ireland Brewery, The New Hyatt Hotel, an expanded Aquarium, kept the Blue Door Gallery in town, a newly expanded Athens Grill and a refurbished Riverhead Grill. Last Friday, I was proud to witness the lighting of the new marquee at the Suffolk Theatre and as I watch that treasure rehabilitate itself to its former majestic grandeur I think of how Mr. Cardinale tried to close it down.

If Mr. Cardinale actually had any interest in downtown he would attend the many events that have brought new life to Main Street, as this summer has seen car shows and concerts, antique shows and festivals, parades and progress. Grangebel Park is renewed, the sidewalks are getting fixed, the street lights work, there is a new community garden and there is a new spirit downtown. Mr. Cardinale, that didn’t happen when you were in Town Hall. The only ribbon Phil Cardinale ever cut was on a Christmas gift.

There is an old saying that “those who can’t do, teach.” After 10 years in Town Hall and a track record of not getting it done during the best of economic circumstances, Mr. Cardinale now apparently feels a need to “teach.”

I for one will skip this dry lecture and run across campus, to where the action is.

Mr. Coates is a downtown resident and political advisor to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter. He is also on the downtown Business Improvement District Management Association’s board of directors.

03/09/11 3:00pm

I read former Riverhead supervisor Vinny Villella’s comments on the State if the Town message with a chuckle.

It seems that the former one-term supervisor is troubled by the hopeful and optimistic message delivered by current Supervisor Sean Walter about where this town is and where it is going. If I were in charge of trying to defeat Mr. Walter, as Mr. Villela is, I’d be troubled too because Riverhead, after six years of the doldrums under Phil Cardinale, is clearly moving in a dynamic new direction, and as the leader of the loyal opposition in town, Mr. Villela has his work cut out for him.

Vinny, you are a very nice man and you and I have on occasion shared a glass or two of Pine Barrens pure water but I’m sorry my friend you are allowing partisan politics and your loyalty to Mr. Cardinale to cloud your judgment about where this town is headed. Consider this:

Downtown was a complete ghost town under Mr. Cardinale as his illusion of progress called “Apollo” choked out any real possibility of growth and all we saw were architectural drawings and “coming soon” signs. In a horrible economy, under Mr. Walter we see a new Hyatt Hotel rising before our very eyes, the “Summerwind” project is breaking ground, Dark Horse Restaurant open for business, the Red Collection antique store moved in and Cody’s Barbeque will replace the eyesore of Casa Rica.

The Sufffolk Theatre, stalled under Mr. Cardinale, is moving forward. The Blue Door stayed in town and a new Tex-Mex restaurant is coming to Main Street behind the brand new Haiku restaurant. Not bad for a down economy and only one year in office. Mr. Cardinale likes to say these projects were works in progress under his administration. Maybe he should ask the owners of these businesses who really helped them when they needed it.

EPCAL? Vinnie, you and Mr. Cardinale rail about EPCAL yet, let the record reflect, during Mr. Cardinale’s tenure, which coincided with the largest land boon ever on Long Island, not one acre of land was sold at EPCAL. Mr. Cardinale did bring us a proposal for a ski mountain to be constructed by mysterious Scottish developers who could not close their transaction and a housing deal to be built along the runway at Calverton, hardly “blue chip” deals and like Mr. Cardinale’s bogus Wilpon deal and Pulte homes transaction the principals could never cross the finish line.

This Town Board, recognizing reality, is moving in a more mature, realistic direction to develop EPCAL instead of simply using the property as a place to hold publicity stunts.

As for the town’s finances? When Mr. Cardinale was defeated he said, “If we are ever going to be real about town taxes we need to cut the size of our staff.” In six years as supervisor, not once did Mr. Cadinale have the courage to cut staff. In case you missed it, there was an election in 2010 and the people are crying out for lower taxes and smaller government. Mr. Walter made the tough choices in these difficult economic times and reduced staff and spending.

Let me get this straight, you and Mr. Cardinale don’t think town spending can be cut?

Finally, Vinny, you complain about me being an adviser to Mr. Walter. Well, last I checked every elected official has advisers and perhaps if Mr. Cardinale listened to more advice he wouldn’t be a former supervisor. You claim I work for the town of Riverhead as a “press secretary,” yet you and I know that’s not true. You claim that I “write every word Mr. Walter speaks.” Sorry that’s simply not true as Mr. Walter is a man of his own vision and convictions.

I will say this though, Vinny, I do write a lot and I am a former newspaper publisher, so as one writer to another let me give you this friendly advice. When you write a column it is best not to completely lift words from another person, as you did in your recent column. If you take what you wrote to the News-Review and then read what Mr. Cardinale said in an interview in another publication, your words are Mr. Cardinale’s words verbatim. Verbatim meaning word for word. That wordsmithing is kind of what you accused me of, and yet you are caught in the act.

The public can spot things that are fake, not real and just don’t make sense.

I think you’ll see that clearly in Campaign 2011, should Mr. Cardinale decide to try to return to Town Hall.

Mr. Coates is a downtown resident and adviser to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.

09/09/10 12:00am

I read with sadness last week Vince Tria’s negative letter to the editor about the revitalization of downtown. I like Vince. He has, however, lost a lot off his fastball, and his negativity and that of his radio station, WRIV, is really out of step in a Riverhead on the move.

Best as I can tell, Vince’s thesis is that the enormously successful summer of activity that Riverhead has witnessed will not solely change downtown. A cardboard boat race that brought thousands downtown. A Fourth of July weekend that brought many thousands to the Peconic to renew American freedom and concerts all summer won’t ultimately and solely change downtown. We know that, Vince. But it’s a hell of a start.

The way you change downtowns on Long Island is, first you get people to go downtown. You get them off Route 58. You show them that downtown is a nice, safe and family-friendly place to be. You then get shopkeepers to want to be downtown because they understand the beginning of critical mass and soon being downtown is commonplace and businesses thrive and invest.

Vince, your old boss former Riverhead Supervisor Phil Cardinale displayed grand plans for downtown and you know what? They were all nonsense. Nothing ever happened and all that rhetoric turned out to be poppycock. Not an inch of downtown was renewed. Not a storefront restored. If I remember correctly, Vince, you served as the “downtown czar” and as the president of the BID [Business Improvement District] and, while you are a friend, the record is clear, downtown became a ghost town while you held those positions. While you and your sponsor, Mr. Cardinale, reigned, we lost Ben Franklin, West Marine, Eastenders, Crave Computer, Bagel Lovers and Sears; the bird store flew the coop and dinosaurs once again became extinct, as that museum left town.

Contrast that with today, just a few months after your tenure, One Peconic is open for business and Dark Horse Restaurant is a gorgeous addition to Main Street. The Summerwind project breaks ground soon. There is the clanging of pilings being driven to build the new Hyatt hotel downtown. The Red Collection furniture store is now open. Sandi and the Blue Door moves across town and a new restaurant moves into her spot. Haiku has opened and there are nails being driven at The Suffolk Theatre. Things don’t happen overnight but in nine months I’d say that’s a heck of a start.

Vince, I used to know you as a person dedicated to making things better, but, the fact that you let your WRIV make fun of Riverhead daily and that you seem to want to rule or ruin projects downtown really doesn’t move Riverhead forward — you are personalizing and politicizing downtown’s restoration. This about making things happen. Nothing is built in a day. Come back to the fight. Take your radio station and make it a force for good, lend your good labor to the cause and join the fight to revitalize downtown.

There is an old saying that “if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.” Well, Vince, you and WRIV need to stand up and be counted. It isn’t about the last election or the next one, it’s about public good. And you aren’t helping.

Mr. Coates is a downtown Riverhead resident and adviser to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.