12/05/13 2:30pm
12/05/2013 2:30 PM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO  |  Educators packed a forum at Eastport-South Manor High School last week to express their displeasure over Common Core.

Our local teachers and administrators are sounding an alarm.

They’re the “canaries in the coal mine,” says Terry Kalb, a recently retired Eastern Suffolk BOCES special education teacher. And they’re sensing something toxic.

Michael White, editor

Michael White

While nonprofits such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and political lobbyists like Students First flood statehouses with cash and bombard the Internet with buzz-word-laden propaganda in pushing for the Common Core State Standards, Long Island teachers are appalled by what they’re experiencing in classrooms.

Related: Numbers-driven Common Core initiative ignores life’s realities (more…)

10/26/13 12:00pm
10/26/2013 12:00 PM


They say you never forget how to ride a bike, but I kinda did. At least the gear-shifting part and the keeping air in the tires part.

A few months ago, I dropped my car off at an auto repair shop, intending to use my brother’s bike — built sometime in the early 1980s — to get back home. As it turned out, the bike’s tires were flat and I found it didn’t fit in the car’s trunk, so that idea went nowhere.

Instead, I walked home from the repair shop … seven miles. That was enough walking for me. The next day, I bought a bike.

It’s a used bike, with a little switch that enables me to easily take off the front tire so the bike will fit in my car. This way, I can drive the bike to places more conducive to riding than where I live. Now that I had the bike, I figured the Tour de France couldn’t be far off — so long as I could drive there.

For the first week or so, I drove my bike to a lot of different places. Sure, I didn’t get out and actually sit on the bike and pedal, but it was there if I wanted it — or needed it.

Then one day, I decided I would bike over the Brooklyn Bridge, which I’ve been told has a bike lane running across it. So the bike and I went on a ride to Brooklyn, in my car. We took a few wrong turns, but eventually found the bridge (which, I suppose, isn’t that hard to find). Then we went looking for a place to park the car. I looked all over Brooklyn, reluctantly went into a parking garage that had only valet parking, backed into something, panicked and quickly exited the parking lot. I then spent time looking for a roadside parking space with no success. After a while, I just gave up and went home.

But I hadn’t given up entirely on being a biker.

On the last day before my next vacation, in September, I had to write a story on the completion of federally funded $3.2 million bike path from Calverton to Jamesport. As part of the story, I tried to call some local bike enthusiasts for comment. None of the bikers I contacted seemed too excited about this bike path, which basically consists of some widened roads and signage indicating that bikes go on the side of the road and the cars stay in the middle. Duh!

What the bikers were excited about was the bike path that runs around the Enterprise Park at Calverton. The bike enthusiasts see this as a potential major draw to the area, since there aren’t many places on Long Island, apparently, where people can ride around a nine-mile path. I had noticed a lot of people using it one Saturday, so on my next vacation, I packed the bike in the car, drove it to Calverton and tried out the EPCAL bike path.

Turns out, it’s pretty cool. Unlike riding on the road, it’s all inside the fence, so you can’t get hit by a car, unless you have really, really bad luck and get hit by one crossing the entrance road off Route 25. And, you can go as fast as you want, because it’s a relative straight path and has some long, but not steep, hills.

It’s also pretty scenic. You start at the dog park and ballfields area, then you get to ride around the back of the two fighter jets on display at the Grumman Memorial Park and then you go all the way around the Calverton Industries sand mine, which is a lot bigger than it appears from the road. Eventually the path disappears into woods and the paved part of the trail stops. That’s where I turned around and went back. My tally? EPCAL bike path: 1, Brooklyn Bridge bike path: 0.

The Town Board has applied for a grant to finish the EPCAL path so it goes completely around the EPCAL site, but that was a split vote, with three in support and two against. It remains to be seen if the town will get the grant or otherwise finish paving the path.

In the meantime, my bike and I drove to some other places, like the Country Fair, where I parked at Town Hall and rode to the fair, since it was tough finding parking.

That’s technically using the bike to avoid exercise rather than to get exercise, but it’s a start. I now figure I should be in the Tour de France in a year or so.

Tim Gannon is a longtime reporter for the Riverhead News-Review.

He can be reached at (631) 293-3200, ext. 242, or tgannon@timesreview.com.

05/05/13 8:00am
05/05/2013 8:00 AM

It’s a clear indication that you’ve reached a certain age when your social calendar, usually based on trips to the dump or the supermarket, now includes reunions.

By definition, a reunion is a gathering of people who haven’t seen each other for an extended period of time, hence if you attend one you’ve either moseyed on through or are banging on the door of geezerhood.


And so it was that I found meself at a very nice home in suburban D.C. last weekend, there to mix and mingle with others once in the employ of former congressman William Carney (R-C-Hauppauge), who represented this fair community from 1979 to 1986. In the summer of ’83 I became the last press secretary of his congressional career (press aide actually, but, hey, press secretary sounds way cooler) and moved up from D.C. to the North Fork just before he retired.

You’ve already heard me wax nostalgic about a 20-something’s life on Capitol Hill so I won’t bore you will all that again. But since the face in the mirror now bears little resemblance to picture on the ol’ House ID, a certain amount of living in the past is to be expected.

I hadn’t seen most of these folks for over 25 years, including the former congressman, the guy who, with the exception of some gray hair and glasses, looks very much like the guy whose image graced the corner of the special paper used in printing — yes, you heard right, printing, as in batted out on a typewriter and run through a copy machine — the various press releases, columns and such mailed out through the U.S. Postal Service.

Tweet? Dude, that’s what a bird does.

I’d attended only one other reunion, that of me high school class. But we’re talkin’ two very different past experiences here. In D.C. I felt like a stranger in a strange land. OK, that was just like high school. In D.C., I was surrounded by great gals, all pretty much off limits. Ah, well, ditto. Was forced to wear a jacket, tie and even socks for pity’s sake. Damn. OK, on second thought, it was exactly like high school, minus the nuns but with Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill.

Ah, remember the fun we had? Like the time the staff counsel and I were having a water pistol duel when a lobbyist came through the office door and I swung around, planted my feet and took aim like a “Law & Order” detective bursting into a suspect’s apartment and the guy threw his hands up in surrender and muttered, “I don’t want to die”?

Or when the congressman would bring all the males into his office, make us each drop a dollar on the credenza for a putting competition that he always — and I mean, always — won?

Then there were the tapeball games; you’d crumple up a piece of copy paper, wrap it like a mummy in tape and swing away with a cardboard mailing tube filling in for a Louisville Slugger. A home run required walloping it past the appointment secretary and out the window onto South Capitol Street. Not as easy as it sounds.

On second thought, this was not at all like high school. Sister Mary Whoever would have cleaned our clocks, and these incidents would have made for unfortunate entries in our permanent records.

OK, it wasn’t always like that. Congressional staffers work long, hard hours, some assisting the member on legislative affairs and others providing constituent service, no small tasks when your district includes over a half-million people. Can’t help it if the wacky times are the most memorable. Unlike the representative, we don’t get smacked around by political foes or friends looking for favors.

As the reunion wore on, it was as if close to 30 years had melted away and we all had gathered at a Capitol Hill watering hole after work on a Friday night. Except, for some, Saturday morning might be a little more uncomfortable than it was 30 years ago.

Like my recent — gulp — 40th high school reunion, a great time was had by all. Except that a hellish ride back north on I-95 followed this gathering.

Recounting the tapeball story during Saturday’s party, I left out the part about one afternoon when the congressman was pitching and I was calling balls and strikes, and I made the strike zone about the size of a business envelope.

“You just won’t give me a break, will you?” he complained.

I thought to myself, keep me late last week before giving me the OK for the friggin’ column, will ya? I’ll show you.

“Nope,” said I, “not at all.”


04/21/13 8:30am
04/21/2013 8:30 AM
Orion in Cutchogue

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Orion constellation as seen from along the Sound shore in Cutchogue.

So there I was, standing on the Sound shore in Cutchogue Saturday night, looking out over the inky sky and black water, minding me own business and freezing me shamrocks off.

Why, in the name of all that’s good and holy, am I out here by myself with a sharp wind cutting right through me? I might have said that out loud, but so what?

There was no one else anywhere near to hear some fool muttering to himself as he stood next to a tripod-mounted Nikon with a camera case on his shoulder to keep it off the coarse sand still damp from the receding tide.

Why? Because I actually bought into the hype that the northern lights, the elusive and eerily beautiful aurora borealis (dawn of the north), would be visible on Long Island thanks to a large solar flare that erupted Thursday.

The northern lights are usually seen, well, in the north — in places such as Alaska, Canada and Scandinavia. The North Fork usually ain’t north enough. But what the heck, the forecast for an awesome aurora was all over the Internet so it had to be true, right?

Yeah, well, no. OK, some basic science. A solar flare is a large release of energy from the sun in the form of electrons, ions and other stuff I never studied in 19th Century Romantic Poets. They go hurtling through space — particles, not poets — sometimes in our direction.

After a journey of 93 million miles, which is hard to imagine unless you’ve ever been stuck in traffic on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, the particles are drawn toward the magnetic north and south poles.

Some pass through the earth’s magnetic field, which shields us from dangerous radiation, and when they interact with oxygen and nitrogen molecules, they produce that weird glow, often in the shape of a billowing green curtain. The sun is always shedding highly energized particles, so aurora displays are common in some parts of the world.

I once witnessed an absolutely mind-blowing display of the northern lights, with a tripod-mounted Nikon by my side, but I have no photographic record of it. When I lumbered down to the Sound in my F-150 pickup Saturday night I did so in search of a possible cover photo, but also, and more important, of photographic redemption.

In 1982, me oldest brother Mike rented a house in Southwest Harbor on Maine’s Mount Desert Island, the home of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. He was kind enough to invite me and the Mrs. and our then 4-month-old son to join his family for a week.

One evening at dinner we talked about things we’d like to do, basically a bucket list long before someone coined that term. My list was pretty mild and did not contain anything like stealing a Rolls Royce convertible, driving out to Las Vegas and running off to Tijuana with a couple of show girls. OK, I may have thought it, but I never said it.

Anyway, I allowed as how I always wanted to see a whale in the wild and witness the northern lights. (Told ya they were mild.) Later as I was reading in bed Mike knocked on the door. You’re never gonna believe it, he said. The guy on the 11 o’clock news said there could be a great display of northern lights — tonight!

I leaped out of bed, threw on some jeans and off we raced toward Cadillac Mountain, some 1,528 feet up.

There, hanging in the sky just above Bar Harbor, I saw the green shimmering curtain. Oh. My. God. Not just there, everywhere. The entire sky pulsed with auroral displays. Overhead, to the east, to the west. I stood, mouth agape like a dead snapper, looking — south — at the northern lights.

I aimed my telephoto lens toward Bar Harbor, and in the viewfinder I saw an image from National Geographic. But it wasn’t to be. There wasn’t a cloud in the moonless sky, but the wind was blowing something fierce, or as they say in Maine, wicked haaaad.

The tripod shook like I did on my first date. When back home I rushed to get the film developed, but alas, there was nothing even remotely resembling northern lights. It was all a blur of street lights. Fudge! When would I ever get another opportunity like that?

On the 13th of Never, that’s when. That’s why this solar flair thing got me going, but with the same disappointing results. Out of sheer boredom I took a few shots of the Orion Constellation with the crescent moon, which in a time-lapse exposure looked like a fuzzy piece of white lint. Yeah, Sky & Telescope magazine won’t be texting me anytime soon.

Hey, when’s Comet Halley due back? 2062? I’ll be 108, but it could happen.


02/24/13 7:00am
02/24/2013 7:00 AM
Grant Parpan East End editor

TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | Grant Parpan (center) moderating last month’s legislative debate at Martha Clara Vineyards.

Ten years ago this month, I was managing a video store in a Los Angeles suburb, still unsure where life would take me.

One day on lunch break, I was sitting in my car reading a local paper when I noticed a classified ad for a part-time sportswriter.

As a young man whose mom always said I taught myself to read at age 3 so I could follow the Mets game recaps in Newsday, covering sports was something I really wanted to try.

After passing a freelance test assignment, I ended up getting the job and, before long I’d worked my way into a full-time staff position.

No longer employed at a video store, I was suddenly a newspaper man. (Newspapers? Video stores? I know how to pick professions, right? Also on my shortlist of potential careers were village blacksmith, town lamplighter, neighborhood milkman or courier for the Pony Express.)

It’s been quite a decade in newspapers. My career has taken me back home, introduced me to my beautiful wife and given me the unique opportunity to tell other people’s stories — the good and the bad.

Last week, I attended Roy Laine’s 100th birthday party. I grew up two miles from Roy’s home in Wading River but would never have had the good fortune of meeting the man if not for this job.

During the party, his friend Fred Conway said to him, “Roy, I’ve never met anyone else who reached 100,” to which the birthday boy joked, “Neither have I.”

But not me. In fact, it was the second 100th birthday party I’d attended in a year. Not many career paths can so frequently take you places you’d never go otherwise.

When I speak to classes at area schools, I always start off by asking the students what they want to do for a living. I write down all the occupations they mention. Even in high school and college journalism classes, students don’t necessarily want to be reporters. Usually the list looks something like this: baseball player, doctor, actor, mechanic, teacher, etc.

While I never had the opportunity to be any of those things myself, my job has enabled me to take a peek into the lives of the folks who live in these worlds.

I never threw a one-hitter for the Mets, but I saw Steve Trachsel do just that on the very first day I covered a Major League game. I also never got to spend an afternoon at the Bada Bing, but I once got to ask a local actor what it was like to film a scene in the bar for “The Sopranos.”

So far in my career, the folks I’ve written about have taken me along on their greatest journeys — to Antarctica, the NFL draft and the Olympic medal stand. They’ve also shared with me their harrowing ordeals of homelessness, life in prison and the loss of the person they loved most.

Of course, not every story captures someone’s greatest or worst moments and it’s often the stories somewhere in between the highs and lows that have the greatest impact on the reader. People love to see familiar names and faces in the newspapers, and there’s nothing quite like being able to tell people something they didn’t know about their friends and neighbors.

I’ve never understood reporters and editors stressing about how they’ll fill their newspapers. Even in small communities like the ones we cover, there are endless stories to tell each day. Anyone seeking proof of that need look no further than this newspaper’s archives or visit our website as it’s constantly updated every day.

Serving as executive editor of your community newspaper is a responsibility I don’t take lightly. Each morning I’m genuinely excited to come to work to help tell the stories that are important to you.

When I moved into this role seven months ago — after spending the past two years helping to grow this company’s presence on the web and the five years before that editing our former newspaper in Brookhaven — I failed to use this space to introduce myself to those I’ve never met.

I welcome any feedback you all have for me at the email below. If you’d prefer to speak with me, my direct line is 631-354-8046. Of course, you can always drop by our office in Mattituck, too.

This past decade has been the best of my life and I eagerly anticipate many more years of telling your stories on the pages of this community newspaper.

I couldn’t think of a better career path for a guy like me.


01/27/13 8:00am
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.