07/04/14 2:00pm
07/04/2014 2:00 PM
TR0703_Column_BE_C.jpg

Jen Becker making hats for newborns and preemies at her home in Southold this week.

At 4 a.m. the morning after my son was born, a nurse ducked into the room as my wife and I were falling asleep and gave him his first bath. When she was done, she swaddled him up tight and placed a red, green and white knit cap on his tiny bald head.

It was two days before Christmas and baby Jackson had his first hat. Even with a dresser drawer full of infant caps, the hospital freebie kept his skull warm long after the holidays.

Perhaps it’s because it was made by hand, or maybe just because it was sturdier than the others, but we loved that darn hat. While we realize he’ll never wear it again, there’s no way we’re tossing it in the garbage any time soon.

It turns out we’re not alone. (more…)

08/02/13 7:00am
08/02/2013 7:00 AM

FILE PHOTO | Anthony Coates last year, announcing his intentions to run for Town Council.

I like a lot of what Anthony Coates is saying in his campaign for Riverhead Town Board.

A bright guy with a gift for gab, he’s painted an opponent as beholden to developers and himself as a political outsider who’s all about transparency in government.

He’s articulately outlined why you should believe he’s the better choice over his Republican primary opponents — well, one of them at least — and how much more he wants the job than anyone else. With 40 days left until the primary election, it’s been as spirited a challenge as you’ll see in this town or any other.

I’m just not sure it’s been a completely honest one.

In a phone call to WRIV radio this past June, Mr. Coates made a curious comment about the development experience of one of his opponents, Jodi Giglio.

“When it’s in your DNA and you represent developers, you represent them all over the place,” he said of the councilwoman. “Once it’s in your DNA, that’s where you’re cut from.”

That statement just hasn’t sat well with me since I heard it. Hasn’t Mr. Coates worked for developers? Isn’t that in his DNA?

Grant Parpan

Grant Parpan

It’s just an odd statement from a man who spent several years working closely with infamous Port Jefferson developer and automobile dealer John McNamara — a man whose empire came crashing down following his conviction in a $436 million Ponzi scheme. Mr. McNamara’s misconduct led to the arrest of Brookhaven Town officials he allegedly bribed to swiftly approve his development projects, though all town officials were acquitted in the case.

While the résumé Mr. Coates shared with the News-Review shows he worked as publisher of the Port Jefferson Record at a time when Mr. McNamara owned the paper, it makes no reference to Mr. Coates’ involvement with any other McNamara businesses. In fact, the résumé makes no reference to any experience working in development whatsoever.

It’s in line with an approach Mr. Coates has taken since moving to Riverhead, where he has acknowledged his time working for the disgraced developer in interviews but has often distanced himself from the scandal.

In an article published last March on RiverheadLOCAL.com, Mr. Coates said he ran “a portfolio of 15 businesses” for Mr. McNamara.

When asked about the résumé discrepancy in an interview with News-Review staffers last month, Mr. Coates said, “I did run a bunch of companies for him,” including a development company named 347 Corp. of Florida, a name similar to Route 347 Realty Corporation, the Port Jefferson Station company at the center of the McNamara bribery scandal. He stressed, however, that he had no involvement with the local development company or the car dealership, which Mr. McNamara used to secure financing from General Motors to keep his scheme afloat.

In August 1992, Mr. Coates claimed in a federal forfeiture action against the McNamara companies that he was owed more than $11,000 for eight weeks of unused vacation time while he was employed by Mr. McNamara. He claimed he was owed that money by Route 347 Realty Corporation in Port Jefferson Station and not 347 Corp. of Florida, which was also listed as a defendant in the proceeding, according to the documents.

In a follow-up interview this week, Mr. Coates maintained that he never worked for the company at the center of the scandal involving Brookhaven Town officials, but his attorney advised him that claiming that company owed him vacation pay increased the odds of getting paid.

“You go after the bigger company,” he said.

Mr. Coates also said in the earlier interview that he stopped working for Mr. McNamara on his own terms after he sensed his employer was having financial difficulties.

“My first kid was born, I’m making oodles of money and for the first time now the job isn’t fun,” he said. “And also, I went from this wet-behind-the-ears kid who doesn’t know [expletive] to, you know, Sinatra. So I was like, ‘I’ll go off and do other things.’” He said they parted ways mutually in a planned departure and left the door open for him to still do consulting work for Mr. McNamara’s companies. He said he could afford to leave the job — even at a time when his first daughter was just an infant — because he had become financially comfortable working for Mr. McNamara. He said during the interview that to this day his tenure with Mr. McNamara has afforded him a comfortable lifestyle.

When asked how much he made working for McNamara companies, Mr. Coates said, “Oodles of money. Many, many, many zeroes at the end of the money.” He said his salary was for his job at the newspaper and he “earned bits and pieces of other things he touched … mostly I was paid through the newspaper, though.”

As a creditor in the federal forfeiture action, Mr. Coates stated his tenure with Mr. McNamara ended with “an out-of-the-blue termination” on March 15, 1992, one month to the day before Mr. McNamara was indicted in the scheme to bilk GM out of $436 million. Mr. Coates states in his claim that his weekly pay rate was $1,442 during the time he worked for Mr. McNamara — about $75,000 per year.

When asked in a follow-up interview if that was his salary and if he would characterize that as “oodles and oodles of money,” he said that was just his salary and the bulk of his pay came from performance-based bonuses from the other companies he represented.

Even the dates Mr. Coates worked for Mr. McNamara are inaccurate on the résumé, which states he published the newspaper from 1989 to 1993. But Mr. McNamara sold the newspaper in November 1991 and was arrested in April 1992. He admitted in the interview that he left the newspaper before it was sold and spent the remaining months of his employment with Mr. McNamara working for other companies, including a highly profitable heating oil company.

After first being questioned by this newspaper several months ago about possible inaccuracies in his own résumé, Mr. Coates said in an email: “There isn’t an item on my résumé that is disputable, exaggerated or in doubt. I knew what was coming at me, I took every precaution. I may be a bit off on a date here and there because who really remembers their life to the day?”

In that same email, he said of Ms. Giglio, “People with thin résumés shouldn’t throw stones. It’s about time someone calls this woman on her lies.”

Mr. Coates has no doubt he said a lot of the right things during his campaign. But I do wonder how much of it he truly believes and how much of it is just the right thing to say.

Is he really disgusted by Ms. Giglio’s career in development, despite having once worked for one of Long Island’s most powerful developers and having later worked on other development projects? Is he really a political outsider frustrated with the current Town Board, even though he’s been involved in Suffolk County politics for more than 30 years and has run the recent campaigns of the current town supervisor? (His résumé says his first job was as a Suffolk County legislative aide at the age of 16.) Is he truly committed to transparency when his own résumé leaves off his development connections and downplays his role as an employee of Mr. McNamara at the height of the scandal?

When asked similar questions this week, Mr. Coates said his DNA is made up of a lot of different parts. He’s not just a guy who worked for developers, he’s not just someone who’s worked in politics and government. He’s also worked for a fuel buyer’s group and in the financial world. He accomplished a lot at an early age and has rejected a lot of the bad he’s seen in the early part of his career, he said.

He says a reformed insider is really the candidate he is today. I just wish, in the interest of true transparency, his campaign did a better job conveying that to the voting public.

Grant Parpan is the executive editor of Times/Review Newsgroup. He can be reached at (631) 298-3200, ext. 266 or gparpan@timesreview.com.

07/06/13 10:00am
07/06/2013 10:00 AM

I often tell people there’s no greater place to cover news than in Riverhead.

This town has it all: diversity, a downtown in flux, agriculture, silly politics, great local sports and loyal residents who are passionate about the place they call home.

With all of this comes the good type of news and the bad. This town is heartwarming one day and heartbreaking the next. The past week provided the perfect example of this.

My wife, Vera, and I were camping near the Jersey Shore two years ago when we received word of the horrible gel candle incident that left Michael Hubbard badly burned. The breaking news reporter for the paper at the time, I remember Vera, the breaking-news reporter at the time, trying to report the news from the road. It was exactly the kind of story you hate to have to tell, the kind where everything changes for the worst for a young person with promise.

Ever since that day, we’ve enjoyed hearing little bursts of good news as Michael has experienced small victories in his long road to recovery. Two years later, his friends and family were able to celebrate his biggest win yet as he was returned home to Riverhead from the Westchester County facility where he had been cared for since September 2011.

As a great example of a community hospital looking out for one of its own, Michael is now being cared for at Peconic Bay Medical Center’s skilled nursing facility as he awaits the opening of Brendan House, a group care facility planned for Riverhead. (I’d be remiss to not mention the role riverheadlocal.com publisher Denise Civiletti played in connecting Michael’s family with the hospital, where she previously worked. She declined to accept credit when asked about it last week, but both Michael’s family and hospital officials say she was a critical piece of the puzzle.)

Michael’s move back home was among the best news for Riverhead in quite some time. It was only one day later, that this community received some of its worst news in awhile.

If you know that feeling of nervous tension you get deep in your stomach when you hear unexpected bad news, than you know exactly what I felt when I received a phone call Friday night from one of our reporters was who was on the scene of a fire at Athens Grill in downtown Riverhead.

It’s not that uncommon to hear volunteers responding to a kitchen grease fire at a local restaurant over the scanner. But this one, I was told immediately, looked real bad.

News that a local restaurant was lost in a fire would never be good, but I can’t think of too many places I’d less like to see destroyed than Athens Grill.

Opened in 2004, John Mantzopoulos’ restaurant was ahead of others in the push to revitalize downtown Riverhead. And despite the restaurant’s reputation for serving up great food, it was clear he wasn’t making a killing there.

Like a lot of businesses on East Main Street, Athens had seen some ups and downs, and I don’t think it would be a leap of faith for me to say the restaurant had seen more slow days than busy ones as revitalization efforts downtown have ebbed and flowed over the years.

Still, Mr. Mantzopoulos carried on in a town where many before him had packed up and taken their recipes elsewhere.

It would take a heart of concrete not to feel sorry for the man and his staff, or to the many other downtown business owners affected by the news that his restaurant burned.

But this is Riverhead, the place where you get knocked on your back one day and you’re up on your feet another. This is a place where despite its flaws and the cynicism that breeds, everyone loves a tale of rejuvenation. This is, after all, the home Michael Hubbard returned to.

I’m sure the fundraisers that are already in the works to help rebuild the restaurant will be a major success.

I look forward to the day when the Athens building is restored and the restaurant rises from the ashes. I look forward to my next plate of lamb meatballs.

Grant Parpan is the executive editor at Times/Review Newsgroup. He can be reached at gparpan@timesreview.com or (631) 354-8046.

06/29/13 9:00am
06/29/2013 9:00 AM

My eyes lit up when the doctor gave us a canvas bag full of goodies at the end of our first appointment.

Surely, somewhere beneath all the samples of vitamins and other baby products would be the book I’d waited for my whole life. You know, the one that tells you everything you’ll need to know as a dad. When I was a kid I always marveled at how my pops seemed to have an answer for everything. It wasn’t until I got a little older and wiser that I realized he’d just been making things up as he went along, and he was correct only about 3 percent of the time.

Now, it’s going to be my turn to have all the answers. The Mrs. got through the first trimester this week and, if the calculations are correct, I’ll be a dad for the first time come New Year’s Eve. (This is the moment when, if we were speaking face-to-face, you’d make a comment about a tax deduction.)

Since we found out the news, I’ve found myself asking, “Am I ready to be a dad?”

I’ve used this column space many times to write about how I don’t really know how to do anything; how I have no man skills. If something needs fixing I call a handyman. And when it comes to working in the yard, my thumb is far from green, the color of my pool the one summer I tried to maintain it myself. A few months back, my father-in-law asked me a question about my car’s radiator. When I froze, he said, “Well, I guess I wouldn’t know how to write a newspaper article.”

It’s safe to say I’m not a so-called man’s man. I’m more like a boy’s man, still holding out hope of one day being a man’s man, which is why I was disappointed there was no dad manual in the doctor’s goodie bag.

Surely, at one of the 11 remaining U.S. bookstores, there’s that perfect book: the one that teaches you how to change a diaper with one hand while hanging a shelf with the other. I’d imagine that book would also dedicate an entire chapter on how to beat your son at various backyard games while simultaneously grilling a steak and drinking a can of cheap beer.

Just like everyone before us, the Mrs. and I find ourselves talking about the baby 99.4 percent of the time these days.

After every meal we talk about how the baby must have loved what we just ate and then we discuss how the baby will enjoy every little thing we perceive as cool. If this baby is anything less than tall, dark and beautiful with Carl Lewis’ speed and an encyclopedic knowledge of independent cinema, it will have failed to live up to the early hype.

The baby talk even extends to our conversations with others. “Yeah, that was a great game, dude. The baby would have loved that game.”

Of course, the good thing about us always talking about our little North — didn’t we come up with the coolest name? No one else will ever think of that — is all the productive talks we’ve had with folks who have been down this road before.

The advice has been tremendously helpful, especially from the friends who told us to never listen to anyone’s advice. I think that carefree style is the attitude we need to adopt. There shall be no more stressing over which type of diapers to use or what to do when the baby’s crying. The nursery will get painted, the crib will be assembled — likely by someone else — and the kid will grow up loved.

There’s still six months to go and I’m refusing to spend the rest of this time worried. I’m confident that when the time comes I’ll have enough of the answers at my fingertips.

What will happen when I don’t know what to do? Like my old man before me, I’ll just make something up.

gparpan@timesreview.com

06/07/13 8:00am
06/07/2013 8:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | John McManmon outside his family’s home in Aquebogue.

The residency requirement to run for New York State Assembly is defined very briefly on the NYS Board of Elections website. In fact, the definition is only one sentence long.

It says: “You must be a resident of the state for five years and a resident of the district for 12 months immediately preceding the election.”

That one sentence is why I believe the Democratic nominee for the 2nd Assembly District special election should not be permitted to run for that office.

John McManmon does not dispute that he spends most nights in an apartment on Dean Street in Brooklyn, more than 90 minutes away from the district he wants to represent.

However, the 28-year-old attorney believes he is eligible — and many local Democrats agree — because his parents live here in Aquebogue. That’s the address on his driver’s license and he votes out here using that address.

He only stays in Brooklyn to ease the commute to his job at the Manhattan law firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy, his supporters argue. He visits home frequently, they say.

It’s my opinion that Mr. McManmon is a resident of Aquebogue on a technicality at best. In the true spirit of the seat, and in the best interests of the people who live here, he should not be running for this office at this time.

But area Democrats are acting as if nobody has a right to question this. They seem offended anyone would have a problem with a man who spends his nights in Brooklyn and his days in Manhattan representing the North Fork in Albany.

In one of the great foot-in-mouth quotes of the year, Riverhead Town Democratic Committee chairwoman Marge Acevedo said, “His job is in New York City and he travels back and forth. His residency should not be in question at all. There are no real jobs out here and people should take that into consideration.”

Now let’s dissect that spin:

• His residency should not be in question? At all? He freely admits he doesn’t live here.

• No real jobs? For lawyers? A Google search for “Attorney Riverhead,” one of the few American communities with more courthouses than McDonald’s restaurants, returned the maximum 25 pages of search results.

Speaking of questions, does Mr. McManmon pay New York City’s income tax on residents? If so, how can he be a resident both here and there?

It’s a particularly sad display that given several months to find a candidate in a special election for a seat that will be vacant for eight months before the newly elected takes office, Democrats couldn’t even settle on someone who actually lives here. As Democrats continue to control the majority in Albany’s lower house, basic logic says a local Democrat might be able to accomplish more than a Republican.

And the GOP nominee hasn’t exactly hit the ground running for the office. So far, all Anthony Palumbo of New Suffolk and party leaders have offered in the early stages of his campaign is a few sound bites on cleaning up corruption in Albany that sound like they were written by state Republican officials. It’s nice to think a local Republican could use his minority seat to clean up the capitol. It’s nice to think about unicorns and magical wizards, too.

Word on the street is that some unhappy Democrats might take legal action in an attempt to challenge Mr. McManmon’s candidacy. They should. His right to vote in Riverhead Town should be questioned as well. While they’re at it, how about looking into the city income tax he could avoid by using his parents’ address?

I live literally a few blocks outside of the 2nd Assembly District, less than 10 minutes from the house where my parents have lived for 35 years, which is inside the district. I work on the North Fork and spend more time here than anywhere else.

That said, I don’t feel I have the right to vote in this district, let alone run for office here. Neither should John McManmon.

 Grant Parpan is the executive editor for Times/Review Newsgroup. He can be reached at gparpan@timesreview.com or (631) 354-8046.

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.

gparpan@timesreview.com