COURTESY SUFFOLK COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY | Griffing Avenue was once a tree-lined block that bustled with activity.
Sure, people love New York, as the slogan goes. “Greatest City in the World!” disc jockeys across the FM and AM dials proclaim daily.
There’s a certain amount of pride for us whenever we see those familiar bird’s-eye views of the NYC skyline during a premier sporting event like Monday Night Football. Movies showcase the city’s parks and architectural wonders. Rappers bestow iconic status on the city’s toughest neighborhoods.
But the reality for most on eastern Long Island is that NYC has nothing to do with us except as a place we might visit during the holidays or every so often for a play or a ballgame.
Yet that pride we feel remains directed there, at the city, and not right here at home.
Young people know this most of all. There’s a time for all Long Island teenagers when it seems their entire sense of self-worth depends on how close they live to the city. The closer one is, the cooler. No two ways about it. They’ll lie about it upon meeting other teens on vacation and exaggerate their connections to the city while away at college.
Every young person knows who the mayor of NYC is. Go ask someone under 25 to name the Suffolk County executive.
So when people talk about New York, and all this state pride we have, I just don’t buy it.
Maryland has some serious state pride. Don’t believe me? Take a five-hour ride down I-95. Those people slap their state flag on everything — HoJo’s, McDonald’s, the Baltimore Ravens, their forearms and thighs. Even you know what the Maryland state flag looks like. (Need a reminder? It’s a split pattern of yellow and black checkers and white and red crosses.)
When’s the last time you saw a New York State emblem flown or worn proudly, other than on the side of a trooper car?
All this lack of state pride trickles down to the county levels.
There are almost 1.5 million of us here in Suffolk County. Probably 1.47 million can’t name the county seat. You know, like a county capital. Where all the stuff happens. But I don’t need to tell my readers this, you people are the .03 million, the folks who are well aware where the county seat is, because you live here and every once in a while someone brings it up.
Even when Riverhead is mentioned as the county seat in any sort of literature or web entry, it’s got a sort of asterisk next to it. Take this line: “[Suffolk’s] county seat is Riverhead, though many county offices are in Hauppauge on the west side of the county where most of the population lives.”
This stupid thing appears everywhere, verbatim — Wikipedia, Newsday, even Congressman Tim Bishop’s website.
According to the National Association of Counties, there are 33 counties in 11 states that have two county seats. We’re not one of them.
Everyone who lives in Suffolk County should know where the county seat is, dammit. And be proud. Own it. Have a stake in it.
Sure, the county’s huge, but we’re more than just our school districts or our proximity to New York City. The condition of downtown Riverhead and the courts and county offices here reflects on all county residents, from Amityville to Montauk. And with the town’s emphasis on farmland and other preservation efforts, Riverhead is a reminder of what we all once were.
That’s why I’m especially excited, yet at the same time frustrated and none too confident, about the restoration work at the historic state Supreme Court buildings on Griffing Avenue, just a short walk from downtown.
The News-Review reported this week the buildings should be fully renovated by next summer. When this is accomplished, Suffolk County will finally have a historic courthouse that rivals those of the city boroughs (though obviously smaller). Exciting news indeed.
But, like most of us who live or work here, I’ve been frustrated that the renovation has already taken six years. Despite the explanations we keep getting from county officials, perfectly reasonable as those explanations might be, it still feels like we’ve been getting jerked around by “where most of the population lives.”
Why am I none too confident in the future?
The new civil courthouse that opened in 2007 behind the historic one isn’t getting the attention it deserves; it’s easy to notice with a quick walk around the building. There’s improper signage, unkept and overgrown landscaping, and a litter problem.
This new building is an investment, and so is the $50 million historic courthouse project. These are not just bones that have been thrown to appease East End politicians.
Once the renovated courthouse is open, the county executive and our other pals in Hauppauge should make a very big deal about it, then see to it that Riverhead’s entire court district is well maintained, with appealing supporting infrastructure. And maybe slap the renovated courthouse’s image on some promotional materials.
It wouldn’t hurt to boast about the county seat — and instill some pride.
Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (631) 298-3200, ext. 152.