Equal Time: The real issue at hand is in Calverton

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.