Guest spot: Columnist’s observations on Riverhead were off base

Columnist James Varney said recently that he believes intellectual diversity might not be welcome thing on Long Island's East End.
Columnist James Varney said recently that he believes intellectual diversity might not be welcome thing on Long Island’s East End.

I read with amazement the News-Review article about New Orleans columnist James Varney, who penned a column in his home paper about his negative experience after visiting Riverhead for a wedding.

Mr. Varney’s column in the Times-Picayune of New Orleans titled “The Long Island Internet Blues” indicates that while staying at the Hyatt East End in Riverhead, he was not able to access some conservative websites. He theorized that the hotel, by design, prevented him from doing so and allowed Internet access only to liberal-leaning web sites.

Mr. Varney did not stop there. He continued in his rant and went on to write that “in the big money enclaves of Long Island the concept of diversity may be revered. Intellectual diversity, on the other hand, not so much.”

Give me a break. As a card-carrying liberal Democrat and resident of Riverhead, I feel compelled to respond and defend Riverhead from this big fool from the Big Easy.

As the News-Review article correctly pointed out, there are far more registered Republicans in the Town of Riverhead than Democrats. Supervisor Sean Walter and the entire Town Board are Republicans. As far as Mr. Varney’s characterization of Riverhead as a “big money” enclave, I think most town residents, including myself, would be shocked to learn that we live in a big money enclave. The truth is that Riverhead is a working class community with a very diverse population that encourages and allows a wide range of political beliefs. In my humble opinion, it is a good place to live.

I understand that during his visit to Riverhead, Mr. Varney had some additional observations that supported his belief that Riverhead was a bastion of liberalism. On a visit to the aquarium he noted that most of the fish swam to the left. While driving around town, he thought there were just too many no-right-on-red signs. He was also shocked that he could not find a single citizen openly carrying a gun. My comments are — I hope, clearly — tongue-in-cheek, but illustrate the absurdity of some of what Mr. Varney writes about Riverhead.

I truly wonder what motivated him to target our little hamlet? Did he not have a good time during his visit? Was he disappointed that, unlike in New Orleans, he could not walk around town with an open container of alcohol? Was the Po’ Boy he got at the neighboring Subway not to his liking? Was he disappointed that, unlike New Orleans, Riverhead does not have a big gambling casino in the middle of town? I also question why being unable to access a specific website on a hotel computer was so important for a professional journalist in this age of smartphones and iPads.

I would like to respectfully suggest to Mr. Varney that he consider concentrating his criticisms and writings on his hometown of New Orleans. There appears to be plenty of fodder in the Big Easy to fill many columns. Earlier this month, nine people were shot on Bourbon Street after a gunfight between two men in the heart of the tourist district. In April of this year, the New Orleans Police Department entered into a consent agreement with the federal government that permits the Justice Department to monitor police activities in the city after a multi-year investigation concluded that the New Orleans Police Department engaged in a pattern of conduct that violated the Constitution and federal laws.

In conclusion, I think Mr. Varney owes the Town of Riverhead and its citizens an apology for falsely representing the values for which our community stands. Perhaps he would consider shipping us a large amount of crawfish for a good old-fashioned crawfish boil in the middle of town as a token of his sincerity.

R0815_JERRY-BILINKSKI_C1-150x150Jerry Bilinski is a case manager with a nonprofit group that advocates for incarcerated and mentally ill people. He lives in Riverhead.