Memories sprang into my head as I walked into the meeting room of the Suffolk County Legislature last week to receive a proclamation from the Legislature honoring me for more than 50 years as a Suffolk-based journalist and spotlighting an archive of my work that has been established at the East Hampton Library.
I was in this room regularly in the mid-1960s covering the Suffolk County Board of Supervisors. I looked last week at the horseshoe table in front, where the 10 members of the board sat — the supervisors of the 10 towns of Suffolk. It’s been widened since the days of the board to 18 places for the 18 members of the Legislature.
I thought of some of the remarkable members of the Board of Supervisors, including Evans K. Griffing, supervisor of Shelter Island, Harry Kangeiser from Islip, Bob Flynn from Huntington and John V. N. Klein, the Smithtown supervisor and the board’s last chairman. After two centuries the board was dissolved due to a lawsuit citing the “one person one vote” court rulings of the 1960s. A panel of 18 districts of equal population, a Suffolk Legislature, was established in 1970 to replace the old board.
Mr. Klein, so very committed to this county, gave up being Smithtown supervisor to run as a legislator on the new panel, and became its first presiding officer. He guided the new body in its early years, forging a continuum between the old board and Legislature. Thereafter he became Suffolk County executive. His greatest achievement was the first-of-its-kind Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program, which has allowed so much of Suffolk to remain agriculturally productive and green.
On the walls of the meeting room were the portraits of the 18 past presiding officers of the Legislature. Down the row of photos from Mr. Klein’s was that of John Wehrenberg. My mind went back to 1971 and the tarmac at the Sydney, Nova Scotia airport. A year before, as an investigative reporter for the daily Long Island Press, I broke the story about the oil industry seeking to drill in the Atlantic. Strong opposition developed on Long Island to drilling off our shores. The following year, Shell Canada invited a delegation of Suffolk legislators to visit the first drilling rig set up in the Atlantic, off Nova Scotia. No press was allowed. But the legislators going listed my name as part of the delegation.
“You don’t think you’re going to get on this helicopter, Mr. Grossman,” a Shell Canada executive told me on the tarmac. Mr. Wehrenberg, telling the oil executive: “If Karl isn’t going, we’re not going.” The men from Shell Canada huddled, and soon I was on the chopper out to the rig. The visit was instructive. It was clear on the rig, with its equipment in preparation for a blow-out and spills, that off-shore drilling is a dicey proposition. I recall heading back to Long Island with the legislators, everyone talking about the impacts on Long Island of oil washing up our beaches.
I looked at the photo of another presiding officer, Lou Howard. Now, Lou and I were at odds over nuclear power. He was an ardent supporter of the Shoreham nuclear power plant. It was slated to be the first of seven to 11 nuclear power plants in Suffolk. Grassroots opposition to Suffolk turning into what nuclear promoters at the time called a “nuclear park” led to election defeats for pro-nuclear officials. But Lou held on and stuck to his pro-nuclear position.
One day we were talking about flying and Lou — an aviation instructor — invited me to fly with him. Over Long Island, he gave me the controls and after a while the plane began bucking from turbulence. It was scary. But Lou advised, “Just go with it.” And I let the plane be bumped around until finally the turbulence ended and it was again flying straight and steady.
Lou had things wrong about nuclear power, but his philosophy on how to deal with turbulence —literally and figuratively — was right-on.
During the proclamation ceremony, I was called up to the rostrum with Dennis Fabiszak, director of the East Hampton Library. Legislators Al Krupski of Cutchogue and Bridget Fleming of Noyac presented me with the proclamation which, incidentally, cited “my extensive reporting and writing on the dangers of nuclear power.”
If it weren’t for the Suffolk Legislature under the leadership in the 1980s of Presiding Officer Gregory Blass of Jamesport, we’d have nuclear plants in Suffolk today.
Mr. Fabiszak, explaining what’s been named the Karl Grossman Research Archive at the East Hampton Library, said: “We are digitizing all of Karl’s articles and also all of the primary research which he used to write the articles. When it is done it will be the largest data base of historic documents in Suffolk County … Already we have about 7,000 documents online, available and fully searchable. And we’re continuing to add to it every day … We can’t wait to continue the work.”
Please go to the library’s website easthamptonlibrary.org to access the information. It’s wonderful that my stories and columns, and an array of documents, are available now and into the future.