Not content to wait for U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV to decide if the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act trumps the settlement that all parties signed in good faith 32 years ago, and which has hobbled their efforts to reap gaming gold, the leaders of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) revealed that they have taken steps to forge ahead with plans to develop a long-unbuilt community center into a bingo parlor.

It is hard to know if the tribe intends to press ahead with plans to place rows and rows of blinking electronic bingo devices in its living room and invite gamblers in, or if this is some type of bluff designed to advance mainland aspirations.

Whatever the hard-to-fathom strategic purpose, the tribal leadership has certainly proceeded in a clumsy fashion.

The tribe has every right to test the legal limits of the settlement act in the face of significant changes to the state’s gaming landscape. Perhaps the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does supersede the settlement act. That is for the lawyers to argue, and for a judge — or the nation’s highest court — to decide.

And it is understandable that members of the Wampanoag tribe who live on the mainland and formed the voting bloc in favor of turning the community center into a gaming hall might not give a hoot about what happens in the town of Aquinnah, as long as there is money to be made.

What is not understandable or acceptable is the tribal leadership’s indifference to its neighbors, the residents of Aquinnah, and the Martha’s Vineyard community at large.

The first inkling residents had that the tribe planned to proceed with plans for a gaming hall came in a news report published last week in the Vineyard Gazette, which reported that the tribe placed an online classified ad seeking licensed electricians and helpers for a 10-plus-week casino project, an ad it withdrew after two days.

Much was revealed in a deposition given last week in connection with the case now before Judge Saylor. Tribal Chairman Tobias Vanderhoop told Aquinnah Town Counsel Ron Rappaport that the tribe did not notify the town about this change of use, that the tribe would not permit town inspections, and that the tribe has retained a contractor and an architect. Mr. Vanderhoop said that the tribe had transferred control of the building to its gaming corporation for use as a casino, and has the authority to proceed under the IGRA.

Common courtesy demanded that Mr. Vanderhoop meet with the Aquinnah board of selectmen, two of whom are members of the tribe, and let them know that the tribe was not content to wait for the judge and would move forward with its plans. Doing so would not have changed the tribe or the town’s course of action, but would have been consistent with the pattern of cooperation and communication evidenced in other matters.

In an interview with The Times, Mr. Vanderhoop bobbed and weaved when asked for his personal view on the question of gaming.

“It is my responsibility as the elected chairman of the tribe to represent the interests of all the tribal citizens. My point of view is that I stand with the actions that the membership takes, and I carry out my duty.”

Mr. Vanderhoop is correct that he has a responsibility to carry out the will of the tribal membership. But as a leader, he also has an obligation to speak out when he thinks the tribe is moving in the wrong direction. At the moment, it is hard to discern what he thinks.

Chairman Vanderhoop would have us believe that a bingo parlor will provide jobs and benefits. And what might those be? Emptying the coin boxes? Filling the concession machines? Sweeping the aisles between the rows of flashing machines? And what will be left in profits after the tribe’s financial backers take their cut?

The tribe has certainly had opportunities to generate jobs and benefit the Island economy in a manner more in keeping with the Island environment.

We find more clarity in the unequivocal statements of Julianne Vanderhoop, an Aquinnah selectman and tribal member, who understands her leadership role.

Selectman Vanderhoop said the notion of creating a gaming hall in the Island’s smallest town is “far-fetched.”

The selectmen are united. They have issued a cease-and-desist order and appear willing to follow up, should the tribe ignore the order. Hopefully, that will not be necessary.


In gatherings large and small on Martha’s Vineyard, at beaches, in backyards, and along Main Street, Edgartown, this Saturday Islanders will join Americans across the United States and celebrate the Fourth of July, and the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” embedded in the Declaration of Independence.

The celebration will take place against a backdrop of heightened security brought on by increased fear of a terrorist attack. The threat is real, security experts say. The stakes are high. The enemy is unflinching in its disregard for the freedoms that are at the core of our society, and seeks to inflict terror for terror’s sake.

As we join family and friends, we may take some comfort knowing that even as we enjoy this national holiday, there are men and women who will, and must, remain vigilant and at their posts, whether on a local street corner or on patrol in a dangerous corner of the globe.

On the Fourth, if even for a moment between ribs and fireworks, we who reap the benefits of this free society ought to take a moment to think about the future, and reflect on the past, and draw confidence from our history. Our nation has prevailed over threats in the past. But nothing is ever certain.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and West Tisbury resident David McCullough made that point in an address on Sept. 27, 2005, to a large Marriott Center audience at Brigham Young University soon after publication of “1776,” his engrossing description of the perilous year that followed the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Mr. McCullough told the audience that “nothing ever had to happen the way it happened. Any great past event could have gone off in any number of different directions for any number of different reasons. We should understand that history was never on a track. It was never preordained that it would turn out as it did.

“Very often we are taught history as if it were predetermined, and if that way of teaching begins early enough and is sustained through our education, we begin to think that it had to have happened as it did. We think that there had to have been a Revolutionary War, that there had to have been a Declaration of Independence, that there had to have been a Constitution, but never was that so. In history, chance plays a part again and again. Character counts over and over. Personality is often the determining factor in why things turn out the way they do.”

In this age of the sound bite, tweet, and shared YouTube gaffe, it would be easy to arrive at the conclusion that men and women of character are missing from the political landscape. That is just as false today as it was in 1776. It is up to voters to look past the electronic chaff and recognize character when we see it.

Mr. McCullough reminds us that George Washington made mistakes, but he learned from them, and retained the confidence of the men under his leadership.

In his address, Mr. McCullough quoted Abigail Adams. In one of her many letters to her husband, John, who was off in Philadelphia working to put the Declaration of Independence through Congress, she wrote, “Posterity who are to reap the blessings, will scarcely be able to conceive the hardships and sufferings of their ancestors.”

Saturday is a day for celebration. There is still work to be done, but as we cheer the fireworks, we ought not to forget what it is we celebrate and the hard work it took.

For periodically taking the measure of the community, few opportunities are better than the few weeks surrounding the end of the school year.

The ebullience of this year’s Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School graduation met all our expectations, from the unique setting of the Tabernacle to the showcasing of articulate, enthusiastic, and proud graduates and families, who happily are expanding to include members of the Vineyard’s Brazilian community (June 17, “Saudade: It doesn’t always translate”). And the triumphs of the state champion girls varsity tennis team add hard-earned icing to the end-of-school-year cake.

That many of us share in the pride high school graduation generates is evident in the astonishing $1.2 million in scholarships and prizes awarded to new and recent graduates by Island organizations, trusts, and individuals (a complete list of all awards, accompanying class photos, and essays, was published June 18 as a special Class of 2015 section).

Beyond its intrinsic value, a college degree remains a fixture among markers predicting economic mobility and employment opportunity. College price tags, though, have soared so high that the burden on all but a tiny number of Island families is increasingly difficult if not altogether disqualifying. So the gifts of the community make a direct difference — in fact, they could make all the difference. In that context, consider the impact the generosity of former Island residents George and Martha Yates will have on our youngsters — a new scholarship fund of $1 million administered by the Permanent Endowment Fund of Martha’s Vineyard.

If our significant commitment of tax support for public education on Martha’s Vineyard and accompanying direction of philanthropic resources is seen as a purposeful investment in the mobility and ultimate success and satisfaction achieved by our college-bound children, however, the celebrations of students, families, and our schools themselves are well-earned, but don’t tell the entire story.

As recent research on American communities and economic mobility describes (David Leonhardt, et al., nytimes.com, May 4, 2015), economic mobility can in many ways be seen as an artifact of location. In a very large-scale study designed to evaluate the effectiveness of relocation to higher-income communities as a means of improving economic mobility, the study’s authors (Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, Harvard University) examined millions of records to show the effect of location on earning capacity.

A very useful interactive tool included in the Leonhardt article makes it easy to search the database by virtually any county in the country, and to see comparative rankings nationally and within each state. Mobility rankings within each county can be sorted by income quartile and by gender, so a pretty full picture emerges.

What we see is definitely not what most of us would expect. On average, Dukes County is next to last among Massachusetts counties in expected mobility. For our poorest children (the 25th income percentile), the outlook is better than only 31 percent of counties nationally.

It might be tempting if ungenerous to attribute this problem to the victims, and to see the statistics as validation of the rewards of hard work, strong values, and long-term residence on the Vineyard. Tempting, but substantially if not altogether simply wrong. Because even more striking, the disadvantage of Vineyard children actually grows substantially with improved family economic circumstances: For average-income Vineyard children, the outlook is better than for only 7 percent of all U.S. counties. And for wealthy Island children (the 75th and 99th income percentiles), Martha’s Vineyard actually measures worse than 99 percent of all counties in the country.

In other words, data expected to illuminate the relative mobility disadvantage of poorer and more recently arrived children among the Martha’s Vineyard community confirms that expectation, but then goes on to show how much things worsen for wealthier Island children.

It’s fair to ask why. One explanation might lie in the extent of severe problems not primarily rooted in income. The study, for instance, doesn’t isolate for rates of substance abuse among a community’s population of different ages, reportedly alarmingly high on Martha’s Vineyard for everything ranging from heroin to party drugs to prescription medications. It doesn’t easily isolate for incidence of single-parent families, or for limited economic opportunity back home after college.

If economic mobility isn’t the measure of opportunity and potential quality of life we Islanders want for our children, it raises the question of why we trail so many other so-called lifestyle communities, who seem to offer much of the same environment we do and still provide both values we favor and mobility opportunities for their children. And if we’re right about what our children want and need, maybe our enormous levels of support for local education and futures unlocked by college aren’t the only important investments we should be making.

If we want the best investment strategy possible for our children, we need to be transparent and thoughtful about our goals — about the opportunities and the safety net we want to provide for all our children, what part the community needs to take, and what individual families are responsible for. And quite likely, we need to look beyond our schools and traditional college-tuition assistance to support our goals.

Martha’s Vineyard Community Services and its many family-centered programs would seem a perfect vehicle, and MVCS has shown itself to be both well-run and a good partner to new, innovative approaches to philanthropy, such as the Island Wide Youth Collaborative. Much the same could be said for the Martha’s Vineyard YMCA. Perhaps the season of well-earned satisfaction and congratulation is also a good time to take on some serious thinking about our investment strategy.


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The weather smiled on the Martha’s Regional High School Class of 2015 Sunday. It was as perfect a Vineyard day as one could wish. Life for the 160 graduates who marched up on stage to receive their diplomas will not always be sunny, but on that day, surrounded by proud family members, friends, and teachers, the outlook was bright.

The wider Martha’s Vineyard community can also take pride in the accomplishments of the class of 2015. Island taxpayers invest heavily in education — close to $50 million in the fiscal year about to close, on a system that employs 550 employees and educates more than 2,100 students, according to outgoing Superintendent James Weiss — and we may hope that the start in life provided these students will pay dividends in the future.

Many will seek higher education. Others will join the job market. Some will enter the military. They will move forward in their endeavors with a sense of community that is becoming rarer and rarer in society, one which some in this class may not fully appreciate until later in life, when they look back on the bonds they formed growing up on a small Island.

One can learn much about this latest crop of students and the experience of growing up on the Vineyard from the remarks they delivered Sunday. Those speeches are included in a special graduation section published in today’s issue of The Times.

The common themes were parental and community involvement.

“I wouldn’t be here without the support and compassion of my teachers, community members, and most importantly my parents,” Valedictorian Samantha Potter said. “Even amidst their own hectic schedules, my parents were a constant presence that I could rely on, and even if they couldn’t help me with my BC Calculus homework, at least they tried.”

How reassuring to hear that parents still count. Irrespective of all the studies and government programs spent devising new methods of education, the basic ingredient is an involved mom, a dad, or a teacher.

Josie Iadicicco, student council president, highlighted the class of 2015’s accomplishments:  “We have left our legacy in the form of broken athletic records in sports like track and tennis, Gold Keys for award-winning art, and national and regional recognition for the literary magazine, Seabreezes, and the school newspaper, The High School View.

“We connected with our community through outreach programs at Windemere, and events like the CROP Walk and the Relay for Life. Some of us will be traveling to Washington, D.C., this summer to accept an award for the MVironment Club, in recognition of its outreach program at Island middle schools. Lastly, the actors of the class of 2015 have given stunning performances at this year’s productions of Into the Woods and Twelfth Night.

Josie recognized the groundwork that nurtured her class, including those residents who regularly turn out to cheer on student athletes and attend school performances, and in doing so provided her classmates with a springboard into the future: “We have not done this in isolation. The support of a community that values education has allowed us to flourish and realize our potential. From elementary school teachers who guided us in our early years to members of the community who have shown their support by attending our games and performances, we have felt your devotion, and are deeply grateful.”

Class essayist Charlotte Potter spoke about the experience of learning and maturing as she made the transition from middle school to high school.

“The past four years held a lot for us. It was the first time we fell in love, and got our hearts broken. We discovered that the friends we made in middle school would change, and the new ones we made would last far longer than the tan lines we sustained in our final summer together. We struggled to find who we are, and hoped that by some desperate chance we would make it out of this mess alive.

“Now look at us. They told me high school would go by fast, but I never knew how true this warning was. It seems like just moments ago, we walked into the high school terrified of the change, but eager to face the new challenges. Today we have the same expressions as we look toward being a first-year again, in whichever path we choose: the first year in college, in the workforce, or as a world traveler.”

Our new graduates head out into the world. The rushing river of life that started out as a small Island brook will continue to speed them along into the future. We wish them all the best.

In an 18-page decision handed down Monday, June 8, Superior Court Justice Cornelius J. Moriarty II made mincemeat out of the Dukes County Commission and its most recent lamebrained and costly efforts to meddle in the affairs of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.

No, the county manager cannot sit on the airport commission as a nonvoting member — the county’s ham-handed effort to oversee airport commission decision-making.

No, the county commission cannot willy-nilly expand the airport commission from seven to nine members — a bumbling county effort last fall to alter the voting makeup of its appointed airport commission, which included one of their own self-appointed members, because the commissioners were too impatient to wait until the terms of the recalcitrant members of the airport commission expired in January and they could boot them off.

No, the county treasurer cannot refuse to pay invoices approved by the airport commission — as she did time and again to exert county authority that does not exist.

No, the county treasurer cannot ask to see invoices from airport attorneys to determine what legal services were provided and then pass that private information on to third parties — as she passed them on to a former disgruntled airport employee and union representative, since appointed to the airport commission, where he can wage war against airport management from the inside.

It was clear from the first sentence of the decision that Judge Moriarty understood what this battle was all about.

“This case stands as another chapter in the long-running power struggle between the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission and the County Commission for Duke County over the control of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport,” Judge Moriarty said.

The ruling was handed down as a summary judgement, meaning both sides agreed on the facts and left it to the judge to decide based on the law.

For those of you who have long since given up trying to understand this battle, it goes, punctuated by lots of dollar signs, something like this:

By state statute, the airport commission is solely responsible for the county-owned airport.

The county commission is responsible for appointing members of the airport commission.

More than a decade ago, appalled by county meddling in airport affairs, state aviation officials asked the county commissioners to sign grant assurances which provided millions of dollars in state and federal grants to the airport under the condition the county agree not to reorganize the airport commission or “in any way interfere with the autonomy and authority” of the airport commission.

Irrespective, the county commission has consistently argued that the county charter superseded the state statute known as the Airport Act, which vested authority for the airport in the airport commission, and meddled in airport affairs.

Judge Moriarty said on one hand the county claims that the provisions of the county charter trump the Airport Act, yet on the other hand it agrees that the grant assurances are a binding contract.

“It appears that the County seeks to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds,” Judge Moriarty said. “It may not do so. Here the County has forfeited its right to manage the airport through the execution of the grant assurances and the acceptance of state and federal funds.”

For those of you keeping score, the County Commissioners are now 0-2 in Superior Court.

In July 2005, Superior Court Judge Robert Bohn Jr. ruled that the airport commission had the statutory authority to set the salaries of its professional managers, and that the county lacked the legal authority to interfere with the payment of those salaries. The legal issues were the same.

Judge Bohn also slapped the county with a hefty bill. In total — including back wages, triple damages, and legal fees for all involved — the defeat totaled more than $800,000. The award of treble damages was later rescinded on appeal.

That’s two knockouts. There were multiple jabs landed that ought to have told the county how this fight was going to end. Yet it persisted.

Judge Moriarty’s decision is a lively piece of writing, even humorous until one considers the colossal waste of time and resources spent fighting a fight that had its roots in the arrogance and thickheadedness of the county commissioners, whose actions compelled the now-ousted airport commissioners to file the lawsuit decided on Monday.

In March, the county commissioners used their appointing authority to finish the purge of the airport commission that began last year. County Commissioner David Holway’s clumsy questioning of the candidates left little doubt that a willingness to stand behind the airport’s litigation against the county was a litmus test.

The next test will be how the newly appointed members of the airport commission react to this legal victory, and whether they assert the principles of law on which the judge based his decision. They are the beneficiaries of a battle that began years ago, when airport commission chairman Marc Villa of Chilmark, a pilot and businessman, and his fellow commission members opposed county efforts to meddle in airport affairs. Mr. Villa was duly tossed off the airport commission, but not before he had overseen the transformation of the airport from a ramshackle collection of buildings to a new modern facility and the straightening out of airport finances.

Last June, County Commission Chairman Leonard Jason Jr. called for the outright resignation of the seven airport commissioners. The longtime county commissioner later modified his call in a letter addressed to the airport commission, in which he suggested that the commissioners find something else to do.

Perhaps it is time for the seven county commissioners — Leon Brathwaite, John Alley, Tristan Israel, Christine Todd (also an airport commissioner), Leonard Jason Jr., Gretchen Tucker Underwood, and David Holway — to find something else to do.

Recent weeks have brought reporting in The Times (April 29, “Uber makes waves on Martha’s Vineyard,” May 21, “Uber revs up for summer on Martha’s Vineyard,” and May 27, “West Tisbury puts taxi regs, fares and Uber on future agenda”) of the arrival of Uber, an international transportation network company or TNC, operating on-demand ride services on Martha’s Vineyard. Separately, The Times has also reported (Feb. 25, “Airbnb lands on Martha’s Vineyard”) on the growing Island presence of Airbnb, a room- and home-sharing service.

For those unfamiliar with these inscrutably named consumer businesses, they are among the best-known website- and smartphone-based consumer interfaces which instantly connect service providers (transportation, lodging, and virtually anything else you can imagine) with customers. Uber and Airbnb don’t own cars or homes — they simply own the software and back-office infrastructure which match supply and demand.

For instance, when you want a ride, you click an Uber app on your phone and you’ll instantly see a map showing locations of potential drivers in their personal autos, estimated time to a pickup, and exactly what the ride cost will be, tip included. It will also display the driver’s name, and the rating his services have secured from other customers. You click again to accept the ride, and a clean, courteous driver in her privately owned car will appear, and all costs will be automatically and paperlessly handled by credit card.

You might use it to get to the boat, or to a dinner reservation, or to a doctor’s visit. And as those who use it elsewhere would testify in legions, the system works. With occasional glitches, some outstanding insurance and public safety issues to address, and even rare but serious problems (including the sometimes loutish style of founder and CEO Travis Kalanick), Uber does what old-fashioned taxi systems used to do, but better, more conveniently, more comfortably, and at least in some categories of service, less expensively for individual customers.

Airbnb uses the same approach to matching supply and demand, in this case for short-term lodging. Homeowners interested in turning a spare bedroom (or in many cases a guest house or investment property) into revenue post their property with Airbnb. A potential Vineyard visitor queries the Airbnb website or phone app, and enters Martha’s Vineyard and the dates of interest. Instantly, listings and descriptions of available properties, including peer ratings of property and host, are shown. This past weekend, there were 72 rooms and 242 homes available to rent on Martha’s Vineyard through Airbnb. As with Uber, there are some operating issues to resolve, and a few insurance, inspection, and tax issues to address, but Airbnb has gained worldwide satisfaction on both sides of the transaction.

But if Uber and Airbnb and other similar services frictionlessly matching supply and demand for goods and services among Islanders and visitors offer better experiences, they can also bring important unintended consequences to be wary of. If Uber’s services don’t generate new customers but simply cannibalize existing in-season ones, and taxi companies lose viability and disappear, will Uber drivers stick around the rest of the year? Will Uber drivers serve the wealthy and the well-paved, but refuse attention to the hard-to-reach? If we regulate, tax, and inspect Airbnb hosts beyond reason, will the pressure on existing lodgings simply raise prices? Will we benefit from denying neighbors with extra rooms the chance to earn enough so they can avoid moving out altogether for the season?

In the end these digital challenges to our existing order are going to be sorted out by market and lifestyle choices and compromises, and not by town and state regulation. Zoning and regional planning tools may have been sufficient to block offices at Nobnocket and McDonald’s on Main Street, or stalemate Stop and Shop, but they are powerless to significantly alter or, worse, attempt to block the entry of web-based services underpinned by vast cultural change.

At its heart, the challenge of Uber and Airbnb (and of course Google and Amazon) is that we are made to confront our loss of control over the accessories of lifestyle on the Island. We lose control seemingly every day, not so much to clueless visitors and wash-ashores who don’t adhere to the vain and arrogant idea of a single “correct” Vineyard style, or to villainous overreaching and overspending local governments, but rather to the complex of economic and cultural patterns which engulf us and which diminish the protections accompanying our Island status. We will be altered by both coastal and cultural erosion whether we like it or not, and we should relieve ourselves of the conceit that we should figure out how to remain web-commerce-free.

The remarkable cultural and market attributes of our Island life — everything from locally sourced food, exclusive restaurants and shops, a robust market for expensive real estate and construction, handcrafted wooden boats, expensive art, a rich and varied cultural scene, along with enormous tax and philanthropic support for public and private community resources -— comes to Martha’s Vineyard courtesy of the larger economies which surround us. We may be seven miles offshore, but for good or bad we are definitely on the grid, and couldn’t be more a part of the world around us.



The Island’s smallest town has accomplished a very big feat. Today, the Gay Head Lighthouse will be inched back from the precipice it now overlooks, in a testament to the ability of Islanders to accomplish great tasks.

It is worth recalling that it was only three years ago, with the cliff face only 50 feet away and erosion claiming two feet per year, that the concerned residents of Aquinnah set out to save the Gay Head Lighthouse.

They faced no easy challenge. There were state, federal, and money hurdles to overcome. Undeterred, a dedicated group of year-round and seasonal residents set themselves to the task.

First they sought the support of the town. At a special town meeting on Feb. 5, 2013, Aquinnah voters agreed to purchase the lighthouse from the federal government and initiate the process to preserve, restore, and relocate it. The cost was an estimated $3 million.

That April, the Coast Guard announced plans to replace the light’s aging DCB-224 optic, a rotating mechanism that relies on a bank of 1,000-watt incandescent bulbs set behind red and white filters, with stationary 80-watt LED bulbs. From a navigational standpoint, as far as the Coast Guard was concerned, while the iconic brick structure was nice, a blinking LED light on a metal tower would work just fine.

In June, in response to Island concerns, the Coast Guard announced a change of course. It would continue to refurbish the aging mechanism, at least for the immediate future.

That same month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Gay Head Lighthouse to its 2013 list of America’s 11 “Most Endangered Historic Places,” bolstering the preservation effort.

Not just anyone can move a lighthouse. It is a specialized task. International Chimney Corp. signed on to do the job.

The Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee asked for a onetime contribution of 18 percent of each town’s estimated 2014 Community Preservation Act annual budgets to help move the Island landmark. In a series of town meetings, voters readily agreed, raising $500,000.

There was still a long way to go. Committee members reached out to residents and the wider seasonal community. Fundraising events generated some cash, but it was the generosity of individual contributors that made the difference.

This past February, the General Services Administration, the agency that manages the property of the U.S. government, transferred the lighthouse deed to the town for the sum of $1.

All appeared to be on track. The discovery of lead paint in the soil from the lighthouse and the old keeper’s cottage around the lighthouse, which needed to be removed, added an unexpected and costly complication.

Then the Massachusetts Natural Heritage Endangered Species Program sent a letter informing the town that the project would affect the habitat of broad tinker’s weed (Triosteum perfoliatum), a species state-listed as endangered and protected by the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. There was talk of the need to conduct a botanical survey during the period from June 1 to Nov. 15, when the weed begins to bloom and grow. That would have delayed the planned relocation of the lighthouse, and increased the risk that the eroding cliffs would advance further toward the light. Thankfully, common sense, not always in evidence, prevailed, and a solution was found that added another unexpected expense.

The committee, having successfully met its goal of $3 million in cash and pledges, was faced with raising an additional $400,000. They went back at it, and are now $200,000 short.

Each dollar raised has represented phone calls, committee meetings, one-on-one appeals, emails sent and answered, and all of the small tasks that would be easy to overlook, now that the finish line is near.

The entire project is the latest example of the Vineyard’s remarkable ability to marshal local resources and talents to accomplish a goal, whether it be new lockers for the Martha’s Vineyard Ice Arena or a new Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

The earliest structure consisted of a keeper’s dwelling and an octagonal wood tower, which guided mariners past Devil’s Bridge, a dangerous rock ledge that extends out to the northwest from the cliffs, and presents a hazard at the west entrance to Vineyard Sound.

Henry Franklin Norton (1888-1961) of Oak Bluffs, a teacher and historian, tells us, “The first tower was 40 feet high; the lantern was reached by a series of ladders. There were 14 whale oil lamps in this lantern, which was suspended from eight large pine beams.”

The lantern revolved on wooden wheels, but not always easily when the weather was foggy or very cold and the wheels did not work. “At such times the lighthouse keeper [Samuel Flanders] would be obliged to turn the lantern by hand all night. When the keeper was sick or needed help, he called on his wife, and many a night Mrs. Flanders, wife of Samuel Flanders, turned the light from midnight to dawn.”

There is no need to turn the wheel by hand, but the dedication to the light remains undimmed. Through the efforts of the Save the Gay Head Light Committee, the Gay Head Lighthouse will continue to overlook the cliff where it has sat, guiding mariners in one form or another, since 1799. The committee deserves our support and thanks.


Our national holidays are in general an odd lot. Of the 10 holidays we observe, most celebrate past events and birthdays, traditions and milestones cut down to manageable scale. Part historical poster art comprised of big, simple images conjuring up big, simple ideas, and part seasonal celebration, the lessons we’d like to draw from their narratives can be elusive.

Independence Day (now only occasionally the 4th of July) is the best fit — a specific event, a triumphant outcome, and a shared national idea. The patriarchal birthday holidays — one for Washington and Lincoln, and one for Martin Luther King — feel almost the same. Drawing on extraordinary vision and courage, each man confronted America’s existential conflicts and then singularly raised us beyond our base instincts, laying the boundaries of our political and social prospect. It’s easy to pause on their days and bask in the glow of their gifts to us.

Memorial Day is more nuanced, and has a bit of a checkered history. It began as Decoration Day, proclaimed not by broad acclamation but rather as a result of effective lobbying by a politically powerful fraternal order of Union Army veterans to establish a national holiday honoring Civil War dead by “strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.”

Failing to reach beyond the unquenched bitterness following Appomattox, though, the holiday didn’t gain support in the South until its focus was broadened, and the 115,000 killed in World War I and the 405,000 in World War II were added to the staggering 750,000 Civil War dead whose graves we tend, and the name changed to Memorial Day. And as a national event, Memorial Day has really taken off since Congress changed its date from May 30 (poetically chosen because it celebrated no particular battle) to the fourth Monday in May (chosen in order to assure a three-day weekend) in 1968.

Memorial Day should be a rhetorical softball, combining appreciation of the many who have been killed in combat (and not incidentally the families they’ve left behind) with the happier kickoff of the summer season we’ve grafted onto the holiday. In fact, though, more than any other national holiday, it provokes strong ambivalence: How do we keep faith with our countless dead while we observe the futility and empty failure of so many of the wars that claimed their lives?

The complex events that lead to war may be at the same time inevitable and avoidable. The legislators and foreign policy lobbyists who lay the groundwork, argue the cases, and cast the votes may be wise and thoughtful. The valorous dead may be willing. But weighed against the evidence and outcomes, 1.3 million American military graves and countless millions more wherever we travel to do battle seems simply barbaric.

So for this Memorial Day, after we decorate the graves and cheer the parades, but before we celebrate the start of another summer season, we should hug our children, and then think about how we outsource warmaking and resolve that we’ll think about the intellect and the fundamental humanity and humility of those to whom we delegate this horrible power, and about the promises we should extract in order to guard against the heedlessness with which our surrogates sentence our young to die. Because never forget: These dead we honor result from choices we make, and are on our hands.


It would be easy to assume that outgoing superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard Schools James Weiss was born cheerful. How else to explain the fact that the man began his Island tenure in 2005 with a smile, and as his job winds down, he continues to wear a smile. Remarkable really, when you consider the job.

Sure, he wears a serious countenance when a photographer catches him at a meeting with one of the five (or is it six, or 10 — hard to keep it straight) Island school committees he must meet with on a regular basis. But generally, the guy seems pretty cheerful for someone who has at last count presided over a school system comprised of 550 employees, more than 2,100 students, a budget of about $50 million, and by his own account, lived through 60 school budget processes.

Mr. Weiss is scheduled to retire at the end of June and said he will work right up until June 30. At a juncture when others might be milking every sick day, personal day, and vacation day due, Jim Weiss has shown no inclination to slack off on the job. “I’ve got too much to do,” he said. In a series that began on April 29 at the Tisbury School and will end on June 9 at the Chilmark School, Mr. Weiss has been speaking about the Island school system in a series of forums organized by the League of Women Voters.

“As I depart, I want people to have a sense of how good their schools are,” Mr. Weiss told The Times prior to his first stop. “I’m not taking credit for it, because I just inherited a wonderful system and didn’t destroy it. I want people to understand where we are, so they support the new leadership. I also want to talk about where we can work together in what I call ‘shared responsibility,’ to make things better.”

His speaking tour comes against a backdrop of voter rejection of rising school expenses. Tisbury, Chilmark, and West Tisbury all said no to the cost of a new $3.9 million school administration building, sending the project back to the drawing board.

West Tisbury voters also rejected a request for $300,000 to fund the Up-Island Regional School District budget, and when they next meet at special town meeting on June 2, they will be asked to consider withdrawing from the district. The driving frustration behind that article, one of two articles voters will consider along with a request to fund the budget, is the cost of the Chilmark School.

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail, and voters will see that any move to withdraw from the district would be a case of chucking the baby out with the bathwater, and tossing the tub out too for good measure.

But voters have every reason to question the costs of a school system that promises to continue to grow more expensive. Good thing Vineyard towns can count on the sizable tax payments from seasonal property owners who do not contribute kids and have no voice at town meeting.

School committee members, teacher union representatives, selectmen, finance committee members, and new Superintendent Matt D’Andrea and Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith have their work cut out for them in the years ahead.

Mr. Weiss’s parting gift to the school system he has served so ably over the past 10 years is the blueprint he has begun sharing with those who have turned out to hear what he has to say — more listeners would certainly be welcome.

Mr. Weiss is realistic. In a forum held at the Oak Bluffs School last week before an audience of about 25 people, he said, “While I agree that a regional system could save us money, I have to say that I don’t see that happening.”

Instead, Mr. Weiss described a system of shared responsibilities and collaboration, a rational system where towns cooperate to cut costs. Let’s call it regionalization light.

As an example, Mr. Weiss said that currently every school buys its own type of toilet paper and holders. If all the schools bought the same paper in bulk, the company would drop-ship it once, plus provide the holders or dispensers and come to the Island to install them, Mr. Weiss said.

On an Island with six of most everything, including dog catchers, standardized toilet paper and dispensers would be a promising start.

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Elie Jordi in Denali National Park, Alaska.

He called himself A-Train. He was an overweight, 18-year-old immigrant Vietnamese from Manhattan named Aaron; not the average candidate one expected to meet on a month-long expedition through the vast Denali National Park in Alaska organized by the National Outdoor Leadership School.

I, on the other hand, spend a considerable amount of time outdoors, at home on Martha’s Vineyard and hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I had been looking forward to going to Alaska for years. There were 11 of us who left Anchorage last July. And there was A-Train.

During our first full week of hiking, A-Train consistently lagged behind. He had scraped knees, a ripped shirt, and an attitude to match; he was a complete disaster. He often fell down on the hikes, and perhaps worst of all, from my point of view, he was unmotivated and unappreciative of the adventure. That bugged me.

After a week of trial and error I decided to hike behind A-Train. I encouraged him to stay focused and push forward. Mostly I yelled at him: “Let’s go Train! Move it! Dig deep! There you go!”

I wondered if my tactics were constructive. I knew they were not always respectful, but I was trying to be a leader, and act to serve the greater good of the group.

The days wore on, and A-Train’s presence on the trail continued to be a chore. But oddly enough, at night in conversation, the two of us forged a bond over our love of cuisine. With little meal variation on the trail, dreaming of food became epidemic, and our tent was filled with countless hours of food talk.

A-Train described elaborate Asian dishes, embellished with chutneys and tenderized pork atop rice. And as we talked, I began to understand that although A-Train and I had our differences on the trail, we were developing a relationship that made me reconsider my earlier view of him.

It was during the last week of the expedition that I learned that first impressions could be very misleading. Somewhere on the trail, my face and eyes were exposed to a poisonous shrub. They became swollen to a point where seeing became a challenge. Impaired, I felt awkward and unable to fully contribute to the group. I had never experienced this sense of vulnerability before. I had always been in control of my actions; however now I had to give in to this allergic reaction.

A-Train took over my role, and I became a follower, listening to him execute plans for the day ahead. He led the group with composure, and displayed incredible confidence. This was a very different A-Train from the person I had imagined he was. I was impressed as I watched him prepare meals and lead hikes, and he did it all with great assurance.

During the expedition, A-Train and I emerged as leaders at different times, for different reasons. We learned from each other, and made each other stronger and more effective. Even though we began the journey as very different people, we brought out the best in each other. And perhaps more than anything else, on this expedition I learned that in order to be a great leader, one must be able to step aside and allow others to lead.

Elie Jordi is a Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School senior. His senior project has been a stint on The Times staff.