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Assembly speaker takes life lessons from ‘Star Trek’

Sam Kmack, NY Now

The often-reticent New York Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie, showed a different side of himself when the lifelong Star Trek fan visited a museum in New York’s North Country that replicates the fictional Starship Enterprise.

It’s a Trekkie’s dream — sitting in Capt. Kirk’s chair, standing on a transporter pod, holding an actual communicator prop from the television show. Heastie got to do all of that when he visited the Star Trek Set Tour museum in Ticonderoga as part of a tour of New York’s North Country.

“I feel like I’m 10 years old again,” Heastie said. “This is amazing.”

Heastie, who is 49, wasn’t yet alive when the original version of the series premiered in 1966. But the reruns in the late 1970s certainly captured his imagination.

“I was always into science and technology,” said Heastie, who added many of the gadgets on the show were precursors of modern devices, including Lt. Uhura’s early “Bluetooth,” and Capt. Jean-Luc Picard’s “iPad.”

Heastie, who is not a publicly demonstrative person, smiled and seemed captivated as he politely asked question after question of tour guide James Cawley.

TheStar Trek Set Tour is a lifelong dream for Cawley. He grew up in Ticonderoga, a village between Lake George and Lake Champlain that includes the historic Fort Ticonderoga. He left to travel widely, with jobs including working as an Elvis impersonator, something he still does — and he wears his hair in a styled black pompadour to prove it.

The museum does not, of course, have the actual set from the show. That was destroyed shortly after the series ended in the late 1960s; no one thought it would ever be valuable. Cawley has painstakingly reconstructed the bridge, the sick bay and the engineering station, among other iconic sets, by closely analyzing the tapes of the original shows and consulting with dedicated fans.

Star Trek fans have an eye for detail,” Cawley said. “And if you get it wrong, they’re going to let you know it.”

Cawley said he wants visitors to feel like they’ve entered a “time machine.”

“We want them to feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in an episode,’ ” he said. “ ‘I’m on the starship.’ ”

He estimates it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to put it all together, though he’s had plenty of help from friends and relatives. He’s received no aid from the state.

Heastie said the show, which was known for its ahead-of-its-time political and social themes, taught him some life lessons that he uses in politics, running the 150-member Assembly and dealing with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and leaders of the state Senate.

“They always wanted to have a peaceful discourse any place that they went,” said Heastie, who added his favorite quote is from Spock in the 1982 movie The Wrath of Khan.

“ ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one,’ ” he said.

Heastie said Kirk remains his favorite character, though.

Other well-known politicians have been Star Trek fans, including former President Ronald Reagan and Gen. Colin Powell.

Cawley said there’s a reason for that.

“It’s pretty simple. Star Trek is very optimistic; it is a bright vision of tomorrow,” Cawley said. “It said that no matter what our differences are, we’re all going to come together.”

It was not originally Cawley’s specific intention to help his economically depressed hometown. But he said he’s happy if the Star Trek Set Tour brings in more visitors. He’s already had 7,000 since opening in April, and several of the former stars of the show will be visiting in late August.

Heastie agreed.

“I hope it does for here what the Baseball Hall of Fame does for Cooperstown,” Heastie said.

After all, he said, there are a lot of Star Trek fans.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.