JERSEY CITY – It was a gorgeous day this morning, where the nauseating AtroTurf stink of New Jersey politics lingered in the vicinity of the nobility of Lady Liberty, where Sam Pesin, president of the Friends of Liberty State Park, looked and sounded more than capable of purifying the legendary park in the face of yet another unwarranted privatization onslaught.
Pesin has been at this his entire life, after all, and lately quite a bit more than usual, as the leadership of the New Jersey state Legislature drags its heels on the LSP Protection Act A2189 and A1449, which would once and for all protect Liberty State Park after 45 years of grassroots privatization battles.
The local champion of a vital statewide asset expressed his disappointment in the silence to date of Governor Phil Murphy, and bemoaned a decision by state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette enabling a counter-rally within ear and eyeshot of the park’s longstanding champions.
“Their event is a shameless assault on the overwhelming will of the majority,” said Pesin, leading the rally to pressure Murphy and the leadership of the legislature to move on fully protecting the park from commercialization.
The counter rally in question consisted of the friends of Florida billionaire Paul Fireman, who has tried to cram a golf course onto the grasslands here amid new mutterings of turf fields as lawmaker leadership insists on leaving the park unprotected.
“There’s no reason for our people to have to go around them,” Pesin said. “The DEP did the wrong thing by allowing them to be so close to us.”
The environmental leader described a grand pitched battle between people and profiteers.
“We are on the right side of history,” he said to considerable cheers. “We will not give up until the protection act is passed.
He had some critical backing here, in the form of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33), sponsor of the protection act.
The Fireman apologists have tried to deride their detractors as anti-recreation, but Mukhjeri detonated that dichotomy.
“We’re happy to see recreation,” he said. “We don’t want see the park commercialized. That’s what this law’s about. Let’s call a spade a spade. Let’s get the bill to his desk. The speaker – and I’m a committee chair – he’s my friend – the speaker needs to post the bill. The senate president needs to post the bill for it to get to the governor’s desk.”
Speaker Craig Coughlin received $2,600 from Fireman in 2019.
That said, a lot of people have, including Mukerji, six years ago.
For his part, Fulop doubled down on leadership empowering the people to protect the park.
“I struggle to find what the purpose of the rally is behind you,” said Fulop. “Who in their right mind would favor privatizing the park? This is not active versus passive recreation. We do not want to be here every single year or every six months fighting for the right thing. They wanted to make a golf course, a marina, a water park. This is the latest iteration. At the end of the day, we will prevail because our track record is undefeated and we are not going to change it now. We want the governor to sign that bill. We want Senate President [Steve] Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin to post that bill so that not one piece of this park ever becomes privatized.”
The legislature most recently tried to derail Pesin in 2020 by sneaking park privatization language into the budget, exposed by the media at the time for what it was, and now the activist – and 100 accompanying organizations – want to shut down the shenanigans for keeps.
“Fireman’s contributions, falsehoods by his lobbyist and ‘astroturf’ group – conducting a vicious smear campaign against park advocates to discredit the Act – threaten the Act & Caven Point, a migratory bird habitat/nesting area and education resource for 100’s of students annually,” said Pesin.
The Act will protect the entire park including LSP’s Caven Point Natural Area, “which Liberty National Golf Course billionaire owner Paul Fireman wants to annex for relocated golf holes for his multi-millionaires,” the activist added.
“It is imperative that we codify into law protections to keep the people’s park from senseless privatization and large-scale commercialization which would take away vital urban open space from the region,” said Assemblyman Mukherji. “Liberty State Park is a national treasure and the keeper of this country’s diverse, rich history with markers that have guided generations of citizens and attracted people from all over the world. We must protect the fundamental right of every urban citizen to free park space and the right of future generations to enjoy this rare open space jewel.”
“I’m proud to stand with the Coalition to Pass the LSP Protection Act to continue our fight for the preservation of New Jersey’s most treasured historic park, and I hope this serves as a wake-up call to our legislative leaders for the need to protect our precious parks and open space from privatization statewide,” Fulop added. Year after year, we are forced to defend ourselves in order to protect Liberty State Park from private development, which would lead to the devastating loss of valuable green space and wildlife, and so it is time to put a permanent solution in place to protect this priceless natural habitat and open space for Jersey City residents and the millions of annual park users to enjoy.”
Other speakers at the rally included a representative of Senator Brian Stack, COS Shane Mitchell for Senator Loretta Weinberg, County Commissioner Yraida-Aponte-Lipski, Keith Bodden, NJ NAACP Chair of the Armed Forces & Veterans Affairs Committee, Greg Remaud, NY/NJ Baykeeper, and LSP and civic activists Daoud Williams and Rafael Torres, Beverly Brown Ruggia of NJ Citizen Action JC Parks Coalition president Paula Mahayosnand and Bike JC board member Ayla Schermer. Green Party candidate Madelyn Hoffman was also in attendance.
Famed basketball coach Bobby Hurley joined the opposition along with Hudson County Commissioner Jerry Walker in support of developing the park for recreation and his argument can be seen below: