Jersey City activist group, officials miffed over stalled effort to rename park after fallen cop

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Alika Muhammad, an organizer of the “Robateau Legacy” group seeking to rename Gateway Park after fallen Jersey City Police Department Lt. Christopher Robateau, is frustrated with the lack of progress on the issue – as are some city officials.

Background photo of Greenway Park via Google Maps. Inset photo of Late Jersey City Police Lt. Christopher Robataeu screenshot via YouTube.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

The late Chris Robateau was killed on January 5th, 2018, when he stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike on Exit 14 in Newark to help an accident on the way to work, and a truck hit him.

“Chris Robateau was very responsive at police-community meetings with requests and showing up. He went beyond out of his way to do for our community. Everybody I talked to loved this guy. And everybody knows he deserves it,” she said in an interview.

The application to rename the park was initially denied by the Municipal Council Street Name Subcommittee, which Council President Joyce Watterman chairs, on the basis that Robateau had little connection to the park.

In response, the group found records that the park was part of Robateau’s beat when he was with the JCPD’s narcotics division.

Muhammad also noted that in 2000, a sports complex was renamed after baseball legend Roberto Clemente who had few ties to Jersey City.

She continued that Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera has been very supportive and offered guidance throughout the process, while Council members Mira Prinz-Arey, Rich Boggiano, James Solomon, and Jermaine Robinson signed their petition.

Additionally, she indicated that Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley has said separately she supports the renaming park and that she has been unable to connect with Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh.

Muhammad spoke with Bill O’Dea, who had the baseball diamond in the park renamed after American Negro League baseball player Richard Seay while serving on the council, describing him as supportive of the project.

Muhammad said Council President Joyce Watterman is holding up the process. She would like to speak at the subcommittee, but they do not hold public meetings.

During a brief phone conversation, Watterman said the situations with Seay and Robateau are very different.

“It’s named after somebody, a Black baseball player who played there. We can’t rename something that’s already been named,” she said, noting that the complex has the same name and deferred further comment to the city’s Law Department.

They did not return a message with their office seeking comment.

Furthermore, Muhammed said she has met with Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who has been supportive of the effort, and was joined on at lease one occasion by his aide Vernon Richardson, who is also seeking the Ward F council seat as an independent.

He refuted that there is a legal hindrance aspect to this situation.

“It isn’t a legal issue. Corporation Counsel has reviewed this and has offered no legal justification. The CP (Council President) has offered no position. She and the other CM (Councilmembers) meet with them, say they support the name change but do nothing,” Richardson said in a text message.

“They are seeking to rename the park (Gateway), not the Field (Seay). The field used to be called Gateway Field, which could be the source of confusion. But this sounds much more like willful ignorance at this point.”

City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione reiterated that the mayor has no say in renaming streets and other city landmarks.

“The mayor doesn’t get involved in street naming decisions as this is a function of the city council,” she began.

“Several years ago, the mayor and city council deliberately put this in the hands of the city council so that there was a process similar to other large cities that was driven by residents, which includes criteria and a process that would also be transparent, accountable, and legal.”

If all else fails, the Robateau Legacy group has gathered over 3,000 signatures for her ballot petition to get the park renamed next year, with more coming in.

Muhammed first spoke to HCV about their effort to rename the park back in July.