While over 200 Jersey City residents dialed into a Zoom call yesterday to have a conversation about the future of Liberty State Park, several are expressing outrage after only three voices were heard on the call – which started late and ended early.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
The call was billed as being a two-hour affair, between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. last night, with Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson and Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera to provide opening remarks.
Moderator Arnold Stovell, who identified himself as part of the new group “Liberty State Park 4 All,” was expected to moderate a panel discussion between entrepreneur Bruce Alston and Friends of Liberty State Park President Sam Pesin before taking audience questions, based on a flier promoting the event.
However, very few of those things ended up going according to plan.
Robinson didn’t end up on the call until about an hour in, while Rivera did not end up participating at all. Pesin was also not a part of the call, which started about 20 minutes late and had the chat feature turned off for all of about 10 minutes.
As a result, the majority of the time was spent as a dialogue between Stovell and Alston, who said that Reebok founder and billionaire Paul Fireman, who has expressed a desire to expand Liberty National golf course into Caven Point, shouldn’t be villainized here.
“You need a millionaire or a billionaire with enough money to actually get something done … I’ve never seen a poor person ask for financial advice from another poor person,” Stovell stated.
“We need to stop this nonsense that there’s a push by Fireman to privatize the park: that’s nonsense. That’s coded racism,” Alston said, who for about an hour emphasized that Ward F and the black community needed to have a seat at the table this time around.
Both Stovell and Alston also expressed disdain with fact that a state master plan established in 1977 has largely never come to fruition, including a pool, aquarium, retail shops, an amphitheater – among other things.
At one point, Robinson apologized for the event not going as planned.
“I’m a little sad that the meeting did not go as the flyer said it would, with a debate some back and forth, and I do apologize for that … I truly wish this went a different way,” he said.
He also pointed out that Pesin was on the call and wondered aloud if he could still participate, but Stovell said he wouldn’t allow him to speak since he did not follow the game plan.
“If he had done what we were hoping for in the beginning, we would have done that, but I’m not going to do that now,” Stovell said, who attributed the chat function being disabled and no public question and answer session due to technical difficulties.
For the brief time that the chat function was enabled, residents expressed frustration with what was transpiring.
“Unfortunately only two of you can tale here,” wrote Elaine Hansen.
“All voices absolutely matter, the problem is you’re here supporting the billionaires who don’t need any more voice,” added Mary Beth Botts.
While Stovell couldn’t be reached for comment this morning, Alston blasted Pesin for pushing the Liberty State Park Protection Act and not giving the master plan serious consideration – again indicating the felt there were racist overtones at play.
“Sam’s problem is he thinks it’s the ‘master’s plan’ not the master plan: the last thing the slave masters ever wanted was for us to start talking and revolting. That’s the kind of plantation politics that we’re dealing with here.”
He also joked that he was a member of the Audubon Park County Club when asked if he had ever been a member of Liberty National, later stating he had never been a member, nor had he ever been in contact with Fireman.
Pesin told HCV last night that the FOLSP plays no decision-making role for the park, that responsibility rests with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
He also said that he was ignored by Stovell when he tried to work out to the details of being a panelist.
Additionally, it goes without saying that he is less than enthusiastic about the golf course expansion plan.
“The billionaire would destroy Caven Point so he can relocate three golf holes for
millionaires close to the bay. He can use his own vacant casino hotel land or buy the adjacent Army Reserve site for his tournament needs and for a youth golf academy, and he can donate millions if he’d like to help with LSP improvements without his getting the priceless Caven Pt as a quid pro quo,” he said.
“Fireman hasn’t given a penny to improve LSP in his 14 years of owning the golf course, and probably didn’t donate to Jersey City non-profits until he started wanting Caven Point for golf holes.”
Pesin also pushed back on the notion that there was any sort of racial component involved with this discussion.
“It’s totally not true, but I’m not surprised: it is an unethical weaponizing of the righteous Black Lives Movement for a false narrative to advance Paul FIreman’s privatization of the Caven Point portion of the park,” Pesin said, also calling the Zoom call “a sham.”
Late last month, the state legislature approved a budget extension that includes language that would allow development at state parks – which was later signed by Gov. Phil Murphy (D).
While Murphy has since vowed now to privatize LSP, prior to that, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop hit Murphy for signing the bill.
Furthermore, at the last Jersey City Council meeting, the governing body pulled a resolution supporting the LSP Protection Act for the second time in a row after Robinson urged his colleagues to push the vote until after he had a community discussion about the park.