Politicians, activists, and nature lovers alike gathered at Liberty State Park yesterday afternoon to host a rally where they urged the state legislature to pass the LSP Protection Act, though there were a select few who felt this wasn’t the best course of action.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“This park is a unique treasure. For many working-class people, this park is their Disneyland, their Great Adventure. Many families can’t make it to the Jersey Shore,” stated Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-33).
“Liberty State Park is The People’s Park. Let us never forget that.”
She is one of the co-sponsors of the Liberty State Park Protection Act in the lower house, along with her legislative colleague Assemblyman Raj Mukherji.
State Senator (D-33)/Union City Mayor Brian Stack (D-Hudson) is sponsoring the senate version of the bill
“When you start to entertain the idea of encroaching on a state park, you’re taking that land away from the people. It is the beginning of the end of democracy,” Mukherji said.
While opposed to a potential Liberty National golf course expansion into the Caven Point portion of the park, Mukherji said he doesn’t oppose private-public partnerships for small amenities and concession stands.
“If they tried that at Central Park, hell would freeze over before that happened. Why would we allow that to happen across the river?,” Mukherji asked regarding wide-scale privatization.
In response to the Liberty State Park for All group insisting that urban communities have been left out of the process, the assemblyman said the LSPPA has amendments that would guarantee representatives from Ward A and Ward F become part of the decision-making process.
“The idea minorities would be left out … of improving the park or the ideas on how to better the park, that’s also a ridiculous idea … I don’t see many disadvantaged citizens from this city’s Ward A or Ward F walking around Liberty National.”
Friends of Liberty State Park President Sam Pesin, a key organizer in the event and staunch critic of Liberty National owner Paul Fireman, commended Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop for being an ardent advocate for Liberty State Park.
There is is a line of Governors in favor of private park development since the 1990s that have faced Sam Pesin unsuccessfully, and this will be no different Fulop said.
“Here we are in the same fight every year, whether it’s a water park, a golf course, or a marina, or a hotel or privatization, it’s the same thing,” the mayor indicated.
Developers similar to Fireman have brought up ideas over how to privately redevelop the land over the years. Pesin and his father Morris before him led efforts to successfully stave them off.
Additionally, Fulop noted Ellis Island is nearby where many immigrants came through to enter the United States around the turn of the 20th century.
“It’s counter to everything those people came here believing about this country. It’s on its face, counter to the fact, that if you told them everything and anything is for sale in this country, maybe they would have gotten back on the boat because that is not what they believed when they came here,” he exclaimed.
“We need the governor and the legislature to say this is ‘The People’s Park’ and save us the fight.”
“My mother-in-law worked with Sam’s father on these projects. And now here I am to finally hopefully get this done and get this bill passed,” added Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey.
She noted that a promised golf instruction project never materialized.
Ward E Councilman James Solomon, who recently sponsored a city council resolution urging for the passage of the LSPPA, and Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro, also addressed the crowd.
Morris County NAACP Acting Chair of Environmental and Climate Justice Keith Bodden noted that the Pesins have worked with the NAACP for years to protect the park.
He and other local Black leaders, including Jersey City NAACP PAC Chair Chris Gadsden and activist Frank “Educational” Gilmore, spoke in favor of Pesin’s cause.
However, Bruce Alston, who is open to LSP privatization, led a much smaller counter protest and said the 1977 Master Plan called for full recreational facilities in the park and that never came to fruition.
“The golf course has nothing to do with the rest of the 40 percent of the park,” Alston said.
He said they were advocating for the undeveloped land to be turned into swimming pools, sports fields, and an amphitheater.
Alston reiterated his previous position that Pesin does not allow minority voices to participate in the process. In response, Pesin said the counter protest was more than likely paid for by Fireman.
“During the summer I found it highly offensive that the conversation about this park shifted into a social justice conversation. Because that conversation should not have happened. Sam took a lot of heat. But the heat needed to be down there in Trenton,” Gadsden said.
“I find it highly offensive that a billionaire could come in, and we speak about the ‘pixy dust.’ But the ‘pixy’ dust is real. When someone is receiving $40,000, $20,000, $25,00 Fireman is writing checks to silence black voices. They’ve been paid to do it.”
In a statement issued prior to the rally, LSP for All Executive Director Arnold Stovell said if people really cared about improving the park, they would push the DEP to do a full-fledged cleanup, not “a cover up” of previous contamination.
“The Liberty State Park Protection Act does not address contamination, but double-talks into it being ignored. The DEP has changed the tone of its inherent racism by enlisting conservatives, pretending to be conservators,” he said.
“No naturalist would accept partial contamination clean-ups. Were this park in a predominantly white neighborhood, capping public spaces would not even be a consideration.”