Liberty State Park, NJ, under threat once again, from the oligarchic side of the Democratic Party. The Park's as close to a secular shrine as we come...the Statue and the New York City Skyline.
The relentless pressure on Nature by economic forces, despite popular wishes, is no where "better" on display than the nearly a half-century of development schemes for the park.
Liberty State Park opened in 1976, timed to coincide with the nation’s bicentennial celebrations. Credit...Seth Wenig/Associated Press; this is the image from the NY Times article from the 17th I linked to below.
Yes readers, I’ve promised an essay on Inflation, that all purpose Crusader’s banner under which the Right marches, has always marched, the Von Hayeks and Von Mises, the all purpose reason why we “can’t afford it,” least of all for those who need $$$ help in the oligarchic age of concentrated wealth. But that work, which I am in the home stretch of researching now, and a further piece on the coming American Civil War, which I already worked on in the early winter, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 are around the corner. Provided emergency calls for help don’t reach me, like the one I’ve just responded to, legislative testimony for a New Jersey hearing on Tuesday morning, June 21st, the Summer Solstice.
For some background, here is the home page of the Friends of Liberty State Park, the citizen’s group of defenders of the vision of the park as green, free and nature friendly as you will see in more detail here: https://www.folsp.org/
The history of development schemes can be found mid-way down the page.
Here is a very recent (June 17, 2022) New York Times article about the issues and powers that are driving the hearing: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/17/nyregion/liberty-state-park-nj.html
Here is the Email Introduction I sent out to my Email audience on the hearing day, June 21:
Dear Citizens of the Republic:
Today NJ's Legislature holds a committee hearing on a very fast track bill (smoke signals already) that would provide $250 million dollars of money that the state never could come up with for more popular, green visions for the park: for still to be completed toxic remediation, wetlands, forest and grassland restorations and plantings; for more ball fields, basketball courts, soccer fields and tennis courts...could it be that the proverbial (by now) populist billionaire - Paul Fireman - is having an impact, outflanking, via interior political lines - the populist left-green coalition which has been fighting for their less grandiose but more dignified vision since at least 1976 - when the park opened?
Mr. Fireman has been successful in that he has enlisted the head of the New Jersey NAACP in his cause, some local Jersey City and Hudson County elected officials, and Governor Phil Murphy, and thus advanced his vision for the park - if he can carry out the larger building and revenue generating proposals that would go along with his courting of neglected black communities.
Liberty State Park, even as it stands today, still incomplete, is no ordinary park. It has some of the most iconic views to be found anywhere in the world, of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor and views of the New York City Skyline so close that at evening twilight, you would think you could walk right through the office windows of the skyscrapers just across the water. The park's toxic and environmental history is like a encapsulated version of our nation's own: industrial waste, toxic metals, abandoned railroad yards, long gone oyster beds trying to make a comeback... the majestic waterfront walkway battered by hurricane Sandy is now and can be in the future, ought to be, a destination point, like Ellis Island, for any tourist from abroad, or red state America, before they visit Manhattan.
Although this will remain a New Jersey issue, it shouldn't be. Along with just over a billion dollars net worth, Mr. Fireman believes in opportunity for ghetto youths - character building discipline via...steady now: the golf game, and his cadet corps training projects. Opportunity aligned with self-interest? (Editors Note: here is a very interesting article by “The Auditor, NJ.com” - “Man who wants to build Jersey City Casino is a big political donor,” from July 13, 2014 showing extensive contributions to both parties, US Senators, local North Jersey officials, with the largest to Mitt Romney running against Barack Obama in 2012: https://www.nj.com/politics/2014/07/man_who_wants_to_build_jersey_city_casino_is_a_big_political_donor_the_auditor.html . Perhaps all that self-discipline from the golf game might be a way to balance inclinations to gamble at a location near all the poor urban residents of Jersey City. )
And yes, along with this script goes the Florida mansion, a yacht to shame Joe Manchin's and the requisite Gulfstream private jet. If this begins to sound like Right leaning populism to counter the allegedly green elitist liberal populism around the Friends of Liberty State Park, it pretty much fits the national script. And I have to wonder, given Mr. Fireman's ideals (and he does have them) what he thinks of all the proposals for a national Civilian Conservation Corps, which withered under Joe Manchin's austerity eye (and the Right's hatred of "The State") which, at least in the original version starting in 1933, was very much about character building for destitute urban men: with saws, shovels, wheel barrows and tree plantings - in place of the golf clubs and fairways.
Well, that's a lead in to the testimony I have already sent in, new testimony, highlighted by a list of the projects that have previously been put forth to pave over more of the park and generate the revenue that the wealthy state of New Jersey, home to many current and retired Wall Street fortunes, won't provide without the "hardening" - such as a Formula1 Race Track to go along with your family's quiet picnic blanket. Reading a list of past proposals for development could supply a decent comic script for any late night TV host.
Adding to the irony, if not cruelty of all these hard development proposals is the stark fact that Jersey City and Hudson County have an enormous open space deficit compared to the rest of New Jersey. Yet the forces of economic development proceed at this late date in history as if Nature were not on the ropes - or is it deep in a hopeless "sand trap"?
And keep in mind that these fresh development schemes walk hand-in-hand with governmental "austerity" pleas sure to be intensified by the emergence of Inflation and America's descent further down the slope to a as yet undefined Civil War...foreshadowings of which can be glimpsed in the alignment of contesting forces in this half-century of drama at Liberty State Park. Both topics for forthcoming writings from yours truly.
And here is my Testimony:
Dear Governor Murphy, Members of the NJ Legislature, Relevant Committees and Chairs, and the Citizens of Jersey City, and indeed, of all the State:
I write from exile in Western Mountain Maryland, Trump country, but I see now in New Jersey, in this June of 2022, that other Wharton Finance School graduates have joined forces with our American financial oligarchs (and dare I say political ones too) to push a bill, A4264 which has all the earmarks of a shining “mackerel in the moonlight”; that is, a bill glowing with populist pretense but soon full of rot for the long expressed genuine will of the people for a publicly funded green park, ready to accommodate and yes, even expand nature’s previous standing along with the needs of the citizens for a spectrum of appropriate recreations – but not to pave the way for Disneylands, Mar-A-Lago’s on the Hudson, or Bedminster style golf clubs.
I knew Audrey Zapp, John Tichenor and Sam Pesin pretty well and some of my fondest memories with the American Littoral Society under Dery Bennett and with NJ Audubon under Tom Gilmore were about the defense of democracy and nature at Liberty State Park.
No other experience of public hearings in my long political policy life can match those rowdy, instant editorial commentaries from the expressive Jersey City citizens, who, opinionated as they were, always allowed even the most outrageous views a chance to be heard, sometimes even above the loud gaveling of the Jesuit priest President of St. Peter’s College who chaired some of the most memorable meetings.
I see that the NJ DEP’s surprisingly good plan, which sounds far better and in accord with the decades long will of the people than the leanings of this proposed bill and its supporters – held 5 public hearings before being thrown into the political trash can.
Governor Murphy, Legislators, and Citizens not able to follow the nearly half century long struggle to create, nurture and defend this proud, current yet incomplete green park adjacent to so many symbols of the best of our nation – is it too much to say next to some of our most cherished symbols and values? – let me briefly run through “The March of Folly” of the past proposals for “hardening and $$$greening$$$” the park:
“Amusement parks; 8,000 Luxury condos; 25,000 seat commercial Amphitheatre; 220 and 150 acre golf courses; commercial waterparks; strip malls inside the park; more private marinas; a Formula1 Speedway; solar panels on recreation fields…”
Why the only scheme that’s missing here is a full scale replica of the Roman Coliseum, one where union members of the various AFL-CIO units can fight each other to the death as U.S. Senators and their supporting oligarchs will flash the appropriate outcomes…thus honoring those who have overseen the “greatest transfer of wealth in human history,” $53 Trillion dollars upwards to the top 12% between 1975-2018, guided by legislation and policies blessed by both parties, as documented by a RAND study and published in Time magazine in September of 2020 – our infamous presidential election year – but nowhere mentioned by the “Tribunes of the People”(sic) – the Democratic candidates.
As stated in John Michael Tichenor’s (1946-2019) obituary, he was the first president of The Friends of Liberty State Park, and like him, I support a “free, green and non-commercial urban waterfront oasis.”
It seems clear to me that the DEP proposal vetted by 5 public hearings is much closer to the late former President Tichenor’s vision, and that of Sam and Morris Pesin (Sam’s father), and finally, that of the fighting lady who helped birth and deliver the genuine populist vision, the late Audrey Zapp.
PS Here are the concluding paragraphs of an Editorial I wrote back in late 2000, which I think appeared whole and intact in the Jersey Journal, if anyone has access to their archives (either as a guest editorial or Letter to the Editor); Sam Pesin, President of the Friends of the LSP sent me this:
LSP - One of the Nation's Great Urban Oases" by Bill Neil for NJ Audubon Society November 16, 2000
“For this is one of our nation's and world's most special sites. We think that 300 years from now, when history books describe American and indeed, world civilization in the Late 20th century, they will have a picture of the lower Manhattan skyline as one of the era's signature images. And that view of the very nerve center of the world economy is nowhere more spectacular than from Liberty State Park. The view, however, contains much more than this. The view from Liberty State Park also encompasses the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, two icons of American culture that still resonate with tremendous emotional force. That's because so many of our own families came through and by them, and America, to this day, remains a symbol of freedom, a nation built by and open to, immigrants from around the world. In other words, the view from Liberty State Park, a free public park, carries such emotive and very personal force for so many park visitors that it borders on the nature of a religious feeling. It is a place that evokes memory, the recollection of the hardship endured by millions to get here and the hope for success in their struggle up and out of poverty. It seems to us that these feelings and recollections are built into this site, making it virtually one with these powerful American cultural emblems. And that means, for-us, a proper attitude and disposition towards a place with such sacred views and memories. Thus, a quiet, green park, where one can commune with the Nature that has long held such significance for Americans, almost a religious significance, and where families can walk, run, and picnic together against a backdrop of the worlds' greatest visual settings * fits perfectly together with the character of the site.”
Long live the People’s Park, long live the Republic, and down with the oligarchs of both major parties
Editors Note: added late in the day, June 21st, with this picture and article:
People enjoy the good weather while keeping their distance from one another at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J. | (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
This photo appeared with a Politico article from July 1, 2020: “Liberty State Park Advocates: Backlash over budget language may help case for protection.” Here:
This is an old “home town” state capital legislative tactic, the fast track bill or “slip some provisions in a massive bill,” an example of which is visiting Western Maryland Open space issues in June of 2022. It never ends, and the cycle of budget austerity, neglecting long term park funding and maintenance is the perfect lead in to relying on “oligarchs” to supply the funding for this scheme or that, often involving leasing of public lands to make up for the lack of elected official will to fund through higher taxes and the normal budget processes. Democracy is bound to suffer via dependence on big donor oligarchic “philanthropy” substituted for the breakdown in the nations legislative processes. Oligarchs have their own agendas. All part of the “decay” process on the road to…stay tuned…
William R. Neil
Former Director of Conservation NJ Audubon Society, 1989-2001; NJ Coordinator for the American Littoral Society, 1988-1989.