Thursday’s Orwellian “community conversation” about the future of Liberty State Park marked a new low even by the already low standards of Jersey City politics. Promoted by Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson, “moderated” by Arnold Stovell, and featuring “panelist” Bruce Alston, the Zoom meeting was anything but a conversation. The tireless Sam Pesin, president of Friends of Liberty State Park, who was also billed as a “panelist,” wasn’t permitted to speak—at all. Nor were the approximately 200 people who logged on in the mistaken belief that they would have a chance to participate in a meaningful discussion. Instead, what ensued was a shameful exercise in faux democracy that would make Vladimir Putin blush. The microphones of all but Stovell, Alston and Councilman Robinson were silenced, and listeners were treated to a misinformed diatribe apparently calculated to sow division and pave the way for the conversion of a pristine wildlife habitat into an expanded golf course for billionaires.
It’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the timing. According to local observers, Mssrs. Robinson, Stovell, and Alston had never before expressed interest in Liberty State Park. So why now? As they say, timing is everything. The current offensive appears to have begun a month ago. On June 9, Assemblywoman Angela McKnight announced that her charity Angela Cares had received a 10 thousand dollar donation from The Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation. McKnight, whose district includes Ward F, is a sponsor of the Liberty State Park Protection Act against which Fireman has fought a multi-year battle. We would hope and expect that Ms. McKnight won’t be influenced by this money, but greasing important political hands is apparently nothing new for Fireman. According to the New York Times, Fireman, who lives in Massachusetts, has given out $420,000 to New Jersey Democrats and Republicans. It would be nice—though unlikely—if all of our local pols would be as transparent as McKnight.
On June 30 an unknown legislator slipped a provision into New Jersey’s “stop-gap” budget that would allow businesses to submit proposals for development in state parks. Observers say the provision could only have been written with Caven Point in mind. Directing Fireman’s offensive against wildlife is the Trenton lobbying firm River Crossing Strategy Group, which boasts that it is “a powerhouse with institutional reach.” Its founder, Eric Shuffler, worked on both the Fulop and Murphy transition teams.
On July 1, Alston posted a slick race-baiting flyer to his Facebook page entitled “Broken Promises of Liberty State Park.” Stamped at the top and bottom was the Black Lives Matter slogan “White Silence = White Violence.” It included among a plethora of misstatements and half truths the straw man that amenities “important to Black and Latino communities” included in a 1977 master plan for the park had not been built. Not long after, these scurrilous flyers began appearing on car windshields in Ward F.
It’s hard to imagine a more cynical, Trumpian strategy than that dreamed up by the creators of the flyer and its disseminator and agent, Bruce Alston. To attempt to divide Jersey City residents along racial lines is bad enough. To do so by co-opting the social justice message of Black Lives Matter in order to destroy a wildlife refuge and provide three scenic holes of golf for billionaires is as surreal as it is vile.
The flyer’s claim, adopted by Alston, that Friends of Liberty State Park has stood in the way of active recreational amenities in the park was and is baseless. First, as Pesin points out today, it is the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection that manages the park and is responsible for collaborating with the community. As to the role of FOLSP, Pesin recalls his father’s hope that Liberty State Park would have a “Central Park-type future,” i.e., that it would include athletic fields and small concessions. Pesin and FOLSP have always supported that vision.
Thankfully other voices from Ward F have spoken out against Fireman and his surrogates. Among them is Daoud David Williams, 77, a lifetime resident of Jersey City, army veteran and member of the NAACP. He put it bluntly: “It is disgusting that they want to racialize this. They are co-opting Black Lives Matter. They want to pretend that they are representative of the community.”
That it’s come to this is sad, indeed. Liberty State Park should not be a cause for division but, on the contrary, a place in which we all take pride. At this very moment, it is a place where people from all walks of life and every neighborhood mix. Tomorrow, the Jersey City Municipal Council will vote on Councilman James Solomon’s resolution in support of the Liberty State Protection Act. In 2019, Councilman Robinson supported a similar resolution. We hope he will chalk up this ill-conceived “community conversation” to experience and that he and the rest of the council will vote to approve the resolution. All communities in Jersey City should gather together to protect and improve the precious land we call Liberty State Park.
Photo from Caven Point by Shayna Marchese