Standing at a lectern with the Manhattan skyline behind him and 250 supporters looking on, Friends of Liberty State Park President Sam Pesin, did not mince words. “We must once and for all liberate the park from privatization assaults.”
Pesin was speaking at FOLSP’s 16th Recognition Luncheon at Liberty House in — where else — Liberty State Park. Among the guests were local politicians, environmental activists, and individual supporters of FOLSP.
Since 1992, Pesin has led the fight to preserve for the public the 1,200 acre (600 land and 600 water) expanse conceived by his father, Morris, in 1958, defeating proposals that would have turned the 1200-acre area into an amusement park, a water park, and a golf course. In 2017, FOLSP beat back a plan to build a commercial marina at the south end of the park.
As guests munched on their arugula salads and placed orders for their entrees (salmon or chicken), Pesin spoke of the latest battle, a four-year effort by former Reebok CEO Paul Fireman to turn the 21-acre Caven Point wildlife habitat into three holes of golf for the golf course he owns next door, Liberty National Golf Club.
Pesin exhorted those in attendance to pressure wavering public officials to get behind the Liberty State Park Protection Act, which has been stymied by lobbyists and a Jersey City based advocacy group funded by Fireman. (Despite being supported by over 100 environmental organizations, Governor Phil Murphy has still not come out in support of the Act; and several years ago, State Senator Sandra Cunningham, who represents Jersey City in Trenton, withdrew her unequivocal support for it.)
Asked why she had come out on a raw and rainy Sunday, Darlene Mayser’s response was typical. “I feel very passionately about Caven Point because it’s a wildlife area, and it belongs to a public park, which belongs to all of the people of New Jersey. We can’t let somebody with billions of dollars take away our public land.”
Most of the event, however, was dedicated to honoring those who have supported the park that sits next to The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and attracts five million visitors a year.
Said Pesin, “The essence of the park’s history is that people — tens and thousands — have put democracy into action and have fought for a free park for people and nature behind Lady Liberty.”