In a massive military-like operation, city officials relocated the annual Fourth of July Festival from Liberty State Park to Exchange Place after Gov. Christopher Christie ordered state parks and beaches closed due to a state budget negotiation standoff. Most of New Jersey state government shut down, forcing state offices, state courts and state parks to close on July 1.
Liberty State Park was eventually reopened at 10 a.m. on July 4 after Christie and state legislators worked out a compromise, but Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop ordered the festival to go on at the alternative location near Exchange Place.
As planned, the all-day festival included carnival rides, food trucks and vendors, entertainment at 8 p.m. from Jersey City’s own Kool & The Gang, and a fireworks display over the Hudson River at 9:25 p.m.
Fulop said that Liberty State Park would have been the best location for the festival, but he would not gamble on the ability of state officials to resolve the conflict in time for the festival to start.
“I’m really proud of what we did in a short period of time,” said Fulop. “We have tried over the last four years to continuously build the Jersey City brand and quality of life. We were not going to let inaction in Trenton hold us hostage.”
Thanks in part of Mack Cali, a developer located in the Exchange Place area, the city was able to pull off the massive move, and although the performance area was crowded, the festival was a success.
“Mack-Cali stepping in to help the City relocate the fireworks to Exchange Place is a prime example of what a strong public and private partnership should look like”, says Councilwoman Osborne. “While the State put residents plans in chaos, we were able to flawlessly execute a fallback plan under Mayor Steve Fulop’s leadership. said Council Member Candice Osborne.
Mack Cali is the driving force behind the development of a new Special Improvement District for the Exchange Place area, which is expected to start operations shortly. The SID is designed to boost the area and promote it as a viable recreational area the way places like the Grove Street area.
“This is the future of the waterfront and the Exchange Place SID. Teamwork, collaboration, and putting residents first,” Osborne said.
Park closed for three days
The festival got caught in the middle of a state budget stalemate between Christie and the Democratic-controlled legislature.
Christie’s statement declared a state of emergency and mandated that only essential state government services continue operating for the people of New Jersey. He blamed the failure of the legislature to act on a Fiscal Year 2018 State Budget by the constitutional deadline of midnight June 30 for forcing the closure of many state government functions.
“This order is necessary to maintain the protection, safety and well-being of the people of New Jersey while I attempt to convince the legislature to send me a fiscally responsible budget that I can sign and re-open New Jersey’s government,” said Christie. “This was completely avoidable. But Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto needlessly stalled the budget process, forcing the closure of New Jersey government and inconveniencing everyone living in and visiting our state.”
The shutdown of Liberty State Park didn’t merely affect the festival. Police stopped all foot and vehicle traffic from entering the park, and this resulted in the halting of ferry service from Liberty State Park to the Statue of Liberty, although ferry service was still available from New York City.
Despite closing the state parks and beaches, Christie had access to the state beach near the governor’s beach home at Island Beach State Park for himself and his family. Aerial photographs of the governor and his family members enjoying the sunny day on a mostly deserted beach got widespread media coverage and inspired predictions his 75 percent disapproval rating might sink even lower in the last six months of his second term.
“Mack Cali saved the festival by allowing us to relocate it there.” – Candice Osborne.
The blame game
Prieto held back a vote on the Assembly floor on the $34.7 billion budget, saying he was concerned about the vitality of Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s ability to function if the governor stripped away any of the $2.4 billion surplus needed to pay claims.
Going toe to toe with Prieto in the impasse, Christie threatened to veto $350 million of Democratic proposed budget items if the legislature did not agree to reforms of the health provider, which is a hybrid of state and private company.
Christie sought to take $300 million of Horizon Blue Cross’s surplus to pay for drug rehabilitation, when the company’s contract with the state required a portion of the surplus above a certain level be used to lower the insurance premiums.
Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney, seen as an ally of Christie’s in this conflict, attempted to broker a compromise.
In a deal that eventually allowed the parks and beaches to reopen, Christie was able to gain more state control over the insurance company. In return, Christie agreed not to veto Democratic funding in the budget, which included less severe cuts in school aid.
The Green Party of New Jersey blamed both the GOP and Democrats
“We know what the Republicans under Chris Christie have been about, but the lack of a viable principled and unified opposition from the New Jersey Democrats is an appalling failure of leadership on their part as well,” said Heather Warburton, chair of the Green Party of New Jersey. “The social media silence on the budget issue from Phil Murphy was deafening.”
The state Democratic Committee, under the leadership of John Currie, has also been surprisingly silent during the budget battle, she added.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.