On a cool and breezy morning in Jersey City, hints of the fall season were settling in Liberty State Park. A few leaves had fallen from the trees, a few showing small shades of orange, while boats and birds were floating along the waters of the Hudson River.
Also at the park was Caven Point, a beach and migratory bird habitat filled with sand, seaweed and birds stopping by as the skylines of Jersey City and Manhattan, as well as the Statue of Liberty, can be seen far away.
Perhaps symbolically enough however, was the nearby ultra-exclusive Liberty National Golf Course overlooking Caven Point, a club whose billionaire owner Paul Fireman has spent years attempting to privatize Caven Point so he can expand the golf course.
The billionaire’s attempts have been met with opposition by park activists, particularly Sam Pesin, a man whose father is considered the founder of Liberty State Park. On Oct. 8, Pesin and many others gathered at Caven Point to call on state lawmakers to protect the area from any privatization.
“This is our natural, recreational, historic, cultural resource that’s deserved by future generations,” said Pesin, a longtime advocate for Liberty State Park.
He and others at the rally asked those in Trenton to pass a bill in the State Legislature that would designate and permanently preserve Caven Point as a natural habitat. It was cleared by a state Senate committee in August.
The bill came in response to a controversial bill signed into law back in June that would dedicate $50 million for a task force to redevelop the park, but came under criticism for potentially opening up the park to privatization.
It was later revealed that the redevelopment bill was backed by lobbyists tied to Paul Fireman, the former Reebok CEO, who has waged a proxy war of sorts against the park, via his lobbyists and groups funded by his charity.
Before marching to the Caven Point beach, the rallygoers first marched over to the glass building that’s part of Fireman’s golf course and made a number of speeches calling for Caven Point’s protection.
“That sandy beach along Caven Point is the only sandy beach for miles in either direction,” said Assemblyman Raj Mukherji. “They bring school kids here, thousands of children every year to study and learn about the migration; the annual migration of the horseshoe crab, the monarch butterfly. There are species of migratory birds that you can’t see in other places.”
Mukherji, who was the only lawmaker in the Hudson County delegation who voted against the redevelopment bill, also called out Fireman for looking “at public land from up there, and literally thinking ‘I could just buy that’.”
A number of other political figures that spoke included Jersey City Council members James Solomon and Frank Gilmore, Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea, former Jersey City Councilman Chris Gadsden, and Democratic congressional nominee Rob Menendez Jr..
“For over 30 years, we’ve had to fight for this park; we’re gonna unfortunately continue to have to fight,” said O’Dea, referencing the decades of attempts to privatize Liberty State Park.
“Because when you have the crown jewel, everyone’s going to try to steal it,” he continued. “Everyone’s going to try to buy it. But that crown jewel must belong to the people and no one else. You can’t buy it, you can’t steal it, you can’t legislate it, and we have to make sure that’s clear.”
“We should all be thrilled,” said Greg Remaud, the Baykeeper and CEO of the NY/NJ Baykeeper group, who also spoke at the rally. “This isn’t just a great natural area for Hudson County in Jersey City. It’s one of the great natural areas in the state and the region.”
Barbara Williams, a school teacher at P.S. 11, said that she lost a number of family members during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that Liberty State Park was where her family met for the first time “and start our process of healing.”
“The open city that we all live in, they’re just choking us,” she said, noting the numerous recent developments in the city. “All they keep doing is putting up these huge LEGO buildings, that’s what I’d say. These architects, they play with LEGOs all their lives, because that’s all we see.”
“We need a Liberty State Park because we all need to come to the water, to the land, to nature, to heal ourselves, to replenish ourselves,” she continued.