The group Friends of Liberty State Park is blaming Governor Murphy for the sudden cancellation of an event scheduled for tomorrow at which a long-awaited revitalization plan for the park was to be unveiled. Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette announced the event during a press conference last Thursday.

This morning, a spokesperson for the DEP told the Montreal Olympics “Due to significant public interest in the Liberty State Park Revitalization Program, the open house scheduled for Thursday, March 23 will be postponed to a date later this spring to provide more advanced notice and ensure maximum public participation.”

“It seems very clear that billionaire Paul Fireman and his funded surrogates pressured their friend Governor Murphy” said FOLSP in a press release. “The Governor's apparent caving in to the billionaire's wishes, is embarrassing to the DEP and it is shamefully disrespectful of the public to cancel an event with two days notice.”

Mayor Fulop, whose recent trip to Paris was partially funded by Paul Fireman, has refrained from criticizing the Liberty State Park for All plan.

FOLSP had warmly welcomed LaTourette's announcement, as he appeared to rule out components of a controversial plan put forth by the group Liberty State Park for All, which is funded by Fireman, the billionaire former CEO of Reebok and owner of Liberty National Golf Club.

In its plan, Liberty State Park for All sought 100 acres of the park for a 150,000 square foot community center, a 5,000 seat amphitheater, and a 2,500 seat track and field stadium.

Observers believe that Fireman has backed the group and financed creation of the plan in furtherance of his ultimate goal of taking over Caven Point, which lies within the park, and turning it into three holes for his adjacent Liberty National course.

FOLSP, environmentalists and many local residents say that the 21-acre piece of land is one of the only remaining unspoiled pieces of waterfront in New York Bay and is an important nesting area for wildlife and used extensively for children’s educational programming.

FOLSP says it supports an original plan developed by the DEP which would devote 61 acres of the park to free, active recreation. Beyond its demand for 40 additional acres, Sam Pesin, President of FOLSP charges the Liberty State Park for All plan would create “exclusionary, admission fee, traffic jam-causing, commercial venues.”

Critics charge that Fireman, with the help of politically connected lobbyist Eric Shuffler of River Crossing Strategy Group, cynically racialized the issue, recruiting several local Black figures to promote his plan.

For some, a column in the Newark Star-Ledger on Sunday, written by New Jersey NAACP President Richard Smith was a case in point. Said Smith, “a small but vocal group of anti-park activists are fighting to protect a status quo that maintains Liberty State Park’s legacy of pollution at the exclusion of Black and brown communities.”

“That doesn't make sense” said Lincoln High School Principal and former Jersey City Councilman Chris Gadsden. “This is not a race issue.”

Daoud David Williams, 79, a lifetime resident of Jersey City, army veteran, and member of the NAACP has been more pointed in his criticism. “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.”

Fireman contributed $25,000 for an NAACP conference run by Smith in 2020.

Peoples Park Foundation proposal for Liberty State Park
Liberty State Park for All proposal for Liberty State Park

Fireman has lavished his money on other influential officials, donating to Grow Jersey City, the group that financed Mayor Steve Fulop's recent trip to Paris with eight city employees to meet with officials of the Centre Pompidou. Fulop has refrained from criticizing the Liberty State Park for All plan.

Under a DEP plan rolled out in 2020, 215 acres of the interior currently off-limits due to contamination, would be cleaned up and opened to the public. The plan would devote 50 of those acres to active recreation, including athletic fields and turn 75 of the acres into separate saltwater and freshwater wetlands that would provide fish and wildlife habitat and protect the city from storm surges like the one that occurred during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The plan also envisioned turn the remaining land into multi-use trails and large manicured lawns that would serve as scenic overlooks, play areas, and places where families could picnic. 

Aaron is a writer, musician and lawyer. Aaron attended Berklee College of Music and the State University of New York at Purchase. Aaron served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. He received a J.D....