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Gov. Murphy Must Block Billionaire’s Scheme To Develop Liberty State Park

Billionaire Paul Firestone Funds Front Groups To Sow Divisive Fake Debate

Democratic Legislators Are All In And Are Fast Tracking Legislation

The Gov. Must Stand Up And Stop This Desecration

(above photo originally posted in “Birds Eye View – Liberty State Park” – March 1, 2008)

(above photo originally posted in “Birds Eye View – Liberty State Park” – March 1, 2008)

Murphy DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette curiously was AWOL last Thursday, as the Senate Environment Committee rammed a controversial bill to commercialize, privatize, develop, and destroy world renowned Liberty State Park. (read the amazing story of what went down at the hearing:

The state Department of Environmental Protection, which leads the task force formed to study the park’s future, did not appear at Thursday’s hearing.

Instead, a makeover plan was presented by Alan Mountjoy of the Boston-based firm NBBJ, an architect hired by one of the advocacy groups tied to Fireman.

Mountjoy showed renderings of a vastly different park than the mostly open space and interior woodland that exists today.

But Latourette had time to Tweet (and attend?) a “Pride” event at the Park the night before.

That contrast is a classic example of what Professor Nancy Fraser calls “Progressive Neoliberalism”, where cultural issues are used to mask a pro-corporate economic agenda and divert, dupe, manipulate, and co-opt progressive activists and media alike.

Gov. Murphy has repeatedly used that cynical strategy. We are not fooled.

He must not get away with that to let a billionaire manipulate legitimate grievances and effectively buy and destroy Liberty State Park.

This is what happens when a billionaire like Paul Fireman spreads a little money around in a cynical, divisive & racist strategy to promote his golf course, a scheme that is masked by fake front groups and corrupt Democratic politicians.

I was disgusted by the racist spectacle in Trenton – Fireman has cynically used fake front groups and manipulated poor black kids, lonely old people, and high school athletes who lack fields to play on – problems that are a result of the greed of developers and lack of planning, not preservation of the Park.

Somehow, the entire gamut of social problems were linked to the preservation of Liberty State Park.  Very cynically, the false promise of a solution was claimed to be development of the park (which largely would benefit a Florida based billionaire and his private golf course members and other wealthy elites who will use the commercial facilities he wants to develop in the Park).

In a very sophisticated campaign, one witness defended park development as a solution to prevent drownings of poor minority kids who lacked swimming pools. Another witness supporting the bill complained of the isolation of old age. Others spoke of the risks of violence to kids, who have nowhere safe to play.

In a move that would make Orwell blush, they call themselves “Parks for People”.

The Legislature is fast tracking the bill – the Assembly will hear the companion bill A4264 on Wednesday.

The plan is to ram the bill through both Houses as part of the budget negotiations and have a bill on Governor Murphy’s desk before the end of June.

Friends of Liberty State Park have dubbed the legislation the “Billionaire Paul Fireman Liberty State Park Commercialization, Privatization and Exclusion” bill.

At this point, the Legislature appears to have been bought off –

Senator Smith’s rationales for the amendments, which were very cynically designed to create the appearance of responding to critics, and the rapid movement of the Assembly companion are solid evidence that the deal is in. It’s even possible that the $250 million appropriation in the bill could be stripped and the bill pass to promote development but with no public money.

The park supporters’ focus needs to shift quickly to Gov. Murphy and people must demand that he stand up to his own party and veto this outrage.

[End Note: For over 30 years, despite frequent disagreements, I’ve criticized his weakness but basically respected Senator Smith (with a few exceptions).

But given how he’s handled the State Parks and LSP issues, that respect is gone and it ain’t coming back.

Now I understand why he attacked critics of his Parks privatization bill as “paranoid schizophrenics” and why he lashed out at LSP supporters several times during last Thursday’s hearing.

The criticism is obviously getting under his skin.

I suspect that it must be tough for Smith to look in the mirror these days.

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