Volume 75, Number 12 | August 10 - 16, 2005

Villager photos by Ramin Talaie

Senator Hillary Clinton, center, with Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, to her right, and Robert Hammond and Joshua David of Friends of the High Line, behind them, wave to the media on the old elevated railroad. They were joined on the walk by, from left, Diane von Furstenberg; Suzanne Davis, vice president of J.C. De Caux North America, a street-furniture manufacturer and corporate supporter of the High Line project; and City Councilmember Christine Quinn.

Hillary hikes on the High Line and hooks up $18 million for it

By Albert Amateau

Billed as a photo-op with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton walking the High Line in the Meatpacking District, an Aug. 4 event celebrated the congressional passage of the federal transportation bill with a significant $18 million allocation for conversion of the derelict railroad viaduct into a 1.45-mile-long elevated park.

It was clearly a Hillary event.

Up on the High Line in the hot sunshine, Senator Clinton chatted with Friends of the High Line luminary Diane von Furstenberg, founders Joshua David and Robert Hammond, along with Congressmember Jerrold Nadler and Councilmember Christine Quinn.

In a cooler venue on the third floor of 450 W. 14th St. overlooking the weed-covered track bed, media photographers and reporters along with High Line volunteers and enthusiasts waited for the main show.

“It’s a happy day,” said Clinton, sharing the stage with Nadler, von Furstenberg and the Friends founders, whom she praised for outlasting numerous naysayers. “Persistence as well as dreams have really paid off,” she said.

Looking cool in a navy blue pants suit, powder blue blouse and a crystal necklace, Clinton also thanked Senator Charles Schumer, Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, who weren’t at the event.

“Since this is about a federal allocation, we decided to focus on Senator Clinton and Congressman Nadler,” said David, explaining the absence of the mayor and the council speaker. An unspoken explanation was reluctance to get between the Republican mayor and the Democratic council speaker who is running against him.

F.O.H.L.’s Hammond, Senator Clinton and von Furstenberg at press conference on the High Line

CSX, the railroad that acquired the High Line from Conrail, the previous owner, is negotiating the sale of the structure to the city, which has made the High Line park the unifying element of a West Chelsea Special District from W. 14th St. to 33rd St. where the elevated railroad goes underground to connect with tracks to Albany and Penn Station.

“CSX currently owns the property and it’s closed to the public, so please don’t go out there because trespassers will be prosecuted,” Hammond announced to the gathering of High Line fans.

About $68 million of the total $100 million estimated cost of the project is currently in place. The $18 million could make the hoped-for 2008 groundbreaking a reality.

Among the High Line enthusiasts at the event was James Ortenzio, New York County Republican Party leader and property owner in the Meatpacking District. During the informal socializing after the event, Clinton and Ortenzio greeted each other with banter, laughter and pecks on the cheek.

“How do we know each other? We travel around the city and run into each other at events,” said Clinton.

“We’re friends because we make the distinction between politics and government. We’re both interested in good government,” said Ortenzio.

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, another guest, reminded Nadler that when they were fellow state legislators 25 years ago, Nadler played a key role in preserving the High Line. The Javits Convention Center was being built where the High Line tracks go underground. “I insisted that the track connection be rebuilt because you can’t interrupt a railroad without a federal review,” Nadler recalled. “I wasn’t thinking about a park; I wanted to keep the option of future freight transportation. I was ready to stop the convention center,” Nadler said.

A longtime advocate of the proposed cross-harbor rail freight tunnel between Jersey City and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Nadler 20 years ago tried to stop the conversion of the former Penn Rail Yards on the Hudson waterfront between 59th and 72nd Sts. into what has become Donald Trump’s Riverside South project. Nadler’s vision was for a roll-on/roll-off rail barge terminal on the site.

“People ask me if I ever played with electric trains as a boy,” he went on. “The answer is No. I’m not a railroad guy; if we were totally dependent on railroads, I’d say build highways. You have to have an efficient economy with rail and truck transportation. We’re dependent entirely on trucks,” he said.

Nadler and Gottfried also invoked the memory of Peter Obletz, a former chairperson of Community Board 4 and an avowed railroad buff who once “owned” the High Line for a token $10 payment to Conrail. At one time, he made his home in a private car in the Hudson rail yards between 30th and 33rd Sts. Obletz, who died 13 years ago, hoped for a return of rail freight on the High Line and suggested its interim recreational use.

Clinton said the High Line project, like the proposed creation of the Moynihan Station in the James Farley Post Office building to replace Penn Station, was “what a great city does — taking a part of the past and adapting it to a new use.

The reporter for The Villager introduced himself to Clinton at the end of the event and mentioned that he formerly worked for a different weekly paper, Chelsea Clinton News. “Oh, let me tell you a story about that,” Clinton responded. “When our daughter was born in Little Rock, someone sent us the Chelsea Clinton News. We thought it was a gag but I found it was real. I knew we were fated to come here,” said the junior senator from New York.

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