Volume 77 / Number 32 Jan. 9 - 15, 2008
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Hudson River Park: A name that works

The name Hudson River Park has always been just fine with everybody. It perfectly describes and locates the 5-mile-long Lower West Side waterfront park between Chambers and W. 59th Sts.

But on Monday The New York Sun reported that Governor Eliot Spitzer in his State of the State address on Wednesday will propose renaming the park after George Pataki, who was governor for the 12 years before Spitzer.

In 1998 Pataki signed legislation authorizing the creation of the Hudson River Park, along with the Hudson River Park Trust, the state-city authority that is building and operating it. Pataki then held up his end of the deal, funneling millions of state dollars to the project, ensuring that the park has gotten built up to this point.

Certainly, Pataki was a strong supporter of the Hudson River Park and ended his tenure with some other impressive environmental accomplishments, such as acquiring tracts of Upstate land and protecting endangered forests and lakes.

But the Sun noted that Democrat Spitzer’s renaming proposal is a total surprise, “an unexpected, gracious gift to a Republican who has begun to fade from the public eye.” The move, the article notes, signals “an awareness by the embattled governor of the urgent need to retool his image.”

Clearly, Spitzer has endured a horrendous first year as governor, highlighted — or, rather, lowlighted — by the ongoing Troopergate scandal, in which Spitzer cronies tried to bring down Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

No doubt, renaming Hudson River Park as Pataki Park is Spitzer’s extending an olive branch to Bruno. Yes, the two definitely should patch things up so that Albany functions again and Spitzer can accomplish his agenda.

Yet none of the Trust’s board or staff or the local elected officials whose districts include the park were notified of the renaming idea, which shows that Spitzer still has to learn about working with people and building consensus.

Without detracting from Pataki’s impressive contributions to Hudson River Park — should the park, in fact, be renamed? The New York City Parks Department’s own policy for renaming parks for people is to wait at least until after the person is deceased.

Manhattan’s largest parks are not named after people or politicians: Central Park, Riverside Park, East River Park, Battery Park. Tompkins Square — named after Daniel Tompkins, who was a governor, congressman and vice president — is an exception.

No one we’ve spoken to feels that whether Hudson River Park is renamed Pataki Park would make one wit’s difference in terms of how much funding it gets from Albany — as if Republicans would begrudge the park money just because it wasn’t named after Pataki. Indeed, calling it Pataki Park might actually decrease its funding.

More to the point, a formal name change would apparently need a change of the Hudson River Park Act. Assemblymember Deborah Glick says she wouldn’t support such a change, meaning Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver likely would follow suit.

Furthermore, opening up the park act for an amendment risks other amendments being inserted at this sensitive time that could harm the park — such as an amendment to allow a marine waste transfer station on Gansevoort Peninsula or one to allow a 50-year lease at Pier 40, which is what Related would love for its Cirque du Soleil proposal.

A polling of local park activists shows some strongly oppose the renaming, while others would support it, though less than enthusiastically.

Perhaps part of the park can be renamed — Pataki Promenade, Pataki Pier and Pataki Point all have a nice ring — or some Upstate land the governor saved.

Parks — and their names — are important to local community members. More so than with most parks, Hudson River Park from its start has been a real community effort, from its initial brainstorming to its design and ongoing critical development concerns, such as Pier 40 and Gansevoort.

On Tuesday, we heard Spitzer may have pulled the Pataki Park renaming item from his speech, because, it’s said, the former governor would not be in attendance. (Maybe that’s because Spitzer, at his inaugural speech last year, said state government had “slept like Rip Van Winkle” the previous decade.) Yet, that leaves the possibility that Spitzer still intends to propose renaming the park at a later point. We think that would be a mistake. That the Trust itself declined comment and referred our questions to the Governor’s Office was telling about the confusion going on here.

We’re heartened to see Spitzer take an interest in Hudson River Park. Yet — without any disrespect for Pataki’s efforts on behalf of the park — we think the name Hudson River Park is perfection itself. It defines the park, it says where it is and it refers to a wondrous natural feature that has been here for eons — a river that is the very reason why New York City exists — and is more important than any single one of us, including ex-governors.

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