Monday, March 16, 2009

Annex Governor's Island

The time is right for an historic island only one half mile from Manhattan to become a part of New York City. Governor's Island has been the site of several key moments in recent US and world history, and has been transformed very recently into a wonderful car-free playground for families from all over the New York City area. Ownership of Governor's Island has evolved from complete ownership by the United States Coast Guard (as part of the US Department of Transportation) to joint ownership by the state of New York and New York City. In its most recent incarnation, Governor's Island would be an appropriate and excellent addition to New York City.

Annexation Proposal

In 2003, the United States sold the 172 acre island to New York City and New York State for a purchase price of $1. Earlier this year, Mayor Bloomberg offered to have New York City take full responsibility for Governor's Island and another major park project in exchange for New York State taking full responsibility for Javits Center, New York City's key convention center located on the West Side of Manhattan.

The Mayor's proposal deserves serious consideration. Governor's Island is already a key part of the life of our city. The State of New York has proposed that it invest zero dollars in Governor's Island for the upcoming fiscal year, and the corporation that administers Governor's Island has proposed to cut its own budget by nearly 40% to attempt to respond to the difficult fiscal times facing New York City and New York State. In order to continue to improve the quality of the facilities and programs on Governor's Island and to make the location more and more a part of the lives on the people of New York City, additional funds will be necessary. If New York State will not support the financial investments needed on Governor's Island, New York City should take full ownership of the Island and fund its future infrastructure development without the help of the State.

We expect that Governor's Island would become part of the borough of Manhattan and add land area (but not population) to New York County. The southern tip of Governor's Island would be the southern most point of Manhattan.

Governor's Island is as important as ever to New York City, and it is more than appropriate for something so directly linked to the life of our city and our borough to be under the authority of our city's leadership. New York State has so many other priorities, including many priorities that would be orphaned without the careful guidance and attention from the state government. By making Governor's Island part of New York City, New York State will be free to focus on those priorities for which it has no able partner to move forward without assistance from the state government, and New York City will be free to make the most of the enormous opportunity that Governor's Island's 172 acres represent.

The History

Governor's Island has a rich history. The Governor's Island Accords, an attempt to bring peace to Haiti during the Clinton Administration, were negotiated and signed on Governor's Island. President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union met in 1988 on Governor's Island. It was a key strategic location for every military conflict that touched the New York City area from the 1660's until the War of 1812. Its location at the southern tip of Manhattan where the East River and the Hudson River meet made it the perfect place from which to defend southern Manhattan from naval attack. It was a prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, and it was a key military supply post during World War I and World War II.

Memory of 1986

One of the most memorable events of my lifetime took place at Governor's Island. In July 1986, the Statue of Liberty celebrated its 100th anniversary, and the celebration was headquartered on Governor's Island. Elizabeth Dole, as the Secretary of Transportation at that time, was the host for the event, and Senator Bob Dole (only ten years before he would capture the Republican nomination for the President of the United States) stood silently by her side throughout the festivities. With the Cold War still raging, the celebration of 100 years of "Liberty" was also an attack on totalitarian regimes around the world and a direct rebuke of the Soviet Union. Soviet born comedian Yakov Smirnoff, performed on Governor's Island that day, and the largest fireworks display I have ever witnessed capped off that evening. From my vantage point on Governor's Island, it seemed that the fireworks were so close that I could have grabbed them with my hands as they exploded in the sky just overhead. The Statue of Liberty was re-lit, and its new shining torch held the attention of millions of viewers across the United States and around the world. As a 14 year old boy, I was lucky to be the son of a father who had a friend with connections at the Coast Guard; lucky to be in New York and on Governor's Island on such a special day. I cheered Lady Liberty, the Doles, and Smirnoff (who became a US citizen on that July day); I was proud to be in New York and proud to be an American.

1 comment:

  1. There are some wonderful ideas here.

    One good start is that Governors Island is already part of the Borough of Manhattan.

    One problem is the City's approach to planning and the lack of political or planning skill by the current City-State Governors Island Corporation. The City has dominated that group so far, with little to show. If the ideas in this Blog can come true, the City needs to get some people in there who have basic political skills. Currently, this narrow-minded group does not know how to build the kind of constituencies to make Governors Island a priority with the City. The people were selected during the time of Dep. Mayor Doctoroff's leadership, and their inability to conduct a public planning process was symptomatic of Doctoroff's style. This is the sometimes brilliant but politically closed style of the investment banker or takeover artist, not the ability to listen to others and engage others.

    No doubt Governors Island is the next chance for New York City. It should be considered on the same scale as Central Park, and developed the same way, with verve and imagination.

    If the City can find leadership that likes people and is able to work with people and other organizations, leadership that can bring the kind of constituency right to the Mayor and make him see that Governors Island IS a priority, your ideas can work out fine.