Volume 20 Issue 3 | June 1 -7, 2007

Dorkey says goodbye to Hudson River Park agency

By Josh Rogers

Trip Dorkey rattled off four years worth of accomplishments as chairperson of the Hudson River Park Trust last week and said his goodbyes. But he doesn’t know when Gov. Eliot Spitzer will name his successor, so he said there’s still a chance he’ll lead the Trust’s next meeting. The only thing he could say for sure was he would not make another farewell speech if he ever comes back.

The riverside park’s financial future is uncertain with a construction budget shortfall of at least $200 million, but Dorkey pointed to the many piers and park sections that opened in the Village, Chelsea and Midtown during his reign, as well as last year’s groundbreaking in the Tribeca section.

“It’s been a great four years,” he said at the May 24 board meeting. “This is a remarkable, remarkable project….I’m a great lover of parks. They are one of the greatest things you can have, but one of the problems is they are often the first thing to be cut.”

All of the board members present at the meeting of the state-city authority were appointees of former Gov. Pataki (like Dorkey), Mayor Bloomberg or Borough President Scott Stringer. Spitzer’s commissioners of Parks and Environmental Conservation, Carol Ash and Pete Grannis, are automatic members of the board, but neither appeared at the meeting, where small park contracts were awarded or amended.

Dorkey looked at the two commissioners’ deputies sitting in for their bosses and said “those of you in the new administration – I hope you end up being advocates for us up there [in Albany].”

Jennifer Givner, a Spitzer spokesperson, said the commissioners have responsibilities across the state and their absence was not meant to send a message. As for Dorkey’s replacement, she said the governor’s policy is not to comment on appointments before they are made.

Several Trust board members and Connie Fishman, the Trust’s president, praised Dorkey for his park leadership. City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said Dorkey deserved to have part of the park named after him. Henry Stern, a Trust member and also a city appointee, said “there hasn’t been the slightest political interference” on the Trust’s board.

Over the last four years and outside the Trust’s board room, the agency has been criticized by some waterfront advocates for things like giving preferential treatment to a river study organization with close ties to Pataki, using strong-arm tactics to evict the historic Yankee Ferry out of the park, and demolishing the Tribeca piers without ensuring the park section could be rebuilt.

One of Stringer’s appointees to the Trust, former State Sen. Franz Leichter, 76, said he is interested in replacing Dorkey. He said securing city, state and federal funding to build the rest of the park is the Trust’s top priority.

“I have been involved with this as long if not longer than anyone else,” he told Downtown Express after the meeting. He said he has spoken to Lieut. Gov. David Paterson, and has the support of Assemblymember Dick Gottfried, who co-wrote the 1998 legislation creating the park with Leichter, State Sen. Tom Duane and others.

However, Julie Nadel, a former Gottfried aide and another Stringer appointee to the Trust, is not supporting Leichter. The pair have served together on the Trust since 1998. Nadel did not criticize Leichter, but when asked if she thought he’d be a good chairperson said, “I’d like someone as chair engaged and committed to open processes…A fresh new voice.”

Nadel, one of the Trust’s chief critics, said the agency needs a major overhaul.

It’s not clear how seriously Spitzer is considering Leichter or the other mentioned candidates, since people close to the governor aren’t talking. Developer Douglas Durst’s name had been tossed in the ring to replace Dorkey, but he has since taken himself out of the running. Michael Del Guidice, a member of the West Side Task Force waterfront group 20 years ago, has also been bandied about.

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