Op-Ed: City Hall’s Priorities Are Out to Sea

Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick is running for City Council in District 3.
Citizens for Equality NYC

If you had $70 million, how would you spend it to improve the lives of New Yorkers?

In January 2019, it was revealed that the Hudson River Park Trust will be pouring $70 million into a misguided project to create Manhattan’s first public beach. In that very month, the number of New Yorkers living in City shelters reached a 36-year record of 63,839. The promise of manufactured sandy shores is not going to bring solace nor hope to the nearly 17,000 homeless children sleeping in the municipal shelter system tonight.

In August 2018, Mayor de Blasio’s then-spokesperson Natalie Grybauskas said that a beach “would cost millions of dollars” better spent elsewhere, such as “lifting New Yorkers out of poverty and building a stronger and more resilient city in the face of climate change.” A day later, the mayor backtracked and said he was “intrigued” by the concept. No amount of intrigue can erase the irrefutable truth of the original statement from City Hall — money could be better spent to build a more equitable and just future for New Yorkers.

The Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) was founded in 1998 to enhance the “natural, cultural, and historic aspects of the Hudson River.” However, those who carry the stories of the activists who built much of the West Side know that the riverfront’s history demands to be rectified and commemorated, rather than whitewashed.

Transgender rights activist Marsha P. Johnson’s body was found floating in the Hudson River after the 1992 Pride parade, her senseless death ruled a suicide. Marsha co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries Reform (STARR) with Sylvia Rivera in the 1970s, and together they fought to protect and support homeless LGBTQ youth and sex workers in the West Village.

In 2000, a new generation of primarily LGBTQ youth of color founded FIERCE in response to the deterioration of access to public spaces and aggressive policing practices in the West Village. HRPT’s work began with the 2001 closure and 2003 reopening of the Christopher Street Pier, a well-known social and cultural hub for the LGBTQ community of color and homeless youth. The pier was converted from a safe haven to a green space with manicured lawns, heavy police presence, expensive amenities, and a 1 a.m. curfew for an area that never had such restrictions. And this troubling pattern has been repeating itself for the past two decades.

As a candidate to be the first person of color to represent District 3 in New York’s City Council – home to the trailblazers of Stonewall and STARR – I stand on the shoulders of the transgender women, many of whom were women of color, who paved the way for our community’s liberation. Spending $70 million dollars on a “beach” first conceptualized in the 90’s is emblematic of the out-of-touch priorities of our governor, mayor, and council speaker, a speaker who hails from District 3 yet hasn’t stepped foot in our neighborhoods in months.

The beach boondoggle does nothing to address our affordable housing and mental health crises or support small business owners struggling to make ends meet, and effectively bulldozes our commitment to the transgender community. It is not only disrespectful to the memory of Marsha and her sisters, it is the epitome of today’s elected officials’ focus on the increasingly white and wealthy LGBTQ+ population at the expense of caring for our most vulnerable. That is why I join transgender activists and allies in calling for the creation of an LGBTQ+ memorial and safe space, rather than a beach that caters to the privileged.

I am committed to defending the West Side against the private interests that have for too long had a stronghold over our future. Justice for icons like Marsha demands we work together to create places and programs that protect and uplift the most marginalized of our community. It’s time to get back to our roots and allow the residents and small business owners of District 3 to define our vision for what we need in our community.

Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick is a candidate for District 3 in the New York City Council.