With discussions about a possible transfer of Nassau County’s Cow Meadow Park to the Village of Freeport in the works, Kevan Abrahams, the County Legislature’s minority leader, appeared at the village’s Martin Luther King Park on June 6 to say no way — not, at least, until Freeport’s parks are better maintained.
Abrahams shared photos of MLK Park in poor condition. He was joined by a number of local residents who supported his position.
As he spoke, several village employees walked through the park with leaf blowers buzzing. Roberta Coward, a north Freeport resident and the chairwoman of the Cedarmore Corporation, a local nonprofit social service agency, said she had not seen crews cleaning MLK Park before.
“I walked MLK and Cow Meadow parks yesterday,” Village attorney Howard Colton said after Abrahams spoke. “The park, MLK, was clean. Cow Meadow was not.”
Robert Fisenne, the village’s public works superintendent, stood beside Colton and held up photos of Cow Meadow Park in poor condition, taken on June 5.
“I have tremendous concerns regarding” the proposed Cow Meadow transfer, Abrahams said. “The village has not demonstrated, until today, the ability to [keep up] their parks.”
Abrahams does not represent the areas of Freeport where the two parks are located. Cow Meadow is in the 4th District, which is represented by Legislator Denise Ford, a Republican from Long Beach, and MLK is in the 5th District, represented by Debra Mulé, a Democrat from Freeport.
Abrahams noted, however, that he is a Freeporter, and he was speaking out to unite “the voices of all concerned residents in the community.”
“I think the people in this area need a voice,” he said. “They need to be assured that it doesn’t take a press conference to clean up the park.”
Abrahams also said that as a Little League volunteer, he has seen the conditions in the parks and is disappointed by them. “It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “Why would we transfer a park to a village that can’t handle their current park? So we stopped [the transfer] in the county.”
According to Abrahams, the village was seeking to acquire Cow Meadow Park, but according to Colton, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran approached the village about a possible transfer of the park. “The village agreed,” Colton said.
The discussions took place shortly before Curran announced, on March 5, that Cow Meadow Park would be one of 10 parks included in a $15 million maintenance and enhancement projects.
Special state legislation would be required to transfer Cow Meadow to the village, according to Colton. State Sen. John Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford, and Assemblywoman Taylor Raynor, a Democrat from Hempstead, sponsored bills to facilitate the transfer. In order for those measures to move forward to a vote, however, a home rule message was needed from the county endorsing the transfer. Without Abrahams’s support, that message could not happen.
In the County Legislature, a supermajority is needed to pass a home rule message, requiring 13 of 19 legislators to vote in favor of it. The 11 Republican legislators favored the home rule message, but Abrahams blocked the Democratic caucus from voting on it, Colton said.
With the state legislative session ending June 19, it is now too late for the state to pass legislation approving the transfer, so, Colton said, “It will take another year before this could be acted upon again.”
Colton said that Abrahams’s decision to vote against the park transfer was “retribution” for the possible transfer of an abandoned armory by the state to the village (see this week's accompanying front-page story). Abrahams, Colton said, had sided with the Cedarmore Corporation, which has long sought the armory property, on Babylon Turnpike in north Freeport. Furthermore, Colton said, Robin Wheat, executive director of the County Legislature’s minority caucus, has ties to Cedarmore, creating a conflict of interest for Abrahams.
Shortly after the State Senate voted to transfer the armory to the village, Abra-hams wrote to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, asking him to reconsider the transfer and to allow residents to voice their opinions about and ideas for the property.
Abrahams called Colton’s statements “utterly ridiculous.”
“I think it’s running away from the fact that [MLK] park is deteriorated,” Abra-hams said. “And no, I’m not siding with anyone.”
Abrahams has said he would like to address the armory question by hosting community meetings and allowing residents to decide the issue, regardless of the outcome.
He added that his opposition to the transfer of Cow Meadow Park was not retribution. “I just want the village to do the right thing,” he said.
On Wednesday, the village decided against entertaining the transfer of Cow Meadow to Freeport. “The village will not entertain any future discussions on the property,” Colton wrote in a letter. “It is unfortunate that personal interests got in the way of good government.”
Mulé, Ford and Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy were unavailable for comment.