Governor Pataki’s Downtown legacy

The lower part of Manhattan, like most of New York City, is heavily Democratic. Despite the last 12 years that have seen two Republican mayors, this is not a particularly fertile ground for most Republicans to hope to pick up votes.

Yet a Republican governor, George Pataki, during those dozen years, has immeasurably improved this area’s quality of life, namely by shepherding through the Hudson River Park.

In 2002, the New York League of Conservation Voters endorsed Pataki for re-election, calling him an “an excellent environmentalist.” The league cited his protective land acquisitions Upstate, successful lobbying of the federal government to require dredging of Hudson River P.C.B.’s — and “his support for waterfront revitalization projects like the Hudson River Park.”

Two years after being elected, Pataki oversaw the passage of the Leichter-Gottfried Hudson River Park Act, allowing the waterfront park project — stalled for decades — to finally begin. Eight years later, the 5-mile-long park is one-third complete.

Pataki has held up his end of the park’s funding, committing $150 million, with the city matching this amount. When the park is finally complete with the building of a park on Gansevoort Peninsula years down the road, the whole project could wind up costing up to $1 billion. Yet, for now, the park is on healthy footing and progressing.

Yes, there have been missteps, and we didn’t hold back on our criticism of them. There was the aborted ice-skating rink near Spring St., initially presented to Community Board 1 for review when it was, in fact, in Board 2. And there was the failed Pier 40 redevelopment process — though maybe in retrospect it was for the best, leading to the highly popular sports fields on the pier and preservation of long-term parking for the community. The recent attempt to bypass a bidding process to operate an estuarium in the park’s Tribeca section smacked of cronyism.

And though we continue to ask the Hudson River Park Trust for a clear road map of the park’s future development, operation and revenue-producing plans, to date this information has not been forthcoming.

That said, it’s hard to fault much about this park or the governor’s guiding role in its creation. The Greenwich Village segment, opened in summer 2003, is a huge success. And the bike greenway running the park’s length is among the nation’s busiest. Opened on Monday, the new Chelsea North section looks magnificent, as surely will Chelsea Cove in a few years. And, of course, Chelsea Piers provides all manner of athletic and entertainment activities.

Many have contributed to setting this park on the right path, but it’s largely due to the governor’s steadfast vision that it has happened. No, Pataki might not have picked up too many votes here, which makes his accomplishment even more laudable. We thank the governor for reclaiming a once-derelict waterfront as a wonderful park that will be enjoyed for generations.