Sanders rally draws attention to Hunters Point waterfront park

By Bill Parry

After Bernie Sanders drew huge crowds for rallies in Manhattan’s Washington Square and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park last week, expectations were high for his primary eve rally Monday in Hunters Point South Park. But a crowd of less than 5,000 turned out for the Sanders stump speech and most of them seemed to be from Brooklyn and Manhattan.

“Yeah, that was a bit of a surprise,” Hunters Point Parks Conservancy President Rob Basch said. “But anytime you have a lot of newcomers seeing this park for the first time it’s a good thing. It’s a great opportunity for people to see Long Island City and get an idea of what they’re missing.”

Amy Coady, a resident of the Powerhouse, looked at the crowd and shrugged.

“The size of the crowd is what you see in this park every Sunday afternoon, but they picked a really nice place to hold this,” she said. “It’s fantastic. The people that use this park are very proud of the attention this park is getting. Everyone who sees it wants to comeback.”

The two-year-old waterfront park got tremendous exposure last summer when the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks shifted back to the East River. The national broadcast was based inside the park using the Manhattan skyline and the East River as a backdrop.

“And we just found out the fireworks are coming back here this year,” Basch said smiling broadly. “The fireworks were an amazing event last year even if they closed the park to residents. Gantry Plaza State Park was packed and it was a great night for local business and we expect the same this year.”

While City Hall would not comment on the fireworks coming back to the East River, a Macy’s spokesman said “the barges for the show will continue to be set on the waterway in the same exact locations as last year on the East River.”

The conservancy’s mission is to enrich the quality of life in Hunters Point by preserving and enhancing its parks, green spaces and waterfront with the community.

“This park has the diversity of cultures. You might find 75 percent of the borough’s cultures coming out here on a great day,” Basch said. “The amount of young families that use it are a good indication of what a thriving community this is and how it all works together. An event like this rally shows you what is possible in this park and it gives us new ideas for future events to go along with our outdoor cinema, our live music events and our first-ever 5K run on June 4.”

All proceeds from the race will go to the conservancy so they can stage even more events in the park.

Meanwhile, the conservancy’s vice president, Mark Christie, who also serves as the president of Friends of Hunters Point Library that is currently under construction nearby, was keeping an eye on the Sanders rally.

“I was just thinking, it was just over a year ago when Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy right over there on Roosevelt Island,” he said. “You could hear her voice echoing off all of these buildings and now we have Bernie Sanders here a year later and in the background you can see Donald Trump’s building in the skyline. How ironic.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.