An effort to rename the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge for a retired U.S. Court of Appeals judge and former U.S. senator from New York is causing consternation among area environmentalists and a new front in the political battle between Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and one of her potential challengers, Rep. Bob Turner (R-Queens, Brooklyn).
Turner is backing an effort to rename the refuge, an important bird sanctuary and part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, for James Buckley, who served as U.S. senator from 1971 through 1977 and held several other positions in the federal government.
As senator, Buckley was a cosponsor of the bill that created Gateway.
The idea went public in an April 26 letter to the media, which was published in the Queens Chronicle, written by Herb Stupp, a former commissioner of the city Department for the Aging, and Thomas Long, a member of Community Board 14 in the Rockaways. Stupp and Long live in Breezy Point, the far western Rockaway community where Turner also lives.
“As a candidate for U.S. Senate in 1970, Jim Buckley questioned the wisdom of a proposed extension of a JFK airport runway into Jamaica Bay, supporting local community groups,” Stupp and Long said in part. “Although Buckley was known for his conservative views on most issues, many liberals and Democrats acknowledged his expertise in and support for conservation and environmental issues.”
Buckley is the brother of the late William F. Buckley Jr., considered the father of modern American conservatism and a one-time candidate for mayor of New York City.
But the proposal to rename the sanctuary the “James L. Buckley/Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge” only caught widespread attention in recent days, as Turner gave it his backing, asking people to sign a petition in support.
Turner also asked Gillibrand to back the effort in the Senate, but she declined. Turner is one of several Republicans running in the June 26 primary to oppose Gillibrand in November. Some critics see politics in Turner’s support for the renaming.
Area environmentalists are opposed to the proposal, believing the name should stay as it is.
“The American Littoral Society and the environmental community at large opposes any name change to the refuge,” said Don Riepe of Broad Channel, executive director of the society’s northeast chapter, which helps maintain the bay by performing regular cleanups. “This was done without any discussion, and none of us have heard of Sen. Buckley until now.”
Riepe continued, “Maybe he was an original cosponsor, but we haven’t heard anything from him in 40 years. Usually for a wildlife refuge renaming you have to be involved. Also, it’s known nationally and internationally as the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.”
Asked if there is anyone for whom he would support renaming the bay, Riepe said the only possibility would be Herbert Johnson, the bay’s first manager.
“He literally built it from scratch,” Riepe said. But, he added, he still would prefer the name stay as is.
Turner issued a statement Wednesday blasting Gillibrand for not supporting the idea, noting that she now holds the Senate seat Buckley held in the ’70s, that nothing in the state is named for him, and claiming that she would back the move if he were a liberal Democrat.