The Jamaica Bay area has a number of public works named for notable New Yorkers who merit our remembrance. There is the bridge over part of the bay named for the late Congressman Joseph Addabbo, the Marine Park Bridge named for Mets and Dodgers hero Gil Hodges, and Floyd Bennett Field, which honors the famous Brooklyn aviator. And of course, there is John F. Kennedy International Airport.
But there is a long-standing major omission in recognizing someone who has helped to change Jamaica Bay and the Rockaways for the better, and we urge that this be corrected.
The individual we are writing about is former U.S. Sen. James L. Buckley.
Sen. Buckley was a co-sponsor of S.1192, creating the Gateway National Recreation Area, including the Rockaways and Jamaica Bay. The senator spoke on behalf of the bill on the Senate floor on Oct. 14, 1972, and specifically mentioned the “wildlife preserve in Jamaica Bay” during the floor debate. Jamaica Bay is the only wildlife refuge within the U.S. National Parks System. We propose renaming the area the “James L. Buckley / Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.”
The bay and its wetlands, marshes and islands also represent “one of the most significant bird sanctuaries in the northeast United States,” according to the refuge’s website. Senator Buckley is an amateur ornithologist (bird watcher) of some note, and continues his love and observation of birds at age 89.
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. 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.
James L. Buckley is perhaps the only living American to have served at the top levels of all three branches of the U. S. government. Aside from his election to the U. S. Senate, Buckley was under secretary of state, after which he served as president of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Then he was nominated by President Reagan and confirmed to serve on the U. S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit — generally held to be the second highest court in our judicial system. Although retired, Judge Buckley was in a “senior judge” status, and could be pressed into service under certain conditions.
In our lifetimes, all of New York’s U.S. senators (except for the very most recently serving) have had major public works or other facilities named for them. Sen. Moynihan has the huge Manhattan Federal office building named for him, with the new Penn Station to be called “Moynihan Station.” Sen. Javits has the other immense Federal building named for him, along with New York City’s primary convention center. Sen. D’Amato has the federal courthouse on Long Island named for him, and the Federal building in Rochester is named for former U.S. Sen. Kenneth Keating. There are a number of schools bearing the name of Robert F. Kennedy, along with the recent renaming of the Triboro Bridge for RFK. Even unelected Sen. Charles Goodell’s name adorns the Fire Department headquarters in his former Congressional district in western New York.
Clearly, it is time to honor and recognize the contributions of James L. Buckley to his nation. Aside from his decades of top-level leadership in the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government, Buckley also served in the U.S. Navy during and just after World War II.
Because of Sen. Buckley’s advocacy for the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and the Gateway National Recreation Area, this would be an ideal opportunity to recognize Buckley by renaming the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge for him.
Finally, at a time when local leaders are trying to marshal resources to save and restore Jamaica Bay’s declining ecosystem, renaming the wildlife refuge for our former U.S. Senator can only draw more positive attention to the cause of the bay, its islands and the Rockaways Gateway region.