Photo by Frank Roberts
Writer Phil Reisman questions the future of the prominent Westchester signs and offers a potential solution and compromise.
When Donald Trump failed to get reelected, I predicted that a campaign would be jumpstarted to strip his name from a “yuge” chunk of obscure parkland — yes that parkland, marked by the “yuge” Trump exit signs on the Taconic State Parkway.
My smug perspicacity was swiftly affirmed. As if on cue, the cancel police pounced.
Of course, it’s not enough to merely erase Orange Man. Cultural warriors on the left also want to re-brand the property after a historical figure who fits their political requirements — and that means dead white men need not apply. The name of Sojourner Truth, the ex-slave and abolitionist, was enthusiastically proffered in a change.org petition created after the January 6 Capitol riot. The petition has attracted more than 200,000 signatures and a boatload of comments, not a few of which are laced with unprintable, anti-Trump vitriol.
You’ve seen the Donald J. Trump State Park signs, but it’s unlikely you’ve actually visited the 436-acre “recreational attraction,” since it has never been developed and exists as an overgrown bramble with tumbledown shacks sprayed with graffiti. Some say it might be a perfect place to dump a body.
Trump paid $2 million for the property, which actually consists of two parcels in Yorktown and Putnam Valley. Originally, he wanted to build a golf course on the property — what else is new — but was foiled by environmentalists. Wetlands!
Trump characteristically threatened to sue but thought better of it and instead donated the land to New York State, taking a substantial tax write-off said to be worth in the tens of millions of dollars. That was in 2006, when George Pataki was governor.
Then, the Great Recession happened. Budgets were slashed — and nothing was done to enhance the sylvan environs of Donald J. Trump State Park… except for those “yuge” signs.
Nobody really cared until Trump became a presidential candidate and likened Mexicans illegally crossing the border to rapists and murderers. A growing chorus of anti-Trumpers viewed the signs as free, taxpayer-supported advertising for a racist and demanded they be taken down. Before the 2016 election, a vandal defaced one of the signs, using white paint to change “Trump” to the less appealing “Drumpf,” supposedly the original family surname back in Germany.
Democratic state legislators looking for a headline-grabbing issue quickly joined the movement by proposing various Trump-removal bills that died in committee and went nowhere. (Albany, incidentally, is nothing if not a giant circular file filled with bills that have gone nowhere.)
You’ve seen the Donald J. Trump State Park signs, but it’s unlikely you’ve actually visited the 436-acre “recreational attraction,” since it has never been developed and exists as an overgrown bramble….
Trump once declared that if his name is removed, well, they can just return the land to him. He didn’t mention the possibility of also returning the tax write-off.
In any case, Trump appears to have a case. A 2006 letter of agreement drafted by his White Plains attorney and signed off on by the state stipulated that the parkland “will bear a name which includes Mr. Trump’s name…. The name will be prominently displayed at least at each entrance to each property.”
This little technicality didn’t deter state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), who earlier this year submitted the latest bill to expunge the former president’s moniker and replace it with a name chosen by the public or a special commission of local historians.
In effect, Hoylman said, if Trump wants to sue, let him sue.
“The agreement that was made between Trump and the state parks commission those many years ago didn’t involve the state legislature,” he told me in an interview. “I’m confident — I’ve had my counsel confirm — that we have the ability to strip the park of Trump’s name and let the vocal community come up with an appropriate name.”
Just imagine the ugly and wholly unnecessary partisan battle that would cause.
But here’s a radical idea: I propose a compromise.
First, once and for all, remove the surname Cuomo that was legislatively attached to the new Hudson River span in the dead of night and restore the Tappan Zee Bridge name. Second, replace Trump’s name with that of the Republican governor who accepted the land gift 15 years ago. That’s right, George Pataki.
During his time in office, Pataki oversaw the acquisition of more than a million acres of parkland — roughly equal to the size of Rhode Island — an astounding accomplishment. It seems fitting… Pataki State Park. There’s a nice ring to it.
Don’t hold your breath.