Surrounded by a crowd of some 250 youth soccer players and their families Sunday at Brentwood State Park, state Sen. Brian Foley sent a message he hoped Gov. David A. Paterson will hear.
"These fields were built to serve the public," said Foley (D-Blue Point). "We want these fields to remain open."
The "organized protest," as Foley dubbed it, was intended to push back against reports that Brentwood is one of 10 Long Island state parks that could be closed to offset Paterson's $29-million cut to the state parks' budget.
On Friday, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation released a list of Long Island facilities subject to closure or service cuts. The Brentwood park was not on the list, but Foley said the park - which the state spent $9 million renovating last year - is not necessarily out of the woods.
The 52-acre park is home to eight soccer fields and two baseball diamonds. Violette Smith, the president of the Brentwood Soccer Club, which has played at the site for 30 years, said it is vital for the community's children that the park stay open.
"This is our home," she said. "We cannot go anywhere else."
Islip Town Councilman Gene Parrington said all parks should be off limits to the state budget ax. "These are the country clubs of the working people," he said.
And Luis Mendes, an adviser to an adult soccer league that uses the park, offered to meet lawmakers and state officials who would vote to close it on the pitch. "I challenge those who put these parks on a shutdown list to a soccer match here in this park," he said.
The gathering marked a rare election-year event that paired elected Democrats and Republicans. State Sen. Owen Johnson (R-Babylon) and Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) joined Foley to denounce proposed park cuts. "The way the economy is today," Johnson said. "We need to keep as many parks open as we can."
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy on Friday proposed selling naming rights to state parks and selling operating licenses to private entities to help close the budget gap. Ramos, who is usually among the fiercest Levy critics, Sunday touted the county executive's idea.
"The people expect us to be statesmen," Ramos said. "We need to be able to compartmentalize these issues and work together.
This story was written by Reid Epstein and published in Newsday on February 22, 2010.