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Jul 27, 2010 7:15 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Governor Paterson vetoes bill to rename Westhampton preserve after Edwin 'Buzz' Schwenk

Jul 27, 2010 7:15 PM

Governor David Paterson has vetoed legislation seeking to name a large swath of pine barrens in Westhampton after the late Edwin “Buzz” Schwenk, a decision that has angered two state officials from the East End who made the suggestion.

In a move that surprised some officials, Mr. Paterson rejected the measure last Wednesday, July 21, to rename 154.3 acres of state land, located just north of Francis S. Gabreski Airport, as the Edwin M. Schwenk Memorial Nature Preserve. Mr. Schwenk, who died late last year, was a pivotal figure involved in creating the 1993 Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act and the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund, the latter of which remains a powerful tool in preserving open space on the East End.

The renaming measure had previously garnered bipartisan support, passing the State Senate on June 30, two weeks after being unanimously approved by the State Assembly.

In his veto message, Mr. Paterson stated that State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis urged him to reject the bill to preserve the agency’s “time-honored tradition of naming lands under its jurisdiction.” The governor’s explanation also states that the DEC traditionally renames state land after well-known and local historical or geographical names.

But State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor, who introduced the Assembly’s version of the bill, said that there have been at least two occasions in the past 17 years in which land on the South Fork has been renamed after individuals—and neither name was first suggested by the DEC.

In 1993, former Governor Mario Cuomo named a 7,200-acre preserve in the pine barrens in Riverhead after David A. Sarnoff, a World War II veteran and former president of the Radio Corporation of America, who died in 1971. Then, in 2004, former Governor George Pataki renamed a 350-acre preserve in Sag Harbor the Linda Gronlund Memorial Nature Preserve at Barcelona Neck. A native of Sag Harbor, Ms. Gronlund died in the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.

With the preserve named after Ms. Gronlund, Mr. Thiele said that both he and State Senator Kenneth LaValle recommended that the land be renamed without first seeking DEC approval. Mr. Pataki signed off on that suggestion even though he could have vetoed the bill because the request did not follow the proper channels.

As things now stand, Mr. Thiele said that he and Mr. LaValle, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, have reached out to Mr. Grannis and will attempt to convince him to support the renaming of the Westhampton land after Mr. Schwenk.

“We’re looking for the most expeditious way to do this,” Mr. Thiele said. “Administratively would be quickest. We don’t want to embarrass the governor by overriding the veto or to have the family continue the legislative process next year.”

Mr. Grannis did not return calls seeking comment this week.

Prior to the governor’s veto, Mr. Schwenk’s daughter, Diana Urban, a Democratic state legislator from Connecticut, wrote a letter asking that Albany quickly sign off on the proposed legislation so that a dedication ceremony could be held at the preserve this fall, before the one-year anniversary of her father’s death.

When reached this week, Ms. Urban described Mr. Paterson’s veto as “mean spirited.”

“My father reached across the aisle to pass legislation to preserve the environment,” she said. “I’m aghast at what the governor did.”

Mr. LaValle, who noted that he and Mr. Thiele faced little opposition in the naming of the Linda Gronlund Memorial Nature Preserve at Barcelona Neck, also said he was disappointed with Mr. Paterson’s veto. Still, Mr. LaValle explained that he has encountered similar roadblocks before.

“The governor has obviously been misguided and it shows that he did not contact people locally who would have attested to the enormous work that Schwenk did,” he said. “That attestation would be by Republicans, Democrats and people of all walks of life.”

Mr. Thiele, who switched his party affiliation from Republican to Independence last year, is charging that Mr. Paterson, a Democrat, is playing politics. That’s because Mr. Schwenk once served as chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Party.

“I note that in the veto message the governor made mention of the fact that at one time, more than 30 years ago, Mr. Schwenk was the chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Party,” Mr. Thiele said in a prepared statement issued immediately after the veto. “This was not mentioned in the legislation, nor was it the basis for the designation.”

Neither Mr. Thiele nor Mr. LaValle think that Mr. Schwenk’s criminal history—namely, a 1981 conviction for federal tax evasion that resulted in a 60-day jail sentence—influenced the governor’s veto. According to Mr. Thiele, Mr. Schwenk’s run-in with the law renewed his interest in community advocacy and stands as a testament to his spirit.

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Boo to Patterson! When is this clown going to be outta here?
Buzz Schwenk at least had some thing to do with preserving the area to be named after him. The DEC strikes again, they need to be abolished!
By ICE (1214), Southhampton on Jul 22, 10 3:40 PM
what does patterson have to do with something all thw way out here........moron, dammit it spitzer!
By SirHampton (60), quogue on Jul 22, 10 3:53 PM
Paterson will surely go down as the worst Governor in the history of New York state.
By Woody (15), Westhampton Beach on Jul 22, 10 5:02 PM
Note here that it is the tail wagging the dog. Yes the Governor is wrong about people and preserve names but the state DEC, in a hissy fit of a turf war battle, declared that it is the ONLY agency that can recommend or suggest naming of a preserve. The state DEC has dragged it's feet on many major environmental concerns on the East End. Now look at where it chooses to draw a line in the sand - over naming rights. What a ****poor record they have and it isn't getting any better.
By EastEndHomie (27), Southampton on Jul 22, 10 5:51 PM
1 member liked this comment

What a scumbag.

I look even more fondly of every Tuesday I had the chance to engage in "small talk", and other bits of this, and that. If anyone deserves this honor, it's Buzz, and it's a shame the GOV never got to meet him personally.

And yes, that is a "Blazing Saddles" crack...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 22, 10 11:36 PM
1 member liked this comment
What a Buzzkill!
By C Law (354), Water Mill on Jul 23, 10 9:33 AM
... maybe it's just me, but the fact that the guy went to jail might preclude him from having anything named after him, despite all of his previous good deeds.
By William Rodney (561), southampton on Jul 23, 10 1:29 PM
Mr. Rodney, please clarify "the guy went to jail" with specific information.

Are you referring to Mr. Schwenk or to Governor Paterson? [Double entendre intended]

Have a good weekend.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jul 23, 10 7:51 PM
Buzz did some time for a political financial scandal of some sort. It was along time ago & the story was that he took a hit for other parties involved. It was a "good old boy" deal.

Buzz was a great guy & a true East Ender.
By Draggerman (955), Southampton on Jul 24, 10 6:46 AM
Buzz may have danced to the tune of the developers for many years but, in the end, he came to see the value of preservation and worked hard on it. He and Dick Amper were quite the odd couple for a while. Paterson seems prone to veto meaningful pieces of legislation for political and personal reasons. Just renew the call after he is gone and things will probably turn out differently--as they should.
By Doug Penny (64), Lexington, Virginia on Jul 23, 10 2:22 PM
Mr Penny has it wrong as far as Buzz and the East End -- there was NEVER any daylight between Buzz Schwenk and his lifetime advocacy of protecting open spaces and the pristine way of life on the East End. Don't forget he did resign from working with the UpIsland builders when they overreached.

He loved the East End, struck alliances to protect and preserve it, brought various parties together to get the Pine Barrens bills enacted ... all as he would humbly say from the likes of just another ...more
By JimmyKBond (156), Hampton Bays on Jul 23, 10 4:08 PM
I'm withe EastEndHomie. Why can't the DEC get off its high horse? Did they have a poor relatinship with Buzz? Perhaps he did'nt give them the due repect they feel they require. Things need to change in that office as well.
As for the Guv.. He has got to be the lamest duck in history.
By Ebby (75), Sag Harbor on Jul 23, 10 5:40 PM
ooops...typo's sorry
By Ebby (75), Sag Harbor on Jul 23, 10 5:42 PM
GO PATERSON!!! Westhampton Preserve already has a name! Nobody important gives one hoot about a dead guy, and in turn his name should not defile a nature preserve just to remember him. HIs family is alive, that should be rememberance considered enough. Paterson is right, its about time the state lives up to its policy of not naming things after cheap money grubbing hacks!
By xatiannorthsea (16), southampton on Jul 23, 10 6:43 PM
Maybe if you were a "dirtbag" from North Sea, you'd understand. Buzz was all for the "middle class" getting a "leg up". HOWEVER, there came a time, when the "aristocracy" bought, and retained the "upper hand" on the East End.

That is when Buzz left the "developers" behind, and walked the path of preservation.

Remember, most of you weren't born at the time of "Leisurama".

Buzz was young at that time, and not only saw the change in the East End, but fought against the ...more
Jul 27, 10 3:12 AM appended by Mr. Z
By the way, "flawless icon"? I'd like to know the story behind you taking that pseudonym...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 24, 10 3:12 AM
1 member liked this comment
Is he blind?
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jul 23, 10 6:54 PM
2 members liked this comment
By SirHampton (60), quogue on Jul 23, 10 8:26 PM
Sorry, but that probably will get removed...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 24, 10 3:20 AM
Completely inappropriate, bigoted, and small-minded.
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Jul 24, 10 3:55 PM
2 members liked this comment
OK, so Buzz did some little time, so what? So he was a Republican chairman, so what? Paterson's off the beam on this one.
By clam pie (161), Westhampton on Jul 29, 10 6:43 PM