Franz Leichter, a Founder of Hudson River Park

By Pam Frederick*


Retired state Senator Franz Leichter, who co-wrote (along with retired Chelsea Assemblyman Dick Gottfried) the state act that created Hudson River Park, died recently at age 92.  The Times has an obit and I recommend reading it: Leichter was smuggled out of Vienna at age seven—just before his mother was arrested and eventually killed in a concentration camp. He went on to write a landmark abortion-rights law that preceded the federal law and pushed for same-sex marriage and legalized marijuana long before their time.

And while he did not represent Tribeca [or the Village] in state government, as the sponsor of the Hudson River Park Act 25 years ago, his work in Albany had a transformative effect on our lives here. In fact, I doubt many of us can imagine Tribeca without the park—without Pier 25, Pier 26, the bikeway/walkway, even Pier 40. It’s also hard to imagine now that there was a lot of opposition to the park back then–even within the state legislature. So, it took a lot of negotiating and finessing to get the job done. Leichter deserves much of that credit.

Even after he retired from the state legislature in 1998, he served on the Trust Board for years.

Hudson River Park Pier 45, at Christopher Street. Photos courtesy of the Tribeca Citizen.

“The Hudson River Park of today—approaching completion, brimming with activity along its four miles—would not exist without Franz’s steadfast belief in the park,” said Noreen Doyle, the President of the Hudson River Park Trust. “He was that rare person who maintained the courage of his convictions despite obstacles and slingshots.”

She continued, “The entire Hudson River Park community is forever grateful to Franz for his vision, resolve and commitment to the dream of a financially sustainable, environmentally responsible and publicly accountable park along Manhattan’s West Side waterfront. We will continue striving to live up to that vision.”

I must add too, since I knew him both as a fellow member of the Trust and as a source, when I worked as editor of The Riverdale Press, that he was just the loveliest guy and you would never have known that his young life was forged in trauma. He was unfailingly good natured and warm—a mensch is the only way to put it. He must have been proud of his career and last we spoke at a Board meeting, he was still skiing at 83—with a gaggle of grandkids—and travelled to Antarctica at age 85. What a life.

*Note from Arthur Schwartz, Senior Editor. Pam Frederick served on the Hudson River Park Board for over a decade, was Chair of Community Board 4 in Chelsea and now publishes the Tribeca Citizen, an online newsletter. This piece appeared in the Tribeca Citizen on June 13 and is reprinted with permission. I concur with Pam that Franz was a prince, a public official who cared passionately about Hudson River Park, and who, along with Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, battled with park opponents, including Assemblymember Deborah Glick, in order to get the park opened. Eventually he linked up with Village park supporters, including Tobi Bergman, Elizabeth Gilmore, Jeff Lydon and me to work around the opponents. We in the Village first got Pier 40 opened as a ball field and then Leichter and Gottfried got the Hudson River Park Act passed.