Jerry, Perry, and Montauk Downs

Stopping construction of 200 houses and saving the course
Jerry Kremer at Montauk Downs State Park, which he helped save from development when he was a state assemblyman and chairman of its powerful Ways and Means Committee. Janis Hewitt

Montauk Downs State Park is one of the crown jewels in the state park system, said Jerry Kremer, a former state assemblyman and ex-chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which controls the state’s funding.

Mr. Kremer played a huge part, with former Speaker of the House Perry Duryea, a Montauk resident (and “a tough guy”) in finding the money to save what he called one of the top 10 parks in the state.

The property was slated for development with some 200 houses when Mr. Duryea asked Mr. Kremer to help him find the money to buy it. After some heavy digging, he said, he found it in the state’s designated parks and recreation fund. He called Mr. Duryea: “I think I found about $4 million in parks.”

“This is a natural for us. There is nothing else like it on Long Island,” Mr. Kremer said on Sunday, sitting in the Downs cafe with a copy of his new book, “Winning Albany: Untold Stories About the Famous and Not So Famous,” on a table before him.

First elected to the assembly in 1966 as a Democrat representing the south shore of Nassau County, Mr. Kremer was re-elected 13 times. He was chairman of  the Ways and Means Committee for 12 years and is proud of the part he played in helping draw the tourist trade to Montauk. “Before this, there was nothing out here,” he said. “I’d like to think this golf course was one of the many things that cemented the area for tourists. They needed a reason to come to Montauk.”

The fight to save the Downs from a developer who wanted to create a housing complex on what was then a small golf course was not easy. Mr. Kremer, now a lobbyist who drives up to Albany every other week from his home in Bridgehampton, remembers other politicians asking him why the funds should go to Long Island. He told them it would make money for the state.

Before he agreed to help Mr. Duryea, the two flew out to Montauk in a single-engine plane that landed on a small airstrip at the park. It was a rainy day, Mr. Kremer recalled, but he could see the park’s potential and knew it would be profitable. He remembers seeing the ocean and thinking the site was terrific. Now, he said, “It’s a beacon for people who come out to use it.”

The bill that was passed for the money to be spent on the golf course was just one of many that he helped push through during his time as a legislator. He also takes credit for what has became known as the Lemon Law, which did not endear him to the automobile industry.

Politics these days is a nasty business, said Mr. Kremer. When he was in office, Democrats and Republicans kept a cordial relationship, he writes in his book, meeting for drinks even after a contentious battle on the floor. His friendship with Mr. Duryea, a Republican powerhouse, not only rose above politics but continued for many years after both retired.

His visits to Albany, he said, keep him on the edge of the game. But back in his day, holding elected office was a different matter. “We looked at it as what can we do for the next 10 years. Now, it’s what can we do in the next 10 minutes.”

He wrote “Winning Albany” after finding a box containing some 500 old photographs taken during his political career. It took him two and half years, and when he was done his publisher asked for two more chapters. He pounded them out over two weekends here, he said.

Mr. Kremer often speaks to schoolchildren, including his own grandchildren, who, he said, beam when he visits their classrooms. Proceeds from his book, which is available on Amazon, will go to charity.

He visits Montauk about five times a year to golf, but if he mentions to a course starter that he had a hand in saving the place it gets him no special favors, he said, laughing.

“I have a warm place in my heart and am happy to have made this contribution to Montauk,” he said before getting in his car to begin the drive home.