Irving Like, the top legal strategist in stopping the opening of the $6 billion Shoreham nuclear power plant and blocking state parks chief Robert Moses from building a highway across Fire Island, has died. He was 93.
Like, who was still working full time, died of cardiac arrest Wednesday at Good Samaritan Hospital in Bay Shore after he became ill at home in Bay Shore on Sept. 30.
“Irving is an icon to Long lsland because he was a giant killer,” said Paul Sabatino, former Suffolk legislative counsel and a friend. “He always went after the big guy on behalf of the little people.”
Like first entered the public arena in 1962 with his brother-in-law Murray Barbash, a developer, to stop Moses from paving over the barrier beach. The pair, who had beach homes on Fire Island, mounted a successful campaign to convince Congress to make the area a national seashore, for which Like drafted the legislation.
He was then enlisted by environmentalists in 1965 as the first lawyer to take on Long Island Lighting Co.’s plan to build Shoreham as well as other nuclear plants in Lloyd Harbor and Jamesport, which Like helped stop before construction could begin.
In what turned out to be a 30-year siege, Like and others raised the inability to evacuate the areas around Shoreham as a major issue, sued the utility board alleging corrupt racketeering practices and ultimately proposed LILCO’s replacement with public power.
“His congenial approach in approaching witnesses masked a very shrewd questioner of the nuclear industry and their practices,” said Gregory Blass, former Suffolk County Legislature presiding officer. “His office, home and house on Fire Island were strewed with thousands of pages of evidence and data . . . which he often used to tear apart witnesses, though always in a gentlemanly way.”
Even before social media, Like had pioneered ways for environmentalists to fight well-heeled corporations. He presented a paper to the American Bar Association in 1971 urging activists to turn nuclear hearings into “multimedia confrontations,” with “dramatic and suspenseful testimony” to draw attention and to force a utility “to abandon its plans or at least improve them.”
His critics, however, said Like’s efforts raised costs. “Mr. Like has turned delay for the sake of delay into a high art,” said Michael Patterson, a LILCO spokesman, at the time.
Like was appointed in 1987 to the original board of the Long Island Power Authority, which replaced LILCO, but he later left and disavowed it as a “perversion” because the board was not elected by voters.
Like also was involved in the legal battle against chemical companies that made Agent Orange after the damage done by the defoliant to Vietnam veterans, which resulted in a $180 million settlement. He also represented Suffolk to stop offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic, developed Suffolk’s environmental bill of rights and pressed for plans to control erosion on the barrier beach.
“He had a sense of justice,” said George Hoffman, a former Shoreham foe and now a consultant for the Fire Island Association. “He felt people should follow the rules and not put self-interest or corporate greed ahead of the public interest.” And even at his age, Hoffman added, Like was attuned to using social media to activate public concern. “He was the youngest old person I ever met,” Hoffman said.
In the past year, Like had a new cause — to make Fire Island a United Nations World Heritage site, which would rank it with places like the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China and Machu Picchu in Peru. Like conceded the project was “daunting” and likely “the millennials are going to make it happen.” But, he added, “If it goes viral, it could happen much more quickly.”
Born in Brooklyn in 1924, one of three children of immigrant parents, Like was raised in the Bronx, graduated from City College of New York and Columbia Law School in 1949. He married his high school sweetheart, Margalit Delman, who lived in the same Bronx apartment building. The couple were married for 69 years before she died in May.
Despite his activism, family always came first. Even on his 90th birthday, when he was hospitalized with a lung infection, Like, via a video telephone hookup, took part in a family celebration complete with cake and candles. “We shared humor and made the positive out of negative situations,” said his son Robert Like, of Highland Park, New Jersey. “He always taught us the importance of being resilient.”
In addition to Robert, survivors include son Steve Like of Bay Shore; daughter Sharon Like of Arlington, Virginia; sister, Lillian Barbash of Bay Shore, and two grandchildren.
A private burial was to take place Monday, and the family will sit shiva from 3-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at 31 Boathouse Lane East in Bay Shore. Memorial donations can be made to the Center for Environmental Research and Coastal Ocean Monitoring of Molloy College.