Name bridges and tunnels for people who deserve it
I was born and raised in New York City and, while I don’t currently live there, I love the place. It truly is the greatest city in the world. Now, I am not a fan of naming bridges and other things after living politicians. I am a big Bobby Kennedy fan but I grew up with the Triborough Bridge. To me it will always be the Triborough Bridge. But, hey, if you’ve got to name the thing after a deceased politician, okay. Bobby Kennedy is worthy despite the fact that in his earlier political life, he showed some serious flaws — his association, for example, with one of the worst demons ever to live in the United States, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, a true despot of the first order. In my mind, Bobby’s later life more than made up for his earlier transgressions. But what happens when a politician like Joe Bruno screws up while he is still alive and you’ve named all kinds of things after him? Too late!
With that said, I want you to know that I will no longer be using the 59th Street (Queensboro) Bridge or the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Why? Well, it’s a matter of principle. Recently, the all-Democratic state Legislature and a Democratic Governor renamed the bridge for Edward I. “How Am I Doing?” Koch. This charismatic and fun-loving ex-mayor of New York turned into a devotee of George W. Bush and his dangerous incursion into Iraq that cost this country billions and billions and billions of dollars and a whole lot of lives. I like the guy. You really have to. He and I have debated his late-in-life conservatism on the radio and by e-mail. This so-called liberal Congressman who came up through New York politics leading the way against the old guard, ended up as the old guard himself. To answer his perpetual question, “How Am I Doing?” my answer would be “Not so well,” as he ends up supporting one conservative candidate after another. He is no biblical Moses, who was only allowed to look into the Promised Land from afar. Moses made some bad mistakes and he had to pay the price. I wouldn’t name the Queensboro Bridge for Koch. Maybe I’d put a plaque on the old Village Independent Democratic building with a picture of Koch etched into it to show how far uptown Ed has come. This is a big sacrifice for me. I love the 59th Street Bridge but hey, you have to stand by your principles. I’ll find another way to get to Fire Island.
Not only did the Democrats honor Koch but they named the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel for former Governor Hugh Carey, the man who some say “Saved New York.” Maybe. New York was bankrupt and Carey did what anyone would do if we were out of money — he stopped spending and said that “…the days of wine and roses” were over. Then things got better and the state started to spend again. Since that time, Carey has hardly honored his Democratic legacy. Like Ed Koch, he seemed to be nothing more than a “Faux Democrat,” endorsing one Republican after another. Indeed, Republican conservative George Pataki, trotted him out at every State of the State like Jimmy Durante used to do with his partner Eddie Jackson on his TV show of years ago. To add insult to injury, Carey, who as governor protected a woman’s right to choose, renounced that position and went on to be one of the greatest proponents of depriving women of their reproductive rights. Koch I can put up with, but Carey is an insult to all those women who now face new assaults against this basic, hard-won right. Why in the world are we naming a bridge for this fraud? I just don’t get it. Shame on all those so-called liberal legislators who supported a woman’s right to choose and then voted to honor Carey. Am I the only one with a memory of this?
And as long as we are naming things for retired politicians, where is Mario Cuomo? Why is his name on nothing? Could it be that he didn’t want that so-called honor? A few years back when they built the bridge across the Hudson, I suggested that we name it for one of the fathers of our environmental movement, Pete Seeger. I had commitments from everyone from the governor on down. Then one day I got a call from Pete’s grandson, Tao, who told me, “Grandpa wants you to cut it out.” And so we did. Maybe the more integrity, the less the interest in naming opportunities.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 12-14-10