The problem with naming things after the living
Jul 25, 2012 | 2805 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
At first glance, the issue of how we name buildings and bridges seems frivolous.

Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr. of Astoria has been pushing for legislation that would ban naming city property after living people, namely politicians. The bill has become fun to write about since it makes Vallone look a little like the Grim Reaper, but the bill makes sense when one considers ethics and politics.

Vallone feels that naming properties after living politicians could be a way to curry favor with political institutions. He might be right, but there is more to this.

Naming property after living people sets the city up for potential embarrassment. New Jersey’s Brendan Byrne Arena was named after the popular former governor, only to then be re-named the Continental Airlines Arena, and then re-re-named the Izod Center.

A public bridge or building does not need to sell a name in order to raise advertising revenue, but the idea of memorializing or honoring the living this way sets up a city for potentially awkward changes.

Look at all of the things named after Penn State head coach Joe Paterno that are now being re-considered. The concourse at MacArthur Airport, once named after former Islip town supervisor Pete McGowan, had to be renamed Veterans Concourse after the politician pled guilty to taking bribes.

The benefit of naming things after the deceased, besides the honor of it, is that history has had a little time to vet these people. We know more about them in retrospect. It saves a city the aggravation of having to re-name a bridge or building following a scandal.

Naming property sometimes comes with the added benefit of describing it. The Triborough Bridge is a bridge that connects to three boroughs. The Interborough Parkway (now the Jackie Robinson Memorial Parkway) led drivers through two boroughs.

In the case of Robinson, he was an important historical figure, so it’s understandable. But the Interborough Parkway was re-named long after Robinson passed away. The Queensboro Bridge leads to…Queens. And the bridge’s nickname – the 59th Street Bridge – has a song named after it.

Vallone is right to introduce this legislation. Without it, this could ultimately lead to a kind of spoils system, where parties start naming things as a way to campaign.

Former State Senate candidate Anthony Como once lamented that when running against Joe Addabbo, Jr., how he had to deal with the fact that there was a bridge named after his opponent. In fairness, the Joe Addabbo Bridge and the Joe Addabbo School are named after Addabbo’s father, who served in Congress for many years, but sharing that name does not hurt.

In the end, why can’t we simply wait to memorialize people? If life has proven one thing, it is that it always ends.

A Political Iceberg: Licensing Boat Owners

I grew up on Jamaica Bay, and was able to handle driving a boat at a very early age. There was no licensing process then, and there is none now. Boaters are required to take a safety course, but there is no process for testing how well a person can operate a boat.

Boat owners are averse to the idea of a boating driver’s license. It adds more government; it creates more aggravation. The accident that happened on Long Island on July 4 could have happened with or without a licensing process. Boat owners packing their boats with people in order to entertain is nothing new by a long shot.

But a licensing process, and the aggravation that would go with it, might serve to weed out the casual boaters. Those without the stomach to go through the process would not be on the water, which could lead to less boat traffic and fewer dangerous people operating boats.

No politician wants to introduce this, since there is no constituency that would reward it. Boat owners would not like the idea, and those who do not go near the water have little interest in it. This might be worth exploring in the future, however, since there are a lot of people operating boats who would be better off on land.

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