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Dan Collins

Dan Collins

Posted: March 25, 2011 09:43 AM

Why the Ed Koch Bridge Is a Bad Idea


Let us count the reasons that the Ed Koch Bridge is a bad idea.

First of all, the former mayor of New York is still very much alive. It's always a mistake to name things after the living, even if the honoree is 86 and therefore unlikely to get involved in a sensational sex scandal or commit a felony. New York probably won't have to worry about the kind of embarrassing situation the city of Cincinnati once found itself in, after having named the street in front of its baseball stadium Pete Rose Way.

It's the precedent that's dangerous. If we start naming the city's spans after living politicians, there will be no end of the lobbying. Every state senator is going to want at minimum a footbridge. And state senators do wind up getting indicted well into their ninth decade.

Second, this sort of thing never really works. How many people have you ever heard call the Triborough the Robert Kennedy Bridge? The West Side Highway the DiMaggio Highway? All you're going to do is confuse the tourists.

Third, if we were going to name something after Ed Koch, why pick on the Queensborough Bridge? Koch was born in the Bronx and grew up in Newark, N.J. He lived his political life in Manhattan. A Quinnipiac poll found that 64 percent of New Yorkers and 70 percent of Queens residents don't want the outer borough connected to Manhattan by the Koch Bridge.

Queens is already convinced it doesn't get enough respect, and now it can continually point out that nobody is ever going to suggest changing the name of the Manhattan Bridge, or renaming the Brooklyn Bridge for Rudy Giuliani.

Fourth, it makes the City Council look stupid -- again. The Council, which has very little power, has always been made fun of as a place that devotes the majority of its time to renaming streets. But over the past decade or two, it's gotten somewhat better. (Put the accent on somewhat.) Now its extremely modest climb into semi-respectability is at risk, particularly since The Ed Koch Queensborough Bridge controversy is the biggest attention-getter the Council has had in some time.

Fifth, Ed Koch as mayor was a mixed bag. The very fact that Mayor Bloomberg seems to have been the first one to propose this bridge renaming is a reminder of how small a piece of Bloomberg's life has been spent in politics.

Koch's third and final term in office was a disaster that turned to tragedy with the suicide of Queens Borough President Donald Manes, a Koch friend ensnared in a widespread municipal corruption scandal investigated by a federal prosecutor named Rudy Giuliani. His constant feuds with African-American politicians poisoned his relationship with New York blacks throughout his 12 years in office.

And there was also the Good Koch: He was a tireless cheerleader for the Big Apple who brought the city back from the dark days of the 1970s fiscal crisis. He also launched a major housing program and reformed the patronage-laden system for choosing family and criminal court judges.

I co-authored a book about Koch's mayoralty and I could go on for hours. But I'd rather not. The guy is 86. Lately, he's been devoting a lot of time and effort to something called New York Uprising, an effort to force the state legislature to adopt a non-partisan method of drawing the boundaries for legislative districts. This is a crusade that's both extremely important and extremely boring to the average citizen. It creates enemies without providing any political payoff for the crusaders. Only someone who's both very famous and long out of power could give it any traction whatsoever.

That brings me to reason six. If the politicians want to honor Ed Koch, let them all get behind his reform bill. Now that would be a real tribute.