02/07/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Duplicity Grows in Brooklyn: Chuck Schumer's Edifice Complex

For Senator Chuck Schumer, it's apparently better politics -- and karma -- to name the Brooklyn courthouse for a Republican son of Manhattan who died in 1919 than the dominant Brooklyn Democrat who saved New York City during the last fiscal crisis and who was born the same year...and remains very much alive nearly nine decades after rising from the same streets that lead to Cadman Plaza.

The new Federal courthouse was slated to be named for former Governor Hugh Carey, one of the state's legendary political figures and the man widely credited with marshaling federal support and regional political muscle to prevent New York City's economic collapse in the 1970s. He is 89 years old and still active; indeed, he endorsed Barack Obama in last year's Democratic primary. [The decision split the famously large Carey brood -- my knowledge of this is primary: Governor Carey's daughter Susan is my friend and my partner in CauseWired Communications, the new firm we're starting this month. There's disclosure for you!]

Governor Carey has maintained a dignified silence in this strange affair. I shall not. This is meshuge. It stinks.

That Senator Schumer should appear in downtown Brooklyn, media in tow, with an mustachioed impersonator of Teddy Roosevelt claiming that Governor Carey doesn't qualify for the naming honors -- and that the old Rough Rider is more deserving -- should qualify our press-hounding senior Senator  for a one-way ticket out of his home borough. Bringing in a ringer to replace one of Brooklyn's great politicians is pretty much the equivalent of trading Jackie Robinson to the hated Giants or tearing down Ebbetts Field.

Let's put it this way: Chuck Schumer just became the Walter O'Malley of New York politics.

Now, Theodore Roosevelt is certainly worthy of any honors that may come his way, 90 years after his death and more than a century after his presidency. Indeed, as one of America's great progressives TR is many a Democrat's favorite Republican. But the Brooklyn courthouse? WTF?! (An acronym invented in Brooklyn, I might add, reputedly by a young Brooklyn Eagle reporter by the name of Whitman).

The Carey Courthouse was as done a deal as there is in the traditional edifice, street and monument naming game. As Jim Dwyer wrote in today's Times:

Although the House voted to name the courthouse for Mr. Carey in 2007, that bill could not become law until the Senate passed it, too, and the president signed it. These, however, are usually formalities. For the Carey name not to be chiseled into the granite would require heavy legislative lifting.

Enter Senator Schumer.

For some wacked-out reason, Schumer got a big-time TR jones on and went all Spike Lee He's Gotta Have It with the Rooseveltian moniker. The question is why?

Why spit in the eye of the still-living Governor who refused to give up on a bankrupt city? Why publicly dump on the man who personally blocked executions in New York State even after the Republican legislature reinstated the death penalty? On the Democrat who signed the Willowbrook Consent Decree, ending a hidden life of misery and abandonment for the developmentally disabled? The national Irish-American leader who used his position to push for peace in Northern Ireland? One of the first mainstream organization Democrats in New York to oppose the Vietnam War? The guy who created Battery Park City and South Street Seaport and the Javits Center (two out of three ain't bad)?

Why diss the Brooklyn Democrat whose seat in Congress a young and ambitious Brooklynite named Chuck Schumer once held?

And what's with the sudden Teddy Roosevelt obsession, anyway? As Dwyer archly notes:

The point, Mr. Schumer said, was to repair what he sees as a deficit of public memorials to Roosevelt in New York, which include a national park site in Long Island, a bronze statue of him on horseback in front of the American Museum of Natural History, and at least a dozen schools and parks around the state.

"It bugs me that he's forgotten, particularly in the city he came from -- the only president to come from New York," Mr. Schumer said.


And as Jim Dwyer noted, the "still living" conundrum doesn't really exist either -- it's about as real as the spurs on the fake TR's boots: Senator Schumer had proudly presided over prominent addresses named for Daniel Moynihan and Al D'Amato -- with both men palpably breathing on the dais next to him as the cameras clicked and whirred.

Consider the times, as well. We're facing a recession at least as long and deep as the mid-1970s. Governor Carey provides a living link to that era, a symbol of a time when strong leadership created a better future for New York City. This economic crisis will surely test our current Governor, David Paterson, more than any decision over whether to appoint the suddenly political Caroline Kennedy to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat.  What better way to remind our current lineup of leaders of the high stakes this economic crisis presents than to gather them all in downtown Brooklyn for a ceremony naming the federal courthouse for Hugh Carey.

I think Senator Schumer has done a fine job for New York and I've been proud to support him. But this is political insanity personified -- either that or it's some weird and troubling form of personal spite, bubbling up from the old cobblestones. Either way, it should be corrected -- and fast.