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What Should We Name for Mario Cuomo?

July 24, 2017

By Bennett Liebman
Government Lawyer in Residence
Government Law Center
Albany Law School

Putting aside the controversy over the renaming of the Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge into the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, what should be named for Mario Cuomo? Let’s face it, several of the renamings of highways, bridges, and other structures in the last decade have made little sense.

Why rename the Tappan Zee Bridge after Mario Cuomo when Mario Cuomo had taken the initiative to name the bridge after Malcolm Wilson? Can anyone envision the subway-centric Ed Koch driving a car over the former Queensboro Bridge that is now the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge? How can Robert Kennedy—one of the first high-profile campaigners against water and air pollution—have the Triborough Bridge (a bridge that author Robert Caro termed a “traffic machine”) named for him?

The point should be that public figures should have some significant nexus to the monument, building, park, or road which bears their name.[1] That nexus could come from geography, the public works of the public figure, and the interests and avocations of the public figure.

Sometimes, the combination of these factors produces its own synergy. Fiorello La Guardia, while a congressman, served as an Air Force flyer in World War I. As New York City mayor, he helped build and improve the airport that was thoughtfully named for him after his death.

Nelson Rockefeller had the idea to build the Empire State Plaza. The plaza was largely built during his administration. His art collection is a major part of the plaza. He dominated everything in Albany for nearly fifteen years. It makes sense to call the plaza the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza.

So where does that leave Mario Cuomo? On geography, the answer should be Queens County, where he lived from his birth until 1994. You could conceivably add Albany, where he lived during his time as governor, and was noted for rarely spending an evening away from the Governor’s Mansion. Otherwise, you might use Brooklyn, where he went to high school, college, law school, and where his law firm was located, or Nassau County, where he frequently played baseball or softball.

On the public works field, the Carey-Cuomo years were not known for the building of infrastructure.  The state was still recovering from the years of capital construction and borrowing during the Rockefeller administration. You could point to Battery Park City (opened for residential housing in 1983)[2] or Riverbank State Park, which was the first state park in Manhattan and which opened in 1993 while Cuomo was governor.

On the avocation side, Cuomo was known for spending almost all his time working. He was a stay-at- home working governor. His avocations really were baseball and basketball. He had been a minor league baseball player, and often had his driver stop his car to watch kids play baseball. He also was an avid basketball player who played well into his seventies. Nobody should think of naming a golf course after him, and it would be hard to envision Mario Cuomo saying, “Tennis, anyone?”

Trying to harmonize these factors, if you looked at Queens County locations, you might consider the following possibilities: 1. Co-naming the New York Mets stadium/grounds/park with Citi Field. The situation could be akin to the stadium in San Diego, where you have a combination of names for a sporting venue. There you have Jack Murphy Field inside the venue known as Qualcomm Stadium. Name it Citi Field at the Cuomo Park or Citi Field at the Cuomo Grounds.[3] 2. Add the Cuomo name to the Cross Bay Bridge, which connects eastern Queens across Jamaica Bay to the Rockaways. Many of the other significant bridges in the city already are named for individuals or have iconic status like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Williamsburg Bridge. The other bridge to the Rockaways is the Marine Parkway–Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge, which connects Brooklyn to the Rockaways. An intra-Queens bridge which would keep the original name on the bridge would almost seem ideal for Mario Cuomo.[4] If you had to name another bridge for Mario Cuomo, wouldn’t it make more sense to append his name to the other Queens bridges across Long Island Sound, the Throgs Neck Bridge or the Whitestone Bridge? 3. Rename Mario Cuomo’s junior high school, which was Shimer Junior High and is now the site of the Queens Transition Center. 4. The city’s Cunningham Park is located very close to the Cuomo house in Holliswood. It might be possible to name the park after Cuomo, or name at least one of the ballfields for him.[5] 5. Rename Utopia Parkway for Cuomo. This street, which runs through much of Queens, passes right next to Cuomo’s alma mater (St. John’s).[6] The term ‟Utopia” is derived from the book of the same name by St. Thomas More. More, a lawyer-philosopher-statesman, was clearly one of Cuomo’s idols, and a print of a painting of More hung in Cuomo’s office. If you had to name another road for Cuomo, you could also consider the Grand Central Parkway which runs only in Queens and runs close to both his home in Holliswood and St. John’s. You could have the Mario Cuomo-Grand Central Parkway.

If Brooklyn was a possibility, the logical name would be to rename the building where the Second Department, Appellate Division was located after Cuomo. The courthouse at 45 Monroe Place was located four blocks from Cuomo’s law office on Court Street. Given Cuomo’s dedication to the law, this might serve as an appropriate naming opportunity.

If you are looking at infrastructure built during Cuomo’s years as governor, the clear example would be Riverbank State Park. It was conceived and opened during his administration and is clearly one of the most popular non-beach parks in the State system.

Looking at avocations which translate into baseball or basketball, the most logical move would be to name the gym at the Department of Correctional Services Training Academy in Albany after Cuomo. This was the regular site of most of Cuomo’s basketball games.

The other possibility besides the Training Academy would be to name a baseball field at Albany’s Lincoln Park after Cuomo. The Governor’s Mansion is nearly adjacent to the park, and Cuomo would play softball there and jog through the park. While it is always sacrilegious to take any name away from Lincoln, a Mario Cuomo baseball field at Lincoln Park would be more than appropriate. The four 20-story agency buildings which are part of the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza still go by the uninspired names of Agency Buildings 1, 2, 3, and 4. Why not name these buildings after longtime governors such as Mario Cuomo and George Pataki?[7]

There are a host of appropriate naming opportunities for Mario Cuomo. Let’s give him the recognition he merits by basing the naming on his life experiences, his work, his history, and his interests.

 

[1] An exception could be found for a public figure of international prominence. Thus, most any public site could be reasonably named for presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Reagan.

[2] The governing body for Battery Park City is now the Hugh L. Carey Battery Park City Authority.

[3] It should be noted that Cuomo grew up as a Yankees fan.

[4] One issue here is that the Cross Bay Bridge was renamed as the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge.

[5] Cunningham Park was named for W. Arthur Cunningham, who was elected the New York City Comptroller in 1934 but died of a heart attack in the spring of 1935. This would not be the first time that a facility was renamed after the individual for whom the facility was named faded from public consciousness. Kennedy Airport was officially named for Major General Alexander E. Anderson (even thought it was universally called Idlewild Airport) before the name was changed after the 1963 assassination. Eisenhower Park in Nassau County had initially been named Salisbury Park in honor of the English Earl of Salisbury.

[6] When Cuomo attended St. John’s, the school was in Brooklyn, but he did teach law there at its present location.

[7] Perhaps, it would make sense to name these buildings after the most recent governors in New York who served more than eight years  as governor. These would be Lehman, Dewey, Cuomo and Pataki. (Given that the entire plaza is named for him, it would make little sense to name an individual building for Governor Rockefeller) There already is a state office building named for Alfred E. Smith who served four two-year terms as governor.

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