New York is filled with statues memorializing our heroes and heroines ranging from George Washington and Alexander Hamilton to Duke Ellington and Eleanor Roosevelt. Many of these statues are in public parks but apparently a new trend has started.
The prosaic names of bridges and tunnels are being replaced by people names. Thus, two years ago, Robert Kennedy’s name was bestowed on the Triboro Bridge. And now City Hall has decided to rename the Queensboro Bridge for former Mayor Edward Koch and the State Legislature has voted to name the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel for former Governor Hugh Carey.
Certainly the idea of branding huge monuments with the names of leaders is praiseworthy. And Koch told me: “I’m appreciative to Mayor Bloomberg for naming the Queensboro after me.”
“But wouldn’t you rather be a glorious statue standing in a park through the ages?“ I asked him.
“No,” he replied. “This is a perfect fit. The Queensboro Bridge is me -- it’s a workhorse. It’s gritty.”
But wouldn’t you rather put your name on a work of art, like the Washington or Brooklyn Bridge?
“No,” the former Mayor said. “I’m not handsome, that’s why the Queensboro represents me so well. And on my bridge I’ll insist there’ll never be a toll!”
Both Koch and Carey deserve to be remembered. Koch inspired the city with his bravado. His favorite approach to citizens, “How’m I doin’?’ and his sense of humor are still remembered. It seems especially fitting that the diverse communities of Queens and the East Side of Manhattan will be linked by a bridge bearing the name of a man who wanted to be remembered as a bridge builder.
And Hugh Carey was the governor who saved this city from financial ruin. The coalition of business people, labor leaders and politicians he put together with the aid of financier Felix Rohatyn managed to pull us out of a deep financial hole. We were on the brink of bankruptcy and Carey built bridges among powerful New Yorkers who buried their differences and worked together to save the city.
So, if we can’t think of a bridge to memorialize him, why not a tunnel? This particular tunnel joined two major boroughs and kept the city functioning.
I remember the day the tunnel opened in 1950 and Mayor William O’Dwyer loaded a group of reporters from City Hall into his car and drove us through for a preview. “Isn’t it beautiful boys?” he asked, as we saw the gleaming tile walls for the first time. Beautiful may not be quite the adjective I’d use for a brand new tunnel. But spectacular it certainly was ---and is---and vital, as Carey was, to the future of New York.