New York City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. has introduced a measure to prevent public property from being named for any living person. This is a long overdue reform that should not only be adopted but broadened considerably.
First, a side comment. I work in and around New York State government. To maintain space between my professional life and personal views I have assiduously avoided writing about New York government and politics. I am making an exception here because the practice Vallone is addressing is so egregious, and the conflict of interest is so obvious, that I cannot in good conscience shy away.
Vallone is upset about renaming the Queensboro Bridge in honor of Ed Koch, the Democrat former New York City mayor and a well-known personality. I do not know what beef Vallone has with Koch, but it is worth mentioning that Koch crossed party lines in 1998 to endorse Republican George Pataki for Governor rather than support the Democrat candidate, Peter Vallone Sr.
In any situation, the Koch bridge is a mild example of a larger abuse.
Ed Koch is 87 years old and on the margins of public life. Almost everyone knows Koch and has a cemented opinion of the man.
Nothing should be named to honor a living person, public property or otherwise. To put a finer point on it, nothing should be named for a living, or especially a sitting, office holder.
It may surprise some, but this happens all the time in New York. Frequently it is done “in recognition” of largesse directed to a particular institution or not-for-profit. In other words, we ought to ban any attempt to honor politicians who direct public funds to favored projects.
Allow me to paint a picture. A citizen, a supporter of a small effort – say the Home for Wayward Hacks – wants to be helpful. Private donors are not stepping up to support the laudatory charity but funds are needed. What to do?
First the citizen gets on the good side of a local elected official, let’s call him Senator Yawper. Maybe said citizen writes a few checks to attend Senator Yawper’s fundraisers. Yawper notices and appreciates the support. A relationship starts and a pitch follows. The good Senator thinks the idea sounds good and worthy of support, so, succeeds in steering taxpayer dollars to the not-for-profit. Fantastic.
To recognize the valuable contribution the ribbon is cut on the Senator Yawper Home for Wayward Hacks. Not only does the Senator gain a perpetual free ad, but the Home now has someone to turn to each and every time a few dollars are needed.
To anyone, a few problems should be obvious, the least being the actual naming of the Home. If we are to improve our nation, state, and municipalities, the very smallest step we can take is to end this publically funded favor mill.