WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — A push to re-christen a section of Riverside Drive West in honor of former Mayor David Dinkins turned contentious this week as advocates fought the city's policy against renaming streets for those who are still living.
About 25 Uptowners attended Community Board 12’s transportation committee meeting Monday to ask that the city co-name a section of 155th Street and Riverside Drive West after Dinkins, who served as mayor from 1990 to 1994.
The charge was led by residents from the River Terrace Apartments at 156 Riverside Drive West, a Mitchell-Lama development that Dinkins called home for decades.
“It is only fitting to honor a man who has done so much for the city of New York and who started it all from an affordable apartment on Riverside Drive,” said Frankey Graves, a River Terrace resident who presented on behalf of the group. “We hope this honor will be bestowed upon him soon so that he can smell the roses while he is still with us.”
But 2008 guidelines adopted by the City Council, which must approve all co-namings as acts of legislation, state that the honor is reserved only for the deceased.
Community Board 12 members expressed concerns about making an exception to this standard.
“It would set a precedent,” said committee member Mary Anderson. “I don’t think any of us are against this, but there are other people who have also done a lot of good for this community.”
Liz Ritter, who sits on the board but not on the transportation committee, felt the resolution was unlikely to move to the next stage.
“I really admire David Dinkins and we can pass whatever resolution we want, but the City Council is very unlikely to pass it,” she said.
Advocates nonetheless pushed for the board to make an exception in Dinkins’ case.
“His work is exceptional, and we should show him that support,” said Pearl Hampton, a River Terrace resident. “Even if we cannot meet our goal, we should push for this.”
John Burnett, president of the Harlem Alphas fraternity, of which Dinkins is a member, invoked the Alphas' earlier fight to install a memorial for Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in spite of the precedent that only former presidents be honored there.
He urged board members to vote based on their conscience, regardless of the council’s policies.
“I ask you today not to think, ‘If we approve it here they might turn it down at the next level,’” Burnett said. “That’s not American.”
Burnett’s comments were greeted with cheers from the crowd but offended some board members.
“I felt the implication that if anyone had any objection to this that they are un-American,” said committee member Jim Berlin. “You said you wanted to take politics out of this, but I feel you put it way back in.”
Burnett said he hadn’t meant to offend.
“It wasn’t an attack on anyone here,” he said. “What I was saying is that it’s un-American to not push for what you believe.”
Maria Luna, a board member who also does not sit on the committee, advocated on behalf of the honorary naming.
“There are many streets in this particular community that are named after people who did not even step foot in this country,” she said. “We have rules, and rules are made to be broken.”
The committee ultimately voted in favor of the proposal, which will go before the full board at the end of May.
Tyrone Stevens, a spokesman for local Councilman Mark Levine, said Levine would support the proposal.
“While Councilman Levine believes that street co-namings ought to be reserved for posthumous commemoration, he feels Mayor Dinkins' case warrants an exception,” Stevens said.
Mayor Dinkins could not immediately be reached for comment.