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Planned May Newburger Cove faces hurdle

Senator Chuck Schumer, Town of North Hempstead supervisor

Senator Chuck Schumer, Town of North Hempstead supervisor Jon Kaiman and Congressman Gary Ackerman with a "May Newburger Cove" sign that will welcome visitors to the newly named cove on Hempstead Harbor upon federal approval. (Aug. 7, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

The sign's been printed, the body of water has been selected, and the politicians have announced it. There's only one thing standing in the way of the future May Newburger Cove in North Hempstead Town: a little-known federal body that has a policy against naming geographic features after living people.

Because former Assemb. May Newburger, also a former town supervisor, is alive, the request by Sen. Charles Schumer to name a portion of Hempstead Harbor after her on official U.S. navigation charts has hit a snag.

Lou Yost, executive secretary of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, said that the 22-member board has a policy prohibiting naming a geographic feature after a living person.

"The board has always discouraged naming features for living people, and then in 1986 it codified the policy," Yost said.

Schumer -- who Tuesday displayed the new sign at its potential location in Port Washington by Hempstead Harbor, along with Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights) and North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman -- pointed out that the agency's policy is not a law, and said he believed that the agency could step around its policy and grant the request.

"If they decide not to, we will introduce legislation that we believe will pass," Schumer said.

Yost said staff will likely bring the request for an exception to the board, which has not granted such an exception before.

Apart from the regulatory back-and-forth is Newburger herself -- 91 years old, living in Great Neck and still adored by many, including the guy who made her sign.

"I loved May," said Kevin Limongelli, the town's sign-shop supervisor who designed the large, green sign. "I would say she's a kind, warm woman -- a motherly type."

Newburger, who greeted Schumer, Ackerman and Kaiman at her home Tuesday morning, appeared physically frail but energized by the visit and the news.

"I'm flabbergasted," she said of the effort to name the cove for her. "I can't believe it -- I wish I could go swimming in my cove."

She reminisced with Schumer, with whom she served in the Assembly -- she had urged him to eat carrots and celery, and pushed him to date the woman who became his wife. She also strolled memory lane with Ackerman, who was in the State Senate at the time.

She held Kaiman's face in both hands and told him to take care of himself before wishing the three a fond goodbye.

Kaiman, one of her many proteges, said the renaming was appropriate in light of the years of work Newburger did to protect Long Island's groundwater.

"This naming is good," Ackerman said. "It's something that's May -- it's regenerative and enduring. It's really going to last."

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