Ed Koch was feelin’ groovy Wednesday after amNewYork broke the news to him that the Queensboro Bridge will be renamed in his honor.
“I’m elated!” the former mayor said in his first interview after the City Council voted in favor of calling the steel span the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. “It’s the best gift from anyone.”
But the colorful and consummate New York personality was well aware of the controversy surrounding the renaming, which was first suggested last December by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The measure passed 38-12, with just four council members of the 14 representing Queens voting no.
“That’s better than what I thought would happen,” admitted Koch, 86, who is widely praised for rebuilding New York’s infrastructure — including its bridges — during his 1978-1989 reign.
Much of the council’s squabbling was between members from Queens, who argued whether renaming the 102-year-old East River crossing would take away from its iconic history popularized in movies and books and would be disrespectful to the borough.
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), who has spearheaded the opposition, said that Queens residents don’t want anyone’s name on the bridge and “no one would ever think of renaming or co-naming the Brooklyn Bridge.”
But Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) rushed to Koch’s defense, saying that the Queensboro already has an “identity crisis.” It’s often referred to as the 59th Street Bridge, made popular by the Simon and Garfunkel song of the same name.
Both men said they have nothing personal against the former mayor. But some African-American council members did take issue with how he served the city during his three terms.
“This is a disgrace to have a bridge named after Ed Koch,” said Councilman Charles Barron (D-East New York), who criticized Koch for being a “nemesis” of the black and Latino communities. Accusing Koch of policies that sent black people to jail, Barron instead suggested that Rikers Island be named after Hizzoner.
The official renaming may come as soon as next month, but the city Department of Transportation, which owns it, could not immediately give a cost or what type of signs it will install.
While Bloomberg on Wednesday called it a “perfect tribute” and explained that private donations will pay for the new signs, New Yorkers were divided over the decision.
“Maybe he deserves it, but a lot of people deserve it,” said Lawrence Gordon, 29, of Clinton Hill. “Why not name a bridge after the firemen who service the city?”
But Elmhurst resident David Hanna, 47, said “throwing him a laurel while he’s alive is permissible.” And perhaps in an even greater honor, Hanna added: “I might call it The Koch.”