There is tremendous controversy surrounding a proposal to re-name a corner in Hartford’s north end after a key figure in the Eddie Perez corruption scandal. City council member Cynthia Jennings is seeking approval for Abraham Giles Way, to be named for the late former state representative and Democratic party power broker. Giles was charged with extortion and later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges. An editorial in the Hartford Courant urged the city to turn down the naming proposal.
I was a little surprised city leaders even have the time to deal with this matter. Considering the tax situation in the beleagured city, it would seem every available minute should be spent on the city’s top priority: recruiting new business and developers to turn empty stores and vacant lots into revenue producers. There is a dark, empty skyscraper in the heart of downtown looking down on a giant hole in the ground. Is there really time to study whether a street should be named for a convicted criminal?
One of the arguments made by Jennings is that Giles should be honored for his contributions to the city. An argument could be made that former governor John Rowland should be honored for his contributions to Hartford. The Connecticut Science Center, in fact all of Adriaen’s Landing, Capital Community College, and Hartford 21 became reality because of his leadership. I don’t see anyone in the city proposing naming something for a man whose mark on Hartford will be felt for generations.
Jennings also cited the need for “role models” as one of the reasons she supports a street named for Giles. There are several upstanding citizens who could serve as role models in the north end. The late businessman and community leader Richard Weaver-Bey was suggested. What about a street named after Carrie Saxon Perry, the first black woman elected mayor of a major city? The man she replaced (Thirman Milner) has a school named after him. State Representative Marie Kirkley-Bey is retiring after 20 years at the state capitol. Surely, she is a role model.
Naming buildings and streets after politicians is a complicated thing, a process that often becomes partisan. Former Mayor Ann Uccello was the first woman to be elected mayor of a major American City, serving from 1967 to 1971. When I met her about ten years ago, I was surprised nothing was named in her honor, considering the national attention Uccello’s election received. Uccello was the last Republican mayor of the capital city. None of the Democratic administrations that followed sought to honor this trailblazer, but did find time to name a school after one her successors, Democrat Milner.
Just a few years ago, after some urging from then constitutional officers Denise Nappier, Nancy Wyman, and Susan Bysiewicz, along with then Governor Jodi Rell, the city renamed Ann Street after Mayor Ann Uccello.
What about former congresswoman Nancy Johnson, who once told me she was inspired by Uccello to get into politics? Nothing is named after this woman who served 20 years in Washington, even though her former colleague Barbara Kennelly, who served less time in Congress, has the main post office in Hartford named in her honor. Robert Giaimo, Rosa DeLauro’s predecessor in the 2nd district, lived to see a federal building in New Haven named after him.
Senator Thomas Dodd, who was censured by his colleagues for the misuse of campaign funds, had a stadium and a UConn research center named after him. Prescott Bush, who also served two terms in the U.S. Senate, has a dinner that bears his name but not nearly the honor bestowed upon Dodd, whom he beat in 1956. Lowell Weicker, one of the few people in Connecticut history to be elected to congress, the senate and governor, seems worthy of having his name on some real estate, as does former Senator Chris Dodd, the longest serving senator in Connecticut history. Ditto for Senator Joe Lieberman, the only person from Connecticut to ever be on a presidential ticket for a major party. Former Senator and Governor Abe Ribicoff lived to see his name put on a federal building.
A decision on Abraham Giles Way could come within a month. You can make your opinions known by contacting city hall.