What’s in a name? Legislature proposes three separate options for re-naming the Tappan Zee Bridge

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

A movement to re-name the new Tappan Zee Bridge to honor Purple Heart recipients is underway in the Lower Hudson Valley, gathering both debate and support as veterans and their advocates petition Albany to dedicate the bridge to those wounded in America’s armed conflicts.

Now, that campaign has spread to Rockland. County Legislators Christopher Carey and John Murphy have taken up the matter and pushed for the body to request Governor Andrew Cuomo change the name of the new bridge.

However, the legislature did see some debate on the matter when the semantics of the name change came into play, an unusual argument on what was expected to be a relatively straightforward memorializing resolution. Even more unusual was the legislature’s eventual decision to submit not one but three separate options in an effort to alleviate concerns of every side of a sensitive issue.

Prior to the meeting, Murphy, a Marine Corps veteran, explained in a press release the name has a basis in Hudson Valley history. The award was commissioned by George Washington while stationed at Newburgh during the Revolutionary War, affirming its connection to the heritage of the Hudson Valley.

“The bridge spans a river that played a strategic part in our legacy of freedom and it should be named in honor of those who fought and sacrificed to defend that legacy,” Murphy stated.

While the effort has received significant support, some veterans favor a broader memorial for all service members. New City resident and Korea Veteran Bob Terry intends to submit a petition to the New York State Thruway Authority for the re-naming of the bridge the Tappan Zee Veterans’ Memorial Bridge.

According to Terry, the move is not meant to steal the title away from Purple Heart recipients, but to include and honor all veterans.

“It’s not to take away from the guys who got the purple heart,” Terry said. “God knows they deserve them, but by the same token when you name it the Purple Heart Veterans Memorial Bridge, you’re eliminating all the other veterans that served in this country to protect the country.”

Terry added the petition has seen broad support from almost everybody to whom it was presented, including many purple heart recipients. He submitted a total of 644 petitions to the County Legislature at their Tuesday meeting asking for similar consideration.

Murphy responded to Terry, stating that he pursued the matter as an honor specifically dedicated to those wounded in combat and meant no insult to those who had not been wounded. “At that time, there was no other expression of a choice of names, so I promised the Purple Heart Veterans my support,” Murphy said. “I did negotiate in good faith with the purple heart veterans to introduce this.”

When the name was put to further discussion, the issue grew even more complicated. Some legislators, including Harriet Cornell, Joe Meyers and Nancy Low-Hogan, favored a name which included “Tappan Zee,” a Dutch geographic designation they argued had historic value. The request as the legislature intended to present it to the state read merely “Purple Heart Veterans Memorial Bridge.”

“I just feel very strongly that Tappan Zee has an important [historic] aspect to it,” Cornell said.

Legislator Frank Sparaco, a Navy veteran, countered that the debate over the name was largely one of semantics, which should not be the subject of a divisive debate, but supported singling out Purple Heart veterans for their unique sacrifice.

“There are a lot of bridges out there memorializing veterans,” Sparaco said. “Why not single out the purple heart guys? They gave a little bit more.”

To relieve concerns about veterans and historic significance, the legislature voted to amend the proposal to include three separate name options: The Tappan Zee Veterans Memorial Bridge, the Purple Heart Veterans Memorial bridge and the Tappan Zee Purple Heart Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Murphy, who along with other legislators expressed frustrated the matter of honoring veterans had been inflated into a debate, assured the body he was “at peace” with whichever name was recommended as long as it honored the service of veterans. Ultimately, he came to support any proposed name change, allowing amendments to his resolution which fell in line with that principle.

With all bases covered, the legislature voted almost unanimously for the resolution. Low-Hogan voted against the resolution for including three separate names while Legislators Ilan Schoenberger and the bill’s co-sponsor Christopher Carey were absent.

The matter seems relatively uncontroversial outside Rockland. Together with New York’s Military Order of the Purple Heart, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell launched a regional campaign to re-name the bridge in honor of Purple Heart recipients.

Odell has been instrumental in enhancing the visibility of Purple Heart recipients as well. Before being joined by Rockland, Orange and Westchester Counties in the Hudson Valley and Oneida and Herkimer Counties upstate, Putnam was the first county to be designated a Purple Heart County by the Order.

State Senator Greg Ball, who chairs the Senate Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee, has taken the matter a step further and vowed to bring the proposed name change to the State Senate. Ball promised to introduce the bill in January, but no update has been given on the status of the proposal.\