Share this article

print logo

Courthouse name game gains intensity Proponents promote array of candidates

An expected price tag of $137 million makes the new federal courthouse in Downtown Buffalo the most expensive public building ever constructed in Western New York.

It feature an innovative design, the work of a world-renowned architect.

But so far, the structure lacks one thing: a name.

The courthouse isn't expected to open until the latter part of 2010, but the debate over its name has been simmering for more than a year. People who want it named after war heroes have launched at least two online petition drives.

So far, advocates have put forth the names of three men with Western New York connections and national reputations:

*Maj. Gen. William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan, a World War I and World War II hero. During the Second World War, he founded the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency. He died in 1959.

*Robert H. Jackson, a former U.S. Supreme Court judge who grew up in Chautauqua County. He also served as the U.S. solicitor general and chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. He died in 1954, but legal experts continue to quote his decisions.

*Lt. Col. Matt L. Urban, a Buffalo native whom supporters call the most decorated military hero of World War II. Urban, who was shot seven times, received 29 combat medals, including the Medal of Honor. The Army veteran died in 1995.

A war veteran who contends the courthouse should be named after someone dedicated to pursuing peace and justice has proposed three other people.

*The Rev. Joseph A. Bissonette, a priest who spent many years helping inner-city youth in Buffalo before his murder in 1987.

*John M. Granville, a diplomat and former Peace Corps volunteer from Buffalo who was slain last year by terrorists in Sudan.

*Sister Karen Klimczak, a peace-promoting nun who ran a halfway house for convicts in Buffalo and was murdered in 2006. Thousands of "Peaceprint" signs still are displayed in her honor.

Members of the Buffalo legal community recently floated three other names to The Buffalo News:

*Senior District Judge John T. Curtin, whose rulings on discrimination have had a major impact on Buffalo since the 1970s.

*Senior District Judge John T. Elfvin, who died last month after more than 30 years on the bench.

*U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara, the current chief federal judge in Western New York.

Other names are likely to surface because federal officials say they are nowhere near a decision.

"It could be a long way off," District Judge William M. Skretny said. "Ultimately, it takes an act of Congress to determine the name of a federal courthouse, and as I understand it, some of the courthouses are not named until long after they are opened."

Buffalo's current federal court building at Franklin and Court streets, which opened in 1936, was only known as the "U.S. Courthouse" until 1987, when it was named in honor of Michael J. Dillon, an Internal Revenue Service officer who was killed by a Cheektowaga tax protester.

Rochester's federal court is located in a federal building named after Kenneth B. Keating, a U.S. senator, judge and ambassador who died in 1975.

Ten buildings in the state are designated as federal courthouses, "and they are all named after somebody," said Rene Miscione, spokeswoman for the General Services Administration, which maintains the buildings. "But we don't get involved in the legislative process."

Aggressive supporters of two war heroes -- Donovan and Urban -- have started Internet petition drives on their candidates' behalf.

Last year, Buffalo's Common Council urged that the building be named after Urban.

"Matt Urban was a man who put his life on the line repeatedly, leading his men to keep the world safe and free," said Norman Skulski of Buffalo, an unabashed Urban supporter. "No one deserves this honor more than Matt Urban."

Members of the OSS Society, who recently began their online petition drive, argue just as strongly for Donovan. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, they note, had called Donovan, who won high honors for his service in both world wars, "the last hero."

But one prominent local war veteran questions whether the building should be dedicated to any war hero.

"This building is going to be a center of justice, a place where people are going to go to find justice. How do we link that up with combat heroes?" said Stephen T. Banko III, 62, a decorated Vietnam War veteran.

"I am not saying we shouldn't honor war heroes. We should, and we do. But are there any buildings in Western New York named after people who died in the pursuit of peace? If there are, I don't know of them."

Banko, therefore, has asked the government to consider Bissonette, Granville and Klimczak.

Banko is director of the Buffalo field office for the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, but he emphasized that he is speaking as a war veteran and private citizen, not for HUD. He said HUD is not involved with the courthouse project.

Banko also emphasized that he is not trying to denigrate the contributions of Urban, Donovan or any other war veteran.

"I understand the courage and heroism of war veterans," Banko said. "I just think that, philosophically, we should begin honoring people of peace, too. The pursuit of peace is patriotic, too."

Charles T. Pinck, president of the OSS Society, said he agrees with Banko that the courthouse should not be viewed as a "war memorial." But Pinck said Donovan deserves the honors for other reasons.

"[Donovan] was a great war hero, but he was also the U.S. attorney for Western New York, and he served as a special assistant [prosecutor] at the Nuremberg war crimes trials," Pinck noted.

Buffalo's main state office building at 125 Main St. is named for Donovan. But plans now call for it to be transformed for other uses as part of the Canal Side redevelopment project.

"This man was one of the most important figures of the 20th century, and now, you have no building named after him in his own hometown," Pinck said. "That isn't right."

Who will decide on a name for the courthouse?

Court officials and the GSA said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who led the fight for funding for the project, probably will be heavily involved in the selection.

Officials in Schumer's office said they were reviewing suggestions. They noted that the House and the Senate must approve any proposed name.

Anyone with suggestions can send them by mail to Schumer's area office at 130 South Elmwood Ave., Room 660, Buffalo, NY 14202, or by e-mail to



Whose name should go on courthouse?

Some of those suggested for the honor

Maj. Gen. William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan, founder of OSS, forerunner of CIA

Robert H.Jackson, U.S. Supreme Court judge and chief prosecutor at Nuremberg trials

Lt. Col. Matt L. Urban, the most decorated military hero of World War II

The Rev. Joseph A. Bissonette, a priest who helped inner-city youth before his murder

John M. Granville, diplomat and former Peace Corps volunteer slain by terrorists

Sister Karen Klimczak, peace-promoting nun who ran halfway house for convicts

There are no comments - be the first to comment