By Steve Dunlop
Niagara Falls is gone. The New Eighth Wonder of the World will henceforth be known as the “Mario M. Cuomo Falls.”
Ponder that fake news scenario, and you’ll understand how deeply New Yorkers at the other end of the Thruway feel about the clandestine naming of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, spanning Rockland and Westchester counties, to “honor” the former governor.
In just a month, a petition against “The Mario M. Cuomo Bridge” gained more than 100,000 signatures on change.org.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo claims the petition was organized by “rabid conservatives” who hate his father. I knew and liked Mario Cuomo when I was a TV reporter. The petition’s author, Monroe Mann Jr., is a 40-year-old attorney and actor. (His resume is eclectic but apolitical.)
Native history has resonated with me since I was a pre-schooler in Batavia. Niagara, Erie and Genesee felt like family names.
I first learned about the petition at a historical society filled with conservatives, liberals, Democrats, Republicans, and registered independents like me.
We agree on little. Except this: renaming the Tappan Zee Bridge is like renaming Mt. Rushmore.
History, hijacked for the Cuomo brand. To honor a man who once said that maybe a “stickball court in Queens” should be named in his memory.
How did it come to this?
As with so much that emanates from Albany, nobody pays attention. In a 1 a.m. late June rush to adjournment, legislators passed a 72-page omnibus bill, tediously tying up loose ends. An ideal smokescreen for Gov. Cuomo to insert a name for the Tappan Zee’s replacement.
Just as “ Niagara” derives from an Iroquois word meaning “the strait,” “Tappan Zee” means “Tappan Sea” in Dutch; it’s where the Hudson River is wide and sea-like. “Tappan” is a Dutch construct of the Algonquin term “Tappaen,” or “cold water stream,” after the natives who inhabited a long swath of the riverbank.
The Tappaen probably welcomed the first Europeans – the Dutch – to the Hudson Valley. Three and a half centuries before E-Z Pass, they also ran primitive ferries, carved from tree trunks, across the Hudson.
Put aside, temporarily, the surreptitious name change. (If you have noble motives, anyway, why so sneaky?) A bigger question is why a potential 2020 presidential contender would willfully ignore the cries in his home state.
Perhaps Andrew Cuomo understands Albany’s dysfunction better than anyone. No matter the opposition to the “Cuomo Bridge” downstate, he can count on lawmakers upstate, with an equal vote, acquiescing to the renaming without understanding the slap to history.
“Outside of our region, it’s not something people even give a second thought to,” Sen. David Carlucci (D-Rockland) is quoted as saying. “They really don’t understand.”
The Niagara Frontier and the Hudson Valley share histories enriched measurelessly by native peoples. But Andrew Cuomo hit “delete” on the Tappan Zee, in the dead of night, betting that legislators would not read what they were voting on.
Maybe he’s betting you won’t read this, either.
Steve Dunlop, who spent his early childhood in Batavia, is a Lower Hudson Valley resident and former New York City TV reporter.