Councilman Alan Gerson of Lower Manhattan was among a handful of lawmakers absent when the City Council voted on whether to co-name four blocks of Gates Avenue after the black nationalist activist Sonny Carson.
I called Gerson’s office to ask how he would have voted.
No, according to an aide. And to explain why, they sent over a lengthy statement from Gerson, in which he says, “I could not explain to the Asian-American community I represent how we could co-name a street for an individual who personally led the campaign of boycott against Korean-owned delis with signs that read, ‘Don’t Shop With People Who Don’t Look Like Us.’ ”
The full statement is after the jump.
GERSON STATEMENT ON SONNY CARSON STREET CO-NAMING PROPOSAL
Without question, Sonny Carson did a lot of good in his life, probably much more than most individuals. He certainly deserves to be remembered and appropriately celebrated for his accomplishments. As none of us are perfect and as I dislike speaking critically of the still fairly recently departed, allow me to say that I hope and pray that the soul of Sonny Carson is bound up with our merciful God in the realm of blissful eternal life. But we in this earthly realm have to apply a very human and a citywide standard for co-naming our streets. I believe that fundamentally we are one city, all streets belong to all New Yorkers, and that the streets in my community belong as much to each of you from Brooklyn or elsewhere in our city as to my constituents. And so I would oppose any effort by any community board or any group to co-name any street after Don Imus or any figure whom any community in our diverse city reasonably found objectionable. The standard for which we select individuals for street co-naming must involve an assessment of the totality of the public lives of the people we so honor. While we as a council of mortals lack the ability to adequately inquire into and assess the personal lives and sentiments of individuals, when we choose to provide what is probably the ultimate honor to an individual, we must ask whether the totality of his or her public life, taking into account his or her public actions and public statements, adds up to an example of public conduct which we want to pass on to our children to emulate for generations to come. I have no doubt that we have made mistakes in the past by co-naming streets for individuals who do not meet this standard, and that some names should be repealed, but past mistakes provide no excuse for conscious repetition.
And so, based on the aforesaid standard of the totality of public life, and based on the information developed and provided, I cannot support the co-naming of a street for Mr. Sonny Carson. I could not explain to the Asian-American community I represent how we could co-name a street for an individual who personally led the campaign of boycott against Korean-owned delis with signs that read, “Don’t Shop With People Who Don’t Look Like Us.” I could not explain to the Caucasian community I represent how we could co-name a street for an individual who, when asked whether he was anti-Semitic, responded as follows: “I’m not anti-Semitic. Don’t just limit me to a little group of people; I’m anti-white.” I could not explain to the African-American community I represent how, with all the many outstanding, brilliant, unifying African-American leaders for whom streets have not been co-named, we could first co-name a street after Sonny Carson. Most of all, I could not explain to the overall community I represent, people of all races and backgrounds who are trying so desperately to overcome past divisions and to forge a community of neighborly love and mutual support across all lines—how we could select such an apparently divisive individual for co-naming.
As everyone knows, I have profound respect and esteem for my colleagues Al Vann, Charles Baron and Helen Foster. I agree that the process followed to date has not allowed sufficient discussion and dialogue on this issue—maybe two hearings should be held before voting on co-namings, as we do before voting on all other legislations. So, I make this motion without legal prejudice to an opportunity for the proponents to resubmit the Sonny Carson co-naming. As Chair Foster knows, I actually would have preferred to move to postpone consideration of the Sonny Carson co-naming. But I am told that procedure is not available under Council rules. But by one procedure or another, unless and until the very legitimate questions and concerns about Sonny Carson’s public record are satisfactorily resolved, it would be irresponsible for the City Council to proceed with this co-naming.