Rename the Tappan Zee for Mario Cuomo

As work begins in earnest to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge with a new and more-durable span, it’s time to think about what the new bridge will be called.

For now, of course, it’s simply called the new Tappan Zee Bridge, which represents a nice historical continuity even if it suggests a conspicuous lack of imagination. Here’s a better choice, one that the current governor of New York might be a little shy about proposing. The new bridge should be named in honor of former Governor Mario Cuomo.

Now 81 years old, Mr. Cuomo is a reminder of a time when many people believed New York—or more precisely, what Mr. Cuomo often called the New York idea—was finished. He came of age politically in the turbulent 1970s, was part of two of the most-memorable political campaigns of the late 20th century (both against Ed Koch) and during his 12 years as governor articulated a vision of New York that captured the nation’s imagination and helped revive the state’s morale.

Mr. Cuomo gained his greatest fame as a man of words, rhythmic words strung together with precision and spoken with the cadence of a man who understood that even in an age of image, words still mattered. He was the face of New York for a dozen memorable years as he built on Gov. Hugh Carey’s rescue operation of the 1970s and made it possible for his successors, including his son, to speak of the state’s commitment to social justice and economic development. Jobs and justice, he once said. A head and a heart.

He had both as governor and retains both in his low-profile role as a wise elder and statesman. We don’t hear enough of him now, but that may be understandable given that there is another Governor Cuomo in residence on Albany’s Eagle Street these days. But his understandable silence only reminds us of a time when his voice stirred even his critics.

Nelson Rockefeller left behind his monuments. Hugh Carey left behind a stable ledger sheet. Mario Cuomo’s legacy would seem more elusive, less tangible. To be sure, there were no great Rockefeller-like initiatives (the state couldn’t afford them anyway). And there was no existential crisis to manage, as there was during the Carey years. 

But for 12 years, Mario Cuomo gave us a post-fiscal crisis narrative of grit and determination, an epic poem in tribute to the state’s role in creating modern America. 

Mario Cuomo deserves a tribute, just as surely as his friends and rivals have been memorialized with a tunnel and a bridge.

The new Tappan Zee Bridge? Nothing doing. Call it the Mario Cuomo Bridge.