Both spans are now open on the Mario Cuomo Bridge that connects Rockland and Westchester Counties. As road signs are being switched to reflect the new name, debate continues over discarding the old one. State lawmakers near the bridge say their constituents want to integrate the old name with the new, despite New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s apparent final word on the topic.
Some lawmakers who attended the grand opening of the eastbound span September 7 were there in celebration of the nation’s largest infrastructure project, but say they will not give up on convincing the governor that it is important to retain history and incorporate Tappan Zee into the bridge named for his late father. Here’s Governor Andrew Cuomo during his speech that day hailing the 3.1 mile bridge.
“This bridge is named for my father,” Cuomo said. “He would love the bridge, but he would reject the vanity of the name.”
Even the governor’s brother — CNN anchor Chris Cuomo — chimed in on Instagram that day, saying his father would’ve loved the new bridge but not having it named for him. Democratic state Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee’s district includes the Rockland side of the bridge.
“I’ve spoken to the governor on several occasions regarding requests from our community, from our constituents. I’ve spoken to him personally as well as I wrote letters explaining the history of the Tappan Zee Bridge and how that would actually expand the recognition of our former Governor Mario Cuomo and the work that he did as well. And everybody would recognize that,” Jaffee says. “And it’s just not something he’s responded to in a positive way. But it’s not over.”
Jaffee says her push for the hybrid name will continue.
“I just recently wrote a letter reiterating the history and how important that would be in terms of recognizing his father and our former governor, who did wonderful work,” says Jaffee. “So I’m hopeful. I’m still hopeful.”
Jaffee says she sent the letter a few weeks before the bridge opened. Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer says it’s time to move forward from the issue.
“We have a new bridge. I’m not worried a lot about the name. I’m worried that we have the bridge. I think that’s best way to look at it,” says Latimer. “I know there’s always debate, but there’s nothing you can do in this society that doesn’t have somebody that thinks you’re wrong, and you just have to smile and work through it.”
Democratic state Senator David Carlucci, whose district also includes the Rockland side of the nearly $4 billion bridge, points out the Tappan Zee Bridge being disassembled alongside was actually the Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge.
“That’s part of our heritage. It’s our culture. It’s our history. This goes back to the Dutch and the Native Americans that lived here. So we’ve got a combination, the Dutch and the Native Americans right there. We can’t lose our history,” Carlucci says. “And the Tappan Zee Bridge, as someone that spent their whole life here, it means a lot to me personally and I know the people that I serve. And I’m going to continue to work to get it to be the Tappan Zee Mario Cuomo Bridge, but we’ve got to have the Tappan Zee name included.”
Democratic Middletown Mayor Joe DeStefano says the governor made the right move.
“When you build a new bridge, you give it a new name. And when you built the, we’re not renaming the Triborough or renaming the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge in honor of somebody,” says DeStefano. “This is a brand new bridge. It deserves a brand new name. A man that spent his life serving New York state, New York City, New York state. And just, as I said, as an Italian-American, it has a special meaning for me that this bridge, and it symbolizes so much of what Mario Cuomo was, a bridge builder, so I would hope that it stays the Mario Cuomo Bridge. And it should stay that way, and I’m sure it will stay that way.”
There was a lot of pushback during the legislative session that ended in June over discarding Tappan Zee from the name. And before this, a Westchester lawyer started a change.org petition that has garnered nearly 112,000 signatures to, at first, omit Cuomo’s late father’s name from the bridge, and then, allow for a compromise to call the new bridge the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Tappan Zee Bridge. The lawyer behind the petition also created a nonpartisan, nonprofit group called Save Our Tappan Zee.