Ed Koch is getting a 1,400 foot-long present for his 86th birthday.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed renaming the Queensboro Bridge after the former mayor at Koch's birthday party Wednesday night at Gracie Mansion.
Koch said that he was delighted, grateful and surprised when he got Mayor Bloomberg's phone call telling him the news late Tuesday afternoon. Moreover, Koch thinks it’s a good fit. “There are other bridges that are much more beautiful, like the George Washington or the Verrazano,” he said, “but this more suits my personality because it's a workhorse bridge. I mean, it's always busy, it ain't beautiful, but it's durable.”
The Manhattan side of the bridge is located in the congressional district Koch represented before he was elected mayor in 1977. The City Council has to approve the change, but Speaker Christine Quinn has said she supports it.
The new name will be the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.
And it’s not the only name change in the works: the New York State Legislature voted Tuesday to rename the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, a renaming effort that Koch was involved in.
“I’ve been trying to get something named for Governor Carey,” he said. “I think he was the best governor of the modern era and saved both the city and the state from default and from bankruptcy.” Carey served as governor from 1975 to 1982.
This isn’t the Queensboro’s first name change. When construction began, city officials intended to call it the Blackwell’s Island Bridge after the piece of land -- now known as Roosevelt Island -- that it traversed. But by the time it opened in 1909 it was the Queensboro. It's also informally known as the 59th Street Bridge, which is how it was memorialized in the iconic Simon & Garfunkel song "59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)."
When asked how quickly he thought New Yorkers would take to the name change, the former mayor wasn’t optimistic. “Probably 50 years,” he said, noting that other name changes haven’t always been adopted quickly. “Maybe I’ll be lucky. If they call it the Ed Koch Bridge, that’d be wonderful.”
At the party Wednesday night, former Koch legislative staffer Martha Holstein said she believes that the renaming will have a track record similar to those of streets that are renamed for individuals, but continue to be called by their original names.
Holstein said with a twinkle in her eye, "You'd maybe say, 'I'm going over the Koch.' And I think we've said that before, too, haven't we? When we wanted to go the President instead of the Mayor."
Koch made the crowd laugh when he referred to the crossing between Manhattan and Queens as "his bridge."
Mayor Bloomberg said the tribute is just one more addition to Koch's legacy and added it won't cost anything.
"We will raise private money to rename the bridge signs so it won't cost the taxpayers a dime. All New Yorkers from now on whenever they cross or pass the bridge will be reminded of Ed's impact on this city."
Koch read a passage from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby to the crowd about approaching Manhattan from the bridge.
"'The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.' Isn't that wonderful?"