The resignation in disgrace of Andrew Cuomo has led to renewed calls that his father’s name be removed from what used to be named the Tappan Zee Bridge. This bridge, built in the early 1950s, spans the Hudson River north of Midtown Manhattan.
“Tappan Zee” had to be one of the coolest names for a structure anywhere in America. “Tappan” comes from an American Indian tribe that once inhabited the area. “Zee” is Dutch for “sea.”
One might have thought that identity politics would enable the name, or at least the first part of it, to stick. However, in 2017, then-governor Andrew Cuomo caused the bridge, which was being decommissioned and replaced by a modern structure, to be renamed for his father. This was accomplished through omnibus legislation, known as the Big Ugly, that was passed in the dying embers of the 2017 legislative session.
The move didn’t sit well, especially with residents of the area. Why would it? The original name is great, and the way it was changed reeked.
Cynthia Nixon, the actress who challenged Andrew Cuomo for governor from the left in 2018, argued that the name change was at least in part a way for the governor to promote his brand. This seems like a fair conclusion.
Now, with Andrew Cuomo’s brand under water, I guess it’s natural to hear calls for changing the name back to “Tappan Zee.” It does seem unfair to punish Mario Cuomo, a formidable New York governor, for the sins of his son. On the other hand, arguably it was only through the son’s effort at self-promotion that the bridge came to be named for the father, in the first place.
It’s worth noting that the 2017 name change hasn’t caught on. According to reports I’ve read, just about everyone still calls the bridge “Tappan Zee.”
That’s not surprising. In the 1990s, the name of a former governor, Malcolm Wilson, was added to the bridge. But hardly anyone used Wilson’s name — not at the time and not decades later.
Maybe Andrew Cuomo should hope that, even without action by the legislature, the Cuomo name isn’t popularly associated with the bridge. Otherwise, parents who cross it may use the occasion to tell their children about Andrew’s disgrace and about how, in the end, the son failed to measure up to the father.