ALBANY - A longtime friend of Mario Cuomo would prod the three-term governor from time to time, trying to get an idea of what the Queens native would one day want to see named in his honor.
"I just want a stickball court in a little alley in Queens," Cuomo would say, according to William O'Shaughnessy, the longtime Westchester County radio executive who shared a nearly four-decade friendship with the late governor.
Now, more than two years after his death, Cuomo's name is destined for something far grander than an outer-borough alley, thanks in large part to some late-night, closed-door deal-making at the state Capitol.
The $4 billion replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River will now be known as The Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge after the state Legislature approved the naming Thursday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mario Cuomo's son and the main driver of the effort, signed the bill Thursday.
Part of larger package
The naming measure was approved as part of a lengthy, wide-ranging bill despite public outcry from Lower Hudson Valley residents -- particularly on social media -- hoping to maintain the Tappan Zee Bridge name that dates to the 1950s.
And the approval comes over objections raised by the daughter of former Gov. Malcolm Wilson, whose name was added to the bridge in 1994 at the urging of the elder Cuomo.
The bridge now will be named after a former governor who was notoriously stubborn about such honors while he was still living, famously refusing to sit for a hand-painted portrait to hang in a Capitol hallway where the state's executives are memorialized.
Andrew Cuomo acknowledged Thursday that his father likely would have said he wouldn't want a bridge named after him.
"However, he did have a deep respect for the institution of government and government service," he said.
"While (Mario Cuomo) was alive, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel was named for Gov. Hugh Carey, and he thought that was very important and proper and that people who make a contribution to public service should be held up as a model."
The new legal name
The Republican-led state Senate gave final approval to the bridge name change Thursday afternoon as part of a 72-page bill meant to resolve a series of issues the Legislature left outstanding last week when it ended its regularly scheduled session.
The Democrat-led Assembly approved the bill around 1 a.m. Thursday.
Legally speaking, the current bridge connecting Rockland and Westchester counties and its replacement will be named after Mario Cuomo, who became a liberal icon during his tenure as governor from 1983 through 1994.
But the current governor's naming push was focused largely on the new, twin-span bridge, which he has spearheaded construction of and is set to partially open this year before its full opening next year. The current bridge will be torn down.
Cuomo said the first new span is likely to open in August -- thus the reason for the bridge naming now.
The measure wipes out the current legal name of the bridge: The Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge, which honored the former Republican governor and assemblyman from Yonkers and the early American Indian and Dutch inhabitants of nearby land.
Katharine Wilson Conroy, daughter of the late Malcolm Wilson, expressed disappointment with the renaming. She was not told of the proposal before Cuomo first proposed it last week, though she ultimately spoke with the governor's counsel earlier this week.
"It makes me very sad," said Conroy. "It raises concerns, which are concerns I have not as my father's daughter but as a taxpayer of the state of New York, which is it seems to suggest every sign that references the Tappan Zee Bridge will be changed."
Conroy said Alphonso David, the governor's counsel, said the governor intends to find another structure or program to name after Wilson, who served about a year as governor from 1973 through 1974.
But she said her preference was to keep her father's name on the bridge, which he treasured for its ability to connect the northern New York City suburbs to upstate.
Republicans in the region were critical of the quick decision to rename the bridge.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino hosted a radio show on WOR-710 AM on Thursday, knocking the renaming and taking calls from angry listeners.
One caller said the bridge should be named for late folk singer Pete Seeger, who advocated for the Hudson River's cleanup.
But while Astorino said he didn't support Seeger's name on the bridge, he said at least Seeger has a connection to the bridge -- unlike the late governor.
"Mario Cuomo has nothing to do with the Tappan Zee Bridge whatsoever – whatsoever with the building of the Tappan Zee Bridge, the original one, the new one; with Westchester or Rockland," Astorino said. "He has nothing do with anything – other than having been a governor."
Astorino, who ran against the younger Cuomo in 2014 and may do so again next year, said the late governor "grew up in Queens; that’s where they should name a statue after him if you want."
O'Shaughnessy recalled his conversations about naming honors with the elder Cuomo in a 2017 book he authored, Mario Cuomo: Remembrances of a Remarkable Man.
But O'Shaughnessy said he would encourage the younger Cuomo to "ignore the haters" and push forward with the naming measure.
"I bow to no one in my admiration for Mario Cuomo, except to his son and heir," O'Shaughnessy, president and editorial director of Whitney Media, which owns WVOX-AM and WVIP-FM in Westchester, said in an interview Wednesday.
"I don't think Andrew deserves all the vitriol that has been stirred up by this. His father was a great man and a beloved man all throughout the country."
Sen. Terrence Murphy, R-Yorktown, criticized the name change, saying the Senate voted last month to name it after Purple Heart recipients. That proposal was never approved by the Assembly.
Murphy voted along with his Senate colleagues for Cuomo's initial proposal last week: A standalone bill that named the bridge after his father, a park after a retiring Senate Democrat and a highway and museum after a longtime Senate Republican.
But Murphy was one of two senators to vote against the more wide-ranging bill Thursday, which also included an extension of mayoral control of the New York City school system, which Murphy opposed.
"With all due respect to the governor and his father, we had veterans who sacrificed their lives for the United States of America, and New York state and the Hudson Valley, and it’s in my district. I believe it should be some sort of a veterans’ bridge," Murphy said Thursday.
He called it a "quid pro quo" that the Senate has been promised $10 million to expand the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in the Hudson Valley as part of the arrangement.
"It’s not right what goes on," Murphy said.
Includes reporting by Albany Bureau Chief Joseph Spector.
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