The Board of Public Works decided not to change State Street’s name to Martin Luther King Jr. Street in a 5-1 vote yesterday at City Hall.
The Circle of Recovery, a group of Ithaca High School students led by Gino Bush, had made a request to rename the street nearly a year ago. The board members were examining four choices: grant the request, give the street both names, deny the request or pass the decision to Common Council.
The board voted in favor of the third choice — to deny the request — with the addendum that the Mayor and Common Council establish a committee “to enact a visible, fitting and permanent tribute no later than Jan. 15, 2007 … and that the City set aside $20,000 in the budget.”
“This is the right thing to do,” said Raymond Schlather, a member of the board who moved for a vote on the third choice, stressing the need to give weight to the residents and businesses that would be directly affected by a name change.
“These are issues that are big enough … to pass to Common Council,” said Jennifer Dotson, a member of the board, before the vote.
Before the vote, Schlather asked Mayor Carolyn Peterson if the Council could create the proposed committee. She said that she will be very busy for the next two months and would rely on Alderwoman Maria Coles (D-1st Ward) to lead the project as deputy mayor.
Audience members were of mixed opinion about the board’s vote.
“I am very much opposed to the renaming of State Street,” said Ed Hart, a local Danby resident of 50 years who said that he introduced Martin Luther King Jr. when he came to speak at Cornell many years ago. “Ithaca is not a racist community.”
“I’d be interested in hearing more from the businesses against the name change,” said Kalina Black ’07. “If the businesses want people to support them, they should listen to the people.”
“I’m a little upset personally … I felt like they’re overlooking the benefits that would come from it,” said Dane Sehreiner, a former member of the Circle of Recovery.
The group initially proposed renaming Green Street in the spring of 2004, but changed their request after learning that the street was named after Archer Green, the first county clerk.
The vote was “nothing that wasn’t expected,” Bush said. “We’re not done … we’re going to continue with our struggle.”
According to Ken Glover, Ujamaa Residence Hall director, community members and the group proposing the change looked at renaming Green Street and State Street and were also asked to consider naming a building or a scholarship.
“Black people are being given the run around, and we’re not stupid,” he said. “There have been so many forums held about how other cities have been able to [name a street] … it’s a question of power, of maintaining the status quo.”
Changing the name is important … but the real issue is jobs and access to opportunity, he said. Glover also inquired what Cornell leaders, such as the president and provost would propose to hire more black people to work at the University.