David Bartley, who was once speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, has one. Former Governor Charles F. Hurley has one. Paul Dever and Maurice Tobin, two other past governors, each have one, too. So do former State Senators P. Eugene Casey of Milford, Anna Buckley of Brockton, and Paul Sheehy of Lowell.
It might surprise you to hear that Tip O'Neill, the longtime Cambridge congressman and speaker of the US House, already has one. One of his predecessors as speaker, John W. McCormack, has at least three that I know of. As for the late Joseph Moakley, another Bay State congressman, not only does he have three, even his wife Evelyn has one.
Yet there are many notable sons and daughters of Massachusetts who have, so far as I am aware, none at all. A few of them:
- Horatio Alger, the author of scores of inspirational novels.
- Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross.
- Leonard Bernstein, the great composer, conductor, and teacher.
- Christa McAuliffe, the first civilian sent into space, who died in the 1986 Challenger disaster.
- Winslow Homer, the renowned painter.
- Eli Whitney, who invented both the cotton gin and the American system of mass-production manufacturing.
At least three government facilities are emblazoned with the name of the late Joe Moakley, a Massachusetts congressman. There is even a bridge named after his wife, Evelyn.
The most obvious difference between the men and women in the first group and those in the second is that the former were all politicians (or members of a politician's family). The latter are celebrated for achievements in fields far removed from politics.
There is another difference. What every person in the first group "has," but apparently no one in the second, is a significant Massachusetts government space — a building, a bridge, a roadway — named after him or her. State office buildings bear the names of Hurley and McCormack, federal buildings memorialize O'Neill and McCormack, bridges are named for Tobin and Evelyn Moakley, and a courthouse is named for Joe Moakley. A state college center also carries Joe Moakley's name, as does a park in Boston, and other college buildings are named for Sheehy, Buckley, Bartley, and (yet again) McCormack. There is a state pool named in honor of Casey, and a facility for the retarded called the Paul A. Dever Developmental Center.
And those are but a few of the many Massachusetts pols (or pols' relatives) for whom some government structure or thoroughfare has been named. The full list is much longer — from Republicans like Senator Edward Brooke (a courthouse) to Democrats like Boston's John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald (the Fitzgerald Expressway), from the unforgettable, such as the legendary Leverett Saltonstall (a state office building), to the nearly forgotten, such as ex-state Senator William MacLean (a university campus center).
All of which brings me to the controversy over what to name the main tunnel of the Big Dig, the new stretch of I-93 that runs under downtown Boston.
As I wrote a few months ago, I like Governor Mitt Romney's plan to call the main roadway the Liberty Tunnel, while naming the new I-90 connector for Tip O'Neill. Massachusetts is America's "Cradle of Liberty," after all, and it is an embarrassment that no important public space anywhere in the Bay State is named for the cause that animated the Founders. As for O'Neill, another huge facility already bears his name — the O'Neill Federal Building on Causeway Street. There is no danger his memory will be short-shrifted.
But I like Romney's proposal for another reason: It nudges the state another step away from the tiresome practice of naming things after politicians.
It was refreshing when two other elements of the Big Dig were named for private citizens who were exemplary in their very different professions: The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge commemorates the civic bridge-builder who for many years was a leader of the Anti-Defamation League, and the Ted Williams Tunnel honors the greatest hitter in baseball history. The new I-93 tunnel is a great engineering accomplishment; why tarnish it with something as banal and boring as the name of a lifelong pol?
Shortly after becoming governor, Mitt Romney ordered an end to the practice of painting the governor's name on "Welcome to Massachusetts" road signs.
Too many state officials have a fetish for slapping their names on anything that doesn't move. One of Romney's unsung virtues is a fine lack of ego for such things. Within days of becoming governor, he ordered state employees not to repaint highway signs to include his name and decreed an end to putting signs with public officials' names — especially the governor's — in front of construction projects. Too bad more politicians don't follow his example.
The Liberty Tunnel would make an elegant name for the new stretch of I-93. But it's not worth fighting over — not when there are so many other splendid names to choose from. We could call it, for instance, the Clara Barton Tunnel — and thereby honor a luminous figure in Bay State history and one of America's greatest humanitarians. Now there's an idea Tip O'Neill would have loved.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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