Where Have You Gone, Robert Moses?

Having a building or park named in one’s honor is nice, but it is still not as cool as a statue. Let’s face it: A statue requires true greatness that stands the test of time – not just the ability to squeeze some money out of a budget in Albany.

They just don’t make great Americans like they used to.

That’s the only conclusion one can come to when you consider this: When was the last time somebody suggested that a statue be erected in somebody else’s honor? Taking things a step further, when was the last time you heard a suggestion regarding a statue honoring a Long Islander? Have you ever heard of someone suggesting that a statue be built to honor a Long Islander?

Well, there is one: a seven-foot (or so) statue of Robert Moses just west of Babylon Village Hall on Montauk Highway. He looks pretty dapper, for a statue. It’s there because Mr. Moses lived in Babylon Village when he wasn’t traversing the State as the last “Master Builder,” wreaking havoc on politicians and neighborhoods simultaneously, forsaking mass transit for his beloved parkways. The statue was the Village’s way of honoring a famous (at least in New York State circles) local resident, but chances are pretty good it will also serve as the last statue ever erected to honor  a man (or woman) who has walked among us.

In fact, I do not know of any other statues on the Island, and I travel the Island pretty extensively. In New York City, on the other hand, there are approximately 159 statues – give or take a bust – in the five boroughs, according to newyorkcitystatues.com. The city folks might have gotten a little carried away at some point, however. There are four statues of Alexander Hamilton alone, for instance. There’s also one of Chester Arthur, a New York native and the 21st President of the United States, as well as three of his contemporaries in Madison Square Park.

I suppose the modern-day equivalent to bronze immortality is having a building or park named in your honor. There are plenty of instances of that across the region – mostly for politicians. There’s Dean Skelos Park in Rockville Centre, Ken LaValle Stadium at Stony Brook University and my personal favorite, the Al D’Amato Courthouse in Central Islip. And only those truly captivated by trivial information can appreciate the fact that that the Hauppauge Industrial Park is officially known as the John V. Klein Hauppauge Industrial Park.

Both Sens. Skelos and LaValle are still in office, so you have to hope they don’t suffer the same indignity the Town of Islip had to endure when the town leaders were forced to scrape Town Supervisor Pete McGowan’s name from the front wall of MacArthur Airport’s main terminal. Turns out flouting the law is frowned upon when considering one’s bid for immortality.

Having a building or park named in one’s honor is nice, but it is still not as cool as a statue.  Let’s face it: A statue requires true greatness that stands the test of time – not just the ability to squeeze some money out of a budget in Albany. Being statue-worthy means providing bold and innovative leadership through turbulent times; anyone can lead when times are good, and as somebody once pointed out you never see a statue built to honor a conformist.

Washington, Lincoln and, yes, Alexander Hamilton, all earned their statute stripes. So did Moses, for that matter, although an argument can be made that his documented disdain for minorities and mass transit have made it rather difficult for Long Island to change with the times.

But what Long Island leader – past or present – can claim to be statue-worthy? Given the fragmented nature of our region, is it even possible for one individual to provide the leadership required to inspire a statue?  And what does it say about the times we live in that nobody will be worth remembering a 100 years from now?

Like I said, they don’t make great Americans like they used to anymore.

By Michael Watt