As of Wednesday morning, over 97,000 people from all over the country want to rename Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th street after former President Barack Obama. The petition’s original author, Elizabeth Rowin, a Los Angeles resident with no prior connection to New York City, told City & State that the idea originated as a Twitter joke, when she first posted it on Moveon.org in December 2018. That’s fitting, because a tweet on August 10 has given the petition new legs, roughly doubling its number of signatures in a few days. Should the petition be successful, the new address of Trump Tower would become 725 Obama Avenue.
“Obviously, it’s petty,” Rowin said. “to have it be Fifth Avenue where Trump Tower is, but the thought of [Trump] knowing that Trump Tower is on Obama Ave would be beautiful irony and karma.” One might expect New York City’s elected officials, who seem to spend much of their time making symbolic anti-Trump gestures, to agree. But, due to the quirks of New York City’s street renaming policies, it is very unlikely to happen.
The petition makes no mention of Trump Tower, but instead touts two of Obama’s presidential accomplishments of great importance to many in New York City -- bringing the country out of the 2008 recession and killing the architect of the September 11th attacks, Osama Bin Laden. It only implies the action would be a rebuke of Trump by saying that it would commemorate two presidential terms that were scandal-free.
Rowin has previously reached out to the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office asking the city to act on her suggestion, should the petition reach the goal of 75,000 signatures. “I am pushing them to actually do it,” she said. “From what I have heard, it does seem like something a lot of people would want in the city of New York.”
The Saturday tweet by a Scottish man apparently named Donald Mackenzie, who tweets daily derogatory “Trump facts,” that spurred thousands to visit the petition’s MoveOn.org page, has been retweeted over 24,000 times and has over 120,000 likes. Some liked the idea and signed the petition with notes like, “New Yorkers love President Obama and he deserves every honor we can think up!” Some simply appreciated the pettiness. Recent unsuccessful Democratic presidential hopeful Rep. Eric Swalwell retweeted a story about the petition saying simply, “make this happen.” And well-known antagonist to the president, George Conway (husband of Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway) retweeted it with a suggestion that an adjacent side street be named for Sen. John McCain, the recently deceased Arizona Republican who frequently clashed with Trump. (Given that McCain was a conservative who endorsed Trump for president, Conway’s suggestion, while clever, seems a lot less likely to appeal to most New Yorkers.)
Despite the Obama naming petition gaining traction online it may not go anywhere. New York’s City Hall website directs New Yorkers to file co-naming petitions with their local community board. The portion of Fifth Avenue that is outside Trump Tower is under the jurisdiction of Manhattan Community Board 5. Due to an influx of co-naming proposals in the high traffic area (the district includes some of the most well known tourist attractions in the city), the board passed a resolution in 2009 declaring a moratorium on approving new streets in their district. It is still in place today.
Further complicating the endeavor, the City Council told Rowin that they do not name streets after people who are still living and honorees must have been deceased for at least two years. The City Council confirmed to City & State that it is their street co-naming policy. If going through the Council, co-name proposals would need to be sponsored by the councilmember who represents the district. Community boards also have policies requiring honorees to be deceased, as illustrated by Manhattan Community Board 12’s extensive street co-naming guidelines.
Even so, Rowin said she was not deterred. She said that renewed interest over the petition has inspired her to contact the City Council again to make her case. But the City Council still may not be receptive to her arguments, despite the online support.
“As much as I love the idea of celebrating President Obama, I am not positive this is the best way,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said via a spokeswoman. “The Obamas epitomize class, dedication to public service and respect for the Oval Office. I’m pretty confident we can find a better way to honor the greatest president of my lifetime than by trolling the worst president of my lifetime.”
City Councilman Keith Powers, who represents Council District 4, which includes this stretch of Fifth Avenue and Trump Tower, agreed.
“President Obama embodies the best of our political system and leaves a remarkable legacy.” Powers said via a spokeswoman. “The classiest president of our time deserves better than being honored next to the home of Donald Trump. He has and will always deserve more than that."
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