ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y. (AP) - It took less than a day for state workers to scrape Dean Skelos’ name off his office door after the former New York state Senate leader was convicted of federal corruption charges and bounced from the legislature.
Now, an effort is underway to strip his name from a park in his former district on Long Island.
A New York City police detective is organizing a petition drive urging officials to rename the Dean G. Skelos Sports Complex, located in the former lawmaker’s hometown of Rockville Centre.
The detective, James Coll, wants the park renamed to honor Ronald Winchester, a Marine lieutenant from the village who was killed in Iraq in 2004.
The village put Skelos’ name on the park after he helped secure a $1 million state grant that helped build the complex of athletic fields, complete with bleachers, a press box, a scoreboard and lights. He also helped negotiate a land swap between the village and the state for the property in southwestern Nassau County where the park is located.
Coll, who also works as an adjunct professor of American and Constitutional history at Hofstra University, said it is always a bad idea to use taxpayer money to honor living politicians.
“It shouldn’t take a public shaming for us to see this was the wrong gesture right from the start,” he said.
The debate over the Skelos park comes amid a national discussion about whether to rename a variety of things named after historical figures who have fallen out of favor over time, including Confederate generals, slave owners or elected officials from Woodrow Wilson to John C. Calhoun.
There also have been calls in New York to strip Donald Trump’s name from a 440-acre state park following comments the Republican presidential candidate made about temporarily banning Muslim immigrants from entering the U.S.
In 2006, New York City renamed a Manhattan jail that had been named for the former police and corrections commissioner, Bernard Kerik, after he pleaded guilty to abusing his power to get $165,000 worth of home renovations from a contractor and failing to report a $28,000 loan from a real estate developer.
Three colleges in Pennsylvania renamed buildings in 2013 after that state’s former Senate president, Robert Mellow, was sentenced to 16 months in prison on corruption charges.
There were calls to rename the Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in Troy, New York, after the former New York state Senate majority leader was convicted on a fraud charge in 2009 - but that nascent effort died quickly when Bruno’s conviction was overturned on appeal. Bruno was later acquitted during a retrial.
Skelos is appealing his conviction, too.
A federal jury convicted Skelos earlier this month on charges that he used his position to extort payments and no-show jobs for his 33-year-old son, Adam.
The former senator did not immediately respond to an email inquiry for comment sent to his attorney.
Coll says Winchester, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who already has a street named for him in Rockville Centre, is a better person to honor than Skelos.
Winchester, who was a lineman on Navy’s football team, was killed by a roadside bomb in Anbar Province, Iraq, shortly after beginning his second tour of duty.
A village spokeswoman has said officials would have no comment while Skelos was appealing his conviction. The park was dedicated in 2003.
“It shouldn’t have been named for him in the first place,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, whose organization opposes the use of public money to trumpet the names of sitting politicians in any circumstance. “It is nothing more than free advertising for a public official. We don’t care if it’s a park or a concert hall or a garbage basket.”
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