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Two-way street: Council OKs controversial co-namings for fallen Levin aide, black businessman

Hope Reichbach

Council approved two controversial Downtown-area street co-namings on July 14, paving over a rift that formed when the local community board okayed one but not the other last year.

Council members unanimously endorsed renaming both a block for white former council staffer Hope Reichbach, who died at age 22 — which Community Board 2 approved — and for Cecil Collymore, a prominent black businessman who died in his 70s — which the board didn’t. The disparity incited outcry from his family and local pols, but Collymore’s daughter says she’s pleased everyone is now getting their dues.

“I’m happy that this was done and I’m happy for any one else who received a street name too,” said Renee Collymore, a former Fort Greene Democratic District Leader, who plans to run for the low-ranking position again this year.

In October, the majority of the board’s members abstained from voting on naming a block of Putnam Avenue in Clinton Hill for Cecil Collymore — effectively rejecting it — claiming they didn’t have enough information on his accomplishments. Some also argued Renee Collymore was just pushing the co-naming as part of her re-election campaign.

But those arguments came under fire in December, when members voted 21-3 with 15 abstentions to approve naming a block of Bond Street in Boerum Hill for Reichbach — a rising political star, aide to Councilman Steve Levin (D–Boerum Hill), and the daughter of a judge, whose death due to a drug overdose in 2011 made city-wide headlines.

Renee Collymore demanded her dad get equal treatment, arguing that he was an important community leader who invested in the area in 1970s and ’80s when few others would, fought to save a local high school, and helped crack down on drugs and crime in the area by organizing patrols and street lights.

Borough President Adams — who was a police officer in the neighborhood during the same period — joined the chorus, as did Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D–Clinton Hill), who ultimately brought it before Council despite the community board’s aversion.

Some at the time argued neither candidate had done enough to match Community Board 2’s particularly strict co-naming rules, which say that the person must be historically or culturally significant in the area — though the board’s district leader says that exceptions are made.

“Historically the sentiment has been that this is something that should be reserved for people who are truly outstanding,” said Rob Perris. “There are kind of no-brainers, and then you get into good people who did good things. Is that enough? We’ve often voted not to support these types of applications, but we haven’t been consistent with that.”

But Levin feels Reichbach made a very significant impact on the community in her short life.

“To this day, constituents come up to me to tell me how Hope helped them in their time of need,” he said, citing in particular her advocacy for public housing residents and day care centers. “Her legacy of community empowerment will continue to be felt for many years to come.

And Renee Collymore also thinks her father’s work speaks for itself — and is completely separate from her political ambitions.

“The records show that my father did the work long before I was in politics,” she said. “They tried to make that connection but my father’s work stands alone, it had nothing to do with me.”

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill

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