2009-04-29 / Features

Stretch Of Queens Boulevard Renamed For Manton

BY THOMAS COGAN

Members of the Manton family, Assemblymember Michael Den Dekker (l.) and City Councilmember Eric Gioia (r.) prepare to rename a 20-block stretch of Queens Boulevard in memory of the late Congressmember Thomas Manton on April 25. Members of the Manton family, Assemblymember Michael Den Dekker (l.) and City Councilmember Eric Gioia (r.) prepare to rename a 20-block stretch of Queens Boulevard in memory of the late Congressmember Thomas Manton on April 25. On Saturday, April 25, the first hot day of the year, a ceremony dedicating a 20-block stretch of Queens Boulevard as Congressman Thomas J. Manton Boulevard brought political luminaries past and present, the Sunnyside Drum & Bugle Corps, several Manton relatives and interested spectators to the southeast corner of the boulevard and 46th Street, near Manton's old law office and next to the Sunnyside Arch. The segment of the boulevard that now bears Manton's name, noted on double signs under the standard ones, runs from 38th to 58th Streets. Manton, who died in July 2006, was a city councilmember from 1970 to 1985 and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1985 to 1999. For the last 20 years of his life he was chairman of the Queens Democratic Party.

"You know it's an important day when the Sunnyside Drum and Bugle Corps is present," Eric Gioia, 26th district city councilmember and candidate for public advocate said. (The corps played at his wedding, too.) Shedding his suit jacket to appear in shirtsleeves, Gioia led the ceremony. His connection to Manton, he said, began when he became an intern in the congressmember's office. He said that he and many other political figures in city, state and national life are better public servants as a result of Manton's influence.

He related an anecdote about assisting a house painter who came to the congressmember's office seeking legal enlightenment. Gioia said that when the painter left, Manton, who had noticed the assistance his intern had offered, told Gioia that what he had done "was what public service is all about".

For further testimony to Manton's character, Gioia called on U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. Schumer, who served in the House of Representatives from 1981 to 1999, said that any order or request made by Manton, his fellow representative, was carried out because it was always worthwhile. Speaking after Schumer, Congressmember Anthony Weiner called Manton a "textbook example" of political wisdom and a model for all to follow.

Jerry Sweeney, Manton's law partner, pointed to a photograph, or rather The Photograph, of Manton mounted on a light pole during the ceremony. It was taken when he was running for Congress in 1984 and was used for all subsequent campaigns. Sweeney reminisced how he and Manton would go out for lunch at one of the restaurants in Sunnyside and take what was for Sweeney an exasperatingly long time to get there because Manton had to stop to talk to one, then another, of his constituents. (It is said that Manton retired from Congress because he loved representing his Queens district but disliked being away from it in Washington for long periods of time.)

The Manton family gathered around the light pole as a paper cover was pulled from the double street sign that reads "Congressman Thomas J. Manton Boulevard". The official tugged at the paper, and less than half the cover came off; the rest had to be swatted down by Manton's son, John, using a borrowed crutch. Speculation that in the heavenly Democratic clubhouse, Tom Manton might have been amused ran through the crowd.

Among the political figures at the ceremony, in addition to Schumer, Weiner and Gioia, were Borough President Helen Marshall and her predecessor, Claire Shulman; Deputy Borough President Karen Koslowitz; Assemblymembers Michael Den Dekker and Cathy Nolan, and former Councilmembers Walter McCaffrey and Archie Spigner.

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