New York lawmakers at odds over proposed Billy Joel highway

Saturday, August 1, 2015
Billy Joel and girlfriend expecting baby this summer

HICKSVILLE, N.Y. -- A street through Billy Joel's hometown may someday bear his name but a group of New York lawmakers, for now at least, like the signs for Route 107 just the way they are.

The proposed honor for the Piano Man is being held up over a difference of opinion over a simple question: Should the state name things after people while they are still alive?

"It's more of a philosophical discussion. ... I don't think it has anything to do with Billy Joel," said Sen. Jack Martins, a Long Island Republican who introduced a bill last year to name a stretch of road in Hicksville for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. "This is a man who has sold 150 million albums and still lives in the area."

But lawmakers are clearly not of one New York state of mind.

"It's a posthumous honor," argued Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat. "It's so future generations know about their contributions. Obviously people today are fully aware who Billy Joel is."

Both the state Senate and the Assembly need to approve the bill before the quarter-mile roadway that's home to restaurants, strip malls and a small community park can be renamed "Billy Joel Boulevard."

The fact that the proposal has sparked such a debate at all is somewhat unusual. Typically measures that honor community members or fund local programs pass with little deliberation.

Martins noted that lawmakers didn't seem to have a problem naming the Queensboro Bridge after former New York City Mayor Ed Koch and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel after former New York Gov. Hugh Carey while those men were both still alive.

"I don't see how they can be so self-righteous," he said. "Let's be consistent."

Even Joel's close relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo does not appear to be swaying fellow Democrats. Cuomo officiated the recent wedding when the 66-year-old Joel married 34-year-old Alexis Roderick. Joel and Cuomo have also appeared at a 9/11 memorial and an environmental cleanup together.

Cuomo issued a statement calling Joel "an iconic New Yorker" and stating "it would be fitting for his name to grace a street of Long Island, a place he has dedicated so much to and proudly calls home."

A spokesman for Joel did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Most people interviewed this past week in Hicksville didn't see a problem with honoring the entertainer while he is still alive and performing.

"It's Billy Joel. He's from here and he deserves it," Jennifer Quigley, 42, said as she walked along Route 107.

"That'd be amazing," added 24-year-old Thomas King.

"If they're dead, they won't know the road was named after them," he said. "They should be able to appreciate the honor that comes with it."