Dover City Council ended nearly a year of the most recent debate on creating a Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in the state capital by voting 7-1 to rename Court Street, Duke of York and William Penn streets after the late civil rights leader Monday night in a packed City Hall.
Council chambers then erupted in cheers and members of the Interdenominational Ministry Alliance of Dover embraced each other and members of council, which took a five-minute break after the historic vote.
The initial plan to rename a street for the late civil rights leader started in the mid-1990s, but fell apart after the death of a core organizer. The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance resurrected the effort to name a capital city street for King in February 2012. Their effort was focused squarely on Division Street from the get go.
In the end, however, City Council went with the compromise put forward by Councilman Adam Perza (Third District) because it had no adverse effect on local merchants. Several local businesses had opposed the first proposal put forth by IMA to rename Division Street after Dr. King. They argued at council's Oct. 8 meeting that the renaming would have had created an economic hardship to businesses along the Del. Route 8 corridor, with the cost associated with changing business cards, Yellowbook addresses and the like.
Perza then researched city maps and demographic data and took comments on both sides of the issue into consideration to come up with the recommendation he made at council's Nov. 13 meeting.
DOVER CITY COUNCIL
Vote On Martin Luther King Boulevard
Council's action Monday night also called for renaming the small Capital Drive as Court Street and the placement of plaques of dedication to the Duke of York and William Penn to honor those me for their respective places in Delaware's history.
Dover Director of Planning & Community Development Ann Marie Townshend said that city staff recommended that the changes take effect Feb. 1, 2013 to give affected agencies time to make the necessary adjustments and notifications of property owners. A total of 24 properties and 69 addresses, given the apartment complex off the Court Street corridor, she said.
After approval, Councilman Sean Lynn, the Legislative, Finance & Administration chair, asked City Manager Scott Koenig if the city could have new street signs created in time for the Jan. 13 MLK Day celebration. Koenig said it would be tough. Anderson then suggested, King's actual birthday on Jan. 21 as the target for the street signs to be dedicated. Koenig said every little bit of time would help meet that goal.
Page 2 of 3 - Councilman William Hare cast the lone no vote because he only favored renaming Court Street as MLK Boulevard and not Duke of York and William Penn streets because of their meaning to the state's history.
During public comment, recent Dover City Council candidate Bernhard Greenfield reiterated his call to rename the Dover Public Library after King as a more suitable honor for the civil rights leader who did much for America. But Greenfield, who lost the special election held for the Fourth District to Wallace Dixon, was alone in his sentiments.
Friends of the Dover Public Library, including President N. C. Vasuki, former President Bob Bresnahan and Secretary Beverly Bresnahan, expressed support for the street name changes. But they urged council to not consider renaming the library after King. Members said the name change would have an adverse effect on their fundraising efforts, Bob and Beverly Bresnahan said.
And it was traditional to name libraries in the state after the cities and towns in which they were located, Friends of Dover Library member Gwen Elliott said.
Bruce Haase, of Dover, was the lone person who spoke against the renaming of Duke of York and William Penn streets during public comment.
"If it weren't for the Duke of York, we'd all be speaking Dutch," Haase said, referring to the state's ties to England. "If it weren't for William Penn, our capital would be in Harrisburg [Pa.]," he added.
However, former Dover City Councilman William Daisy said the odds were that most people would not know who the Duke of York was. However, it was high time that the state capital honor King's legacy, Daisy said. He then endorsed the Perza proposal.
"Dr. King helped us all, folks," he said.
Dover resident Pauline Taylor took the crowd back to the early stages of this debate when she called for a return to the proposal to rename Division Street because of its divisive connotations.
But Calvary Baptist Church Rev. John G. Moore Sr., an MLK impersonator, refocused on the compromise reached after months of discussion. Moore said it was important for the city to approve the renaming of the Court Street corridor in time for the 50th anniversary of King's "I Have A Dream" speech, which was given on Aug. 8, 1963.
Star Hill A.M.E. Church Pastor Rita Mishoe Paige, chairwoman of the IMA's Martin Luther King committee, and Central Baptist Church Pastor Michael Rogers, president of the IMA, said the alliance agreed that the Perza proposal was the best solution.
"We agreed that it would be less costly," Paige said. "What better place than Court Street, Duke of York Street and William Penn Street, which backs right up to where laws are changed? It will be a win-win for all."
Page 3 of 3 - After the room had cleared Monday night, Townshend pointed out that the city's Department of Public Works and the 911 Call Center had recommended that Duke of York be renamed to MLK Boulevard North while William Penn Boulevard be renamed MLK Boulevard South in order to help emergency crews distinguish between both intersections.
Council also approved that amendment by the same, 7-1 vote.
Mayor Carleton Carey Sr. commended all parties involved for working hard to get this historic action done.