A man whose father was killed at a New York City restaurant bombing for which the militant Puerto Rican nationalist group FALN claimed responsibility lashed out at Chicago aldermen Thursday for approving an honorary street designation for FALN leader Oscar Lopez Rivera.
At the behest of local Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), the City Council’s Transportation Committee voted without a word of debate to designate a three-block stretch of North Luis Munoz Marin Drive as Oscar Lopez Rivera Way.
Maldonado did not attend the meeting and could not be reached for comment. Last month, he participated in what turned out to be a successful demonstration outside the White House to plead for now-former President Barack Obama to commute Lopez Rivera’s 70-year sentence.
The presidential commutation paved the way for Lopez Rivera to be released from a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, and return to his native Puerto Rico to serve out the remainder of his commuted sentence, presumably under home confinement.
Joseph Connor was just 9 years old when his 33-year-old banker father Frank was killed in the 1975 explosion at Fraunces Tavern in the Wall Street area of Manhattan. The FALN claimed responsibility.
Lopez Rivera was not convicted in connection with the bombing. But he spent 35 years of his life in federal prisons for his role as a leader of the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for dozens of bombings across the U.S during the 1970s, including here in Chicago.
“His group murdered my father. . . . He is a sworn terrorist. . . . He was convicted of bombings in Chicago that did injure people. He tried to escape from prison with machine guns and plastic explosives where he was gonna kill the guards. . . . And Chicago is gonna put up a sign in his honor?” Connor said Thursday.
“This is worse than a disgrace. It is sinister. It’s a direct insult to my father’s life. The commutation was politically driven. But to honor in the second-largest city in the United States the leader of the terrorist group that murdered my father? It is so over the top, shameful and disgusting and vile, reprehensible.”
Connor said the designation is particularly galling during a week when three innocent children were gunned down in Chicago.
“The idea that people will walk by and see this street sign and think that Oscar Lopez was some sort of great person — it’s diabolical. The world is upside down here. What’s next for Chicago, bin Laden Boulevard? Charles Manson Court?” he said.
In 2006, then-Ald. Madeline Haithcock (2nd) touched a raw nerve with her proposal to rename a West Side street in honor of slain Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton.
Haithcock subsequently withdrew the proposal, unwilling to divide the City Council along racial lines on a vote she was destined to lose.
To Connor, the controversy that erupted Thursday was infinitely worse.
He was already livid about the Obama commutation. The fact that the City Council would choose to honor a leader of the group that forced him to grow up without his father made his skin crawl.
“Look at the transcripts at the Chicago trial. Look what the judge said that he would have put these guys to death if he could. Lopez turned down clemency in ’99 because he was so dedicated to his cause and other FALN members that he wouldn’t leave prison. That’s not a member. That’s the leader,” Connor said.
“In New York, they named a community center at City College for Guillermo Morales, who was one of the FALN members now in Cuba, and Joanne Chesimard, who murdered a New Jersey state trooper. It was appalling. I got it shut down. That was a room. This is the city of Chicago putting up a sign for a terrorist.”
The Lopez Rivera sign was one of seven honorary street designations approved by the Transportation Committee.
The committee also voted to put aldermen on an honorary street designation diet. The ordinance championed by Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) would limit the number of annual honorary street designations to two per aldermen and require aldermen to bankroll those signs at a cost of between $600 and $1,200 from their expense accounts or from the $1.32 million in annual aldermanic “menu money.”
The signs would sunset after five years and be removed unless the designation is renewed. No living individual could be so honored. They would have to be deceased to qualify for an honorary street sign.