PATERSON, NJ – The city will host its annual Dominican Parade on September 9. In the weeks leading up to that event, the City Council may finally resolve a three-year battle on whether to name part of the Park Avenue parade route after the Dominican Republic’s founding father, Juan Pablo Duarte.
The question has been the topic of an ongoing debate among City Council members during the past year, a controversy that at times has become embroiled in the cultural tensions between Paterson’s black and Dominican communities. The issue arose again at the August 7 council meeting.
Councilman Julio Tavarez said that the city’s handling of the Duarte Drive proposal has been unfair.
“It shouldn’t be this difficult,’’ said Tavarez. “It’s as if we’re asking the city for $40 million to build a statue of gold of Juan Pablo Duarte.’’
“I do take offense that we’re not doing anything to support the Dominican community when there’s a park named for Juan Pablo Duarte,’’ said City Council President Anthony Davis.
At issue is whether Duarte meets the new criteria the City Council adopted in May for honorary street-naming. Those criteria were established in a resolution and would become part of the municipal code of laws under an ordinance scheduled for adoption in September. The criteria already have been used in recent months to name almost 10 streets after people, all of them Patersonians who made contributions to the city, such as a baseball coach and the state’s first African-American municipal clerk.
The first criterion is that the person must have been a United States citizen. The second is that the person made some significant contribution to the City of Paterson, State of New Jersey or the United States of America.
Tavarez said the citizenship requirement was “very exclusive. It’s not inclusive.’’ He argued that Paterson often boasts of its diversity and the criteria should reflect that. “What we’re saying is we don’t want to honor anybody who wasn’t born here,’’ said Tavarez.
Councilman Kenneth McDaniel, who this year became the first African-American endorsed by the Dominican Political Representation (DOPOR) group, asked Tavarez whether other cities had streets named after Duarte. Tavarez mentioned a street in Jersey City, a school in Elizabeth, and a street in Manhattan.
Councilman Andre Sayegh supported Tavarez in the debate, asserting that he had driven on the street named after Duarte in Jersey City.
Sayegh also said there were two streets in cities in the Dominican Republic named after Paterson. That was a reference to the third standard in the city’s street-naming requirements. That one says the first two criteria could be waived “only in the instance of an exchange of honors, such as, for example, in the instance of ‘sister cities,’ says the document. Sayegh said he believed the Duarte Drive proposal “clearly” meets the third standard.
The council eventually decided to have its ad-hoc committee on street names hold a special meeting to determine whether Duarte Drive meets the standards. Moreover, the council opted to delay its final vote on the ordinance putting the street-naming into the law until next month.