Who was Moynihan?
February 4th, 2008, 2:07 pm
Those of you who have watched our short video about Moynihan Station know that the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the man who first envisioned a new train station in the Farley building, worked as a shoeshine boy in the original Penn Station. Most citizens are familiar with the legacy of their former senator, but many young New Yorkers and recent arrivals may be asking: “Who was Moynihan and why are we naming a train station after him?” The brief bio is that Moynihan grew up poor in Manhattan, served in the Navy, and went on to earn a Ph. D in Sociology before pursuing a career in politics. His political life included stints in the Kennedy and Nixon administrations, the U.N. Ambassadorship, and the U.S. Senate from 1976 to 2000. He was a scholar-statesman willing to take on pressing urban issues. Early in his career he helped revitalize Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue and he remained a great supporter of historic preservation throughout his life. In the 1980s he proposed a new gateway to the city in the Farley Post Office and said: “You don’t get a second chance like this often. We must do it.” The current issue of Urban Land contains an excellent profile of Moynihan called “An Urban Philosopher on Capitol Hill.” N.J. Slabbert writes that Moynihan was a statesman who saw the city “less in terms of buildings, spaces, and physical infrastructures, than as a human enterprise whose success or failure must be measured by the lives and achievements of the people who inhabit it.” The article continues:
Because of this perspective, Moynihan was on some levels a confusing figure to his admirers and detractors alike. He was an urban thinker, and yet, in the very act of elevating metropolitan issues to a high level of discourse, he transcended the customary vocabularies of planners, architects, and other disciplines most commonly associated with urban questions.Slabbert concludes:
Moynihan’s political talents also differed from those of [Robert] Moses, whose need for a constant flow of impressive and immediate results prevented him from occupying himself with national matters, where the magnitude of the task often requires an individual to exercise great patience and persistent persuasion to obtain results. The individual must also realize that the primary objective is not to win praise in the short term, but to accomplish an advance in attitudes that will be valuable for generations to come. This is the difference between a politician and a statesman. Moynihan was a statesman.”Moynihan once said, “the belief that good design is optional…does not bear scrutiny.” Let’s hope the long wait for Moynihan Station will result in a development that embodies this and other values and attitudes the late Senator Moynihan advanced during his brilliant career.