Delaware governor John Carney recently proposed to spend $50 million to build a new school on the East Side of Wilmington, which is welcome news to anybody who cares about future generations of city kids.
The new school will replace an old one, Bancroft Elementary, at 700 N. Lombard Street, which would certainly be a boost to an area that badly needs it. Like all of the inner-city schools in Wilmington that were built decades ago, Bancroft Elementary has fallen into disrepair and there’s no question it’s not the place to educate children in the 21st Century.
So, the news from Gov. Carney is definitely welcomed, although there are a lot of details that still need to get hammered out. And it hasn’t been decided, or at least announced, whether the school will retain its current name or get a new one.
If it’s the latter, we have one request of our state officials — please don’t name the new school after a politician.
We already have dozens of buildings, bridges, highways, etc., in Delaware named after politicians. They include Senator William Roth Bridge and Daniel S. Frawley Stadium and Mayor James H. Sills Jr. Bridge and John L. Williams Highway and Joseph R. Biden Jr. Amtrak Station and Hazel D. Plant Women’s Treatment Facility and the Mike Castle Trail and the J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building and the Elbert N. Carvel State Office Building and the Jack Markell Trail. And we’re sure there are plenty more than we can’t remember at the moment.
So, why are so many things named after politicians? Why are they perceived as being so special? That’s easy – the people who name things after politicians are usually politicians.
It’s just a matter of time before something else is named after Biden, since he’s risen higher in politics than anybody else from Delaware and could go higher still. But he’s hardly a “public servant.”
I have nothing against Joe Biden. I’m not even a Republican. But he, like other members of Congress such as Castle and Roth, earned a six-figure annual salary throughout his career and got benefits and perks the rest of us can only dream about. Biden has a home in exclusive Greenville and another in Rehoboth Beach, and I don’t know any servants who have all of that stuff.
This name game is not a new phenomenon, of course. We already have high schools named after colonial era politicians like Thomas McKean, Caesar Rodney and John Dickinson, who was called “The Penman of the Revolution” because of the essays he wrote espousing the rebel cause.
Meanwhile, a Delawarean who truly deserves to be immortalized has pretty much been forgotten – John Haslet, who commanded the First Delaware Regiment during the Revolutionary War. That unit was one of the bravest and most disciplined in the American army, and it saved that army — and the entire revolution — during the battle of Long Island. The Delaware regiment’s heroic rear-guard action gave General George Washington and his army, which was trapped at the bottom of Long Island, time to ferry across the East River to Manhattan and safety.
Later in the war, during the battle of Princeton, Haslet was shot and killed while leading his troops. Unbelievably, there is no monument or marker commemorating him anywhere in Delaware. There is the Haslet Armory in Dover, which is a state building, but that’s not much and we’re willing to bet you never heard of it, or even him.
So, we have Dickinson High, but no Haslet High. And which do you think is more deserving of such an honor – a man who led troops in battle and died for his country, or a man who stayed home and wrote letters?
Haslet is the kind of person we should be honoring with schools and bridges and highways. Which brings us back to the new school — it should be named after somebody who sacrificed everything for his community, whether it be a law enforcement agent, firefighter or soldier.
So, a perfect person to be honored would be Detective Thomas P. Conaty, the last police officer killed in the line of duty in Wilmington. Conaty was murdered by a robbery suspect the day after Christmas in 1946. The city did name a park near Trolley Square after him, but it would still be fitting to name the new school after him, or any other law enforcement officer who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Or how about Patrick Dougherty, who, in 1904, was the first professional firefighter in Wilmington who was killed in the line of duty. Naming the school after him would honor all of the firefighters who have selflessly risked and given their lives for their neighbors over the decades. Or Ardythe Hope, who was killed fighting a fire in 2017 – to name the new school after a courageous woman of color would send a powerful message to the kids who will walk its halls in the coming years.
And, of course, there are hundreds of fallen military personnel from various wars who could be honored, all of whom deserve it much more than some politician, no matter what that politician accomplished in office. Politicians sacrifice their time, while those heroes sacrificed their lives.
At the same time, it could be worse – the late West Virginia senator Robert Byrd served as chairman of the Senate Committee of Appropriations from 1989-2009 and used his influence to channel billions of dollars to his home state. And now there are more than 50 buildings, as well as highways, etc., named after Byrd or, even more unbelievably, his wife.
We’re not nearly that bad, but it’s still time to stop naming things after people who do a lot of talking and name them after people who do a lot of doing.