Citing what he called unanticipated vitriol and a divisive reaction, Councilman Steve Steel tabled his proposal at the May 22 City Council meeting to designate the Downtown intersection of Erie Street and Jefferson Avenue as “Joe Wicks Way.”
Those three words —“Move to table” — ended a conversation that began May 4 when Downtown business owners flooded Councilman George Sarantou’s inbox with 23 emails in the first 15 hours following the City Council meeting at which Steel made the proposal to honor Wicks’ activism promoting AIDS awareness in the 1990s.
Sarantou said the emails were universally opposed to the renaming of the intersection.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Sarantou said. “They maintain first-class facilities and are offended that someone who did not maintain his property (Caesar’s Show Lounge, formerly located at 725 Jefferson Ave.) would be honored in this way.”
Sarantou also said business owners took issue with Wicks not paying his property taxes. At the time of his death, April 19, 2010, the Lucas County Treasurer reported Wicks owed $30,954.83 in back taxes. As of Dec. 21, those taxes had not been paid by Wicks’ estate.
Councilman Tom Waniewski said business owners also took issue with what they called Wicks’ rudeness and his refusal to join the association of Downtown business owners.
Jon Lento, who met Wicks in 1995, said he was disappointed when he heard that Steel withdrew his proposal.
“They’re looking at it as to the state of the building and not to Joe as a person. The thing that hurts me is that I don’t think they’re talking to people who really knew Joe.”
However, Lento acknowledged there is truth behind business owners’ complaints that Wicks could be rude.
“Joe could be abrasive,” Lento said. “That was the business side of him. But if you really knew him, after he got abrasive, two seconds later he would turn around and kid you, slap you on the back and tell you, ‘I’m just teasing. You know I really love you.’”
In May, Waniewski said City Council must adopt a policy regarding the naming of streets and intersections.
Waniewski said, “We need a process in place by which we’re sure we’re doing the right thing. Just relying on a councilman’s judgment isn’t good enough anymore.”
Council President Joe McNamara responded to hearing Waniewski’s words Dec. 22 with hearty laughter.
“That is a criticism of democracy in its very nature,” McNamara said. “Councilman Waniewski was calling for a policy because he thought the decision being made was wrong. He argued against it. The community spoke out against it. Members of Council listened, and it did not happen.
“Decisions are made by the elected representatives with their values, their ideologies, their brains and their hearts. That’s how democracy works.”
“There is no written policy of how City Council operates in naming things, just like there is no policy for how City Council makes decisions on anything else: on confirming appointments made by the mayor, on appointing people to boards, on deciding to hire a police class or a fire class, on where we buy paper clips.
“The way our democracy works is 12 people are elected to Council, and when seven of them agree on something, that’s how it is done. Clearly, decisions are made based on feedback from the community, and there was a lot of concern over the Joe Wicks decision.”
Waniewski said he intends to introduce legislation that will establish a policy for naming streets, intersections, bridges, parks and the like in 2013.
He said, “I’ve gotten probably three-quarters of a way through that. I want to check one other city. But we’ve pulled the current legislation in Cincinnati and Cleveland. The process they follow is somewhat similar.”