Jan 272015
 
Catherine Raphael is comforted by Pastor Jamal Weathersby as she speaks to the City Planning Commission on Tuesday. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Catherine Raphael is comforted by the Rev. Jamaal Weathersby of New Hope Baptist Church as she speaks to the City Planning Commission on Tuesday. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

A portion of two Central City streets could be renamed in honor of two prominent pastors who recently died, after positive votes Tuesday by the City Planning Commission in spite of some members’ concerns about the process for changing street names in New Orleans.

Under the proposals, requested by City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, LaSalle Street between Earhart and Simon Bolivar Boulevard would become Rev. John Raphael Jr. Way in honor of the police-officer-turned pastor of New Hope Baptist Church. Carondelet Street between Felicity and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard would become Robert C. Blakes Sr. Drive, honoring the founding pastor of New Home Ministries. Both men were known for their crusades against violence in Central City, and both died in 2013.

A portion of LaSalle Street (in red) would be renamed Rev. John Raphael Way, and part of Carondelet (in blue) would become Robert C. Blakes Sr. Drive, under proposals that received initial approval from the City Planning Commission on Tuesday. (map by UptownMessenger.com, via Google Maps)

A portion of LaSalle Street (in red) would be renamed Rev. John Raphael Way, and part of Carondelet (in blue) would become Robert C. Blakes Sr. Drive, under proposals that received initial approval from the City Planning Commission on Tuesday. (map by UptownMessenger.com, via Google Maps)

The city planning staff recommended against the name changes, however, because they violate two of the commission’s criteria for evaluating new street names — streets are not to be renamed for people who have been dead for less than five years, and new street names should not break up the names of existing streets, their reports state. Finally, the criteria say that the simplest possible name should be used, so the staff said that Blakes Street and Raphael Street would be more appropriate choices if the city moves forward with the renaming, the staffers suggested.

Samuel Blakes, son of Robert C. Blakes, speaks on behalf of renaming Carondelet Street. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Samuel Blakes, son of Robert C. Blakes, speaks on behalf of renaming Carondelet Street. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

The more than 100 members of pastors’ congregations and supporters who showed up in support, however, argued that the men’s work had earned them exceptions to the rule.

Out of a former synagogue at 1616 Carondelet Street, Blakes and the New Home Ministries created a child development center, a weekly food ministry, and educational and recreational programs. Raphael spent 14 years as an officer in the New Orleans Police Department before attending seminary and becoming pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, where he was known for his vigils and fasting against violence, his walking ministry where he personally confronted young men hanging out on Central City corners, and his international mission trips.

“Extraordinary people require extraordinary and exceptional action,” said Eric Granderson, a representative of Mayor Landrieu’s office.

The Rev. Moses Gordon III of Fellowship Ministry Baptist Church on LaSalle Street listed roadways around the country named for pastors, and said the city should reflect that portion of its population as well.

“It is incumbent on you that you reflect the entire spectrum of the population of New Orleans,” Gordon said, speaking on behalf of the Blakes proposal. “There are not only people here who love to party and have a good time, but there are also people of faith in this city.”

Supporters of Raphael’s said that the pastor was a personal inspiration to numerous men in Central City, turning them away from a path of violence. Sometimes, they said, Raphael’s “Thou Shalt Not Kill” signs were the beacon that turned young men away from a retaliatory shooting — and while the number of murders in the city are counted every year, it is impossible to know how many his work prevented.

“Pastor Raphael’s name was synonymous with Central City,” said Catherine Raphael, the pastor’s widow. “He brought hope to the hopeless.”

Planning Commissioners Kyle Wedberg and Alexandra Mora wondered aloud whether an honorary street name alongside the traditional names might be a solution to the impasse. Supporters of the change said that would be an insult, however, and staff members said the city lacks such a mechanism anyway.

“I think that would be a slap in the face,” said the Rev. Samuel Blakes of New Home Ministries, Robert Blakes’ youngest son.

Wedberg said he agrees that Blake and Raphael should be honored, but the city should have do so in one of two ways — either rename the entire street, or give a section of the street an honorary name. These proposals fall uncomfortably in the middle, he said, and a better process is needed moving forward.

Commissioner Nolan Marshall III said that if the rules on the books were intended to be blindly followed, then the actual people on the City Planning Commission would not be needed. Meanwhile, the renaming of schools as they are handed over to charters is tearing the city away from its own history, Marshall said, and he wants to see the City Planning Commission’s role be part of giving the people their heritage back.

“I think this is a community that has had too many defeats to have defeat at the hands of this body,” Marshall said.

The commission voted 5-3 in favor of changing Carondelet’s name, with Commissioner Jason Hughes specifying that he intended the originally requested version, Robert C. Blakes Sr. Drive. When the second vote came up, Wedberg said he felt that the first vote established precedent, and that he intended to follow it in spite of his own belief that a better process is needed. The commission then voted 7-1 to change the portion of LaSalle to Rev. John Raphael Jr. Way.

“I’m convinced in this particular case that the right result is to change the street,” said Commissioner Robert Steeg who voted in favor of both proposals. “In the long run, we need more guidance for what the city wants in these types of instances.”

Both proposals will head next to the New Orleans City Council for a final decision.

See below for our live coverage of the meeting.

Live Blog City Planning Commission – Jan. 27, 2015
 

  • Profjim

    Please city council do not change these street names. They were great people but in 5 years no one is going to want to live on a street with Reverend in the name.

  • Johnny Nola

    This is literally one of the dumbest decisions I have ever seen the City Planning Commission make. Rename a 4 block stretch? What are the qualifications to get your own street name. My grandfather was a great man, I want him to get a street

  • James

    Before we rename streets or buildings for anyone, I hope a thorough investigation is done into the person’s background, financial support, and their stance on particular issues. All we know about this two men are what his parishioners and supporters have stated. Has the city reviewed these two men’s financial and professional backgrounds? I believe this is why the five year requirement is part of the process. A comprehensive background investigation should be part of any process that is going to rename anything for anyone.

  • chicadee

    Wait! Commissioner Marshall decries the renaming of charter schools, saying the process destroys connections to our history. Carondolet St. was named after a Spanish colonial governor, LaSalle St. after an early French explorer. Is Mr. Marshall aware of these connections to our heritage? Decisions they made and actions they took in their day helped shape the city as we know it today. Hmm….a little consistency please.
    Leave the street names as they are for now. After the 5 year limit has passed, revisit the question. These honorable pastors’ legacies should still be intact. If your purpose in re-naming the streets is to honor their memories, 5 years is not a big deal. A nice big celebration could be held to remember their influence and contributions to society, culminating in re-naming ceremonies.

  • Deux amours

    These guys hardly honor these men with such a cheap gesture. Erect a statue, plant a tree, endow a scholarship, do something yourself. Trying to persuade politicians to rename a street is hardly the way to show your love and respect. It is especially poor as it is predictable that many will resent the change.

  • Johnny Nola

    by the way, the pastor and his family all lived in kenner. Not that there is anything wrong with that

  • jexni

    These street names seem rather long and unwieldy, if O’Keefe, Walmsley, Carondelet, Miro, Claiborne and LaSalle get only their last names why not just the last names for these tremendous individuals.

  • Mildred Godsanointedvessell Tu

    I TOTALLY Agree with the street names being changed! If you would have personally met the Prophet Robert Charles Blakes Sr you would see why many feel as i feel! This man needs to be honored with the street change,I have been filled with hope and the motivation to go on from sitting in that church for 34 years! I am now a wife,mother,college educated woman who also has a profitable business. I have learned about ACTIVE faith in that church and this great man has not only poured into my life the word of god and knowledge but when i was about 15 i was on my last diaper for my son and i was so hurt didn’t have any help and god revealed this to that man and he didn’t pick up an offering for church that day everything went to me and my son! I am getting emotional right now at the thought! #GREAT MAN #Wonderful Legacy #Message Of Hope #An Overcome p.s. THOUSAND showed up at his funeral……. How do i know, me and my husband went and we currently live in HOUSTON,Texas! Missed a day of work which cost hundreds, but a man of god that great was worth it! #Thank you Jesus for the life of RC Blakes Sr #Rename The Street

    • Deux amours

      What has the congregation done so far to honor this man? Is there a plaque on the church wall? I don’t guess you guys do stained glass.

  • Gaston

    There is a quantifiable connection between a street’s name and the value of the properties located on it. Nationally, homes on Martin Luther King Blvd., as one example, have 64% lower value than average. Of course, correlation shouldn’t be confused for causation.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/25/opinion/sunday/the-secrets-of-street-names-and-home-values.html

    • Deux amours

      This is, unfortunately, true. Renaming these streets will hurt property values

  • Mark B. Roth

    With all the crime going on in the city she is worried about renaming streets???? Please get priorities straight!

    • Tim9lives

      And smoking in bars….

  • Chris

    How much will this cost? Ownership records of properties will have to be adjusted, all residents and businesses on the streets will have to update their address for mailing purposes… it seems that the administrative cost of this could be better spent elsewhere, on paving streets or playgrounds, something that would have a more immediate effect on quality of life.

  • I would rather see something more fitting as a tribute. What about a scholarship in their names? It would continue to enable people to reach for success.Is there a park or community center that could be named in their honor? Having a stretch of road named after someone isn’t very personal. People drive down the road from Point A to Point B, rarely thinking of how that road got its name. They just want to get where they’re going as soon as possible. Naming a center or making a park from a vacant lot to be named for them would be a place that people could come to spend time & appreciate the efforts of those 2 men.

  • The Goat

    So do any of these people even live on the streets in question? Shouldn’t the home owners on these streets get more say than a politicians promises that he makes just for political gain?