Some of us are old enough to remember coin-operated baggage lockers in Grand Central, Penn Station and the Port Authority. They got taken out years ago. A Puerto Rican separatist group known by its Spanish acronym FALN kept putting bombs in them.
Tourists loved the lockers for their convenience. New Yorkers in the mid-1970s knew to stay away from them. We knew they could go boom! at any time.
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito didn’t live here then. She was born in San Juan in 1969 and moved to New York to go to college when she was 18.
Maybe that explains why Mark-Viverito would do something so callous and politically inexplicably as inviting the former FALN leader, Oscar Lopez Rivera, to lead the Puerto Rican Day Parade down Fifth Avenue on June 11. The group Rivera led was responsible for more than 120 bombings, including, infamously, the bombing of Fraunces Tavern in New York in January 1975.
The Daily News recently republished its original news coverage on the bombing as part of its Daily News Flashback series. Here’s the story lede:
“Jan. 25, 1975 — Four men were killed and 43 persons were injured yesterday when a dynamite powered fragmentation bomb, reportedly planted by an underground Puerto Rican group, exploded and spewed nails and other shrapnel through historic Fraunces Tavern and an exclusive dining club in the Wall Street district.
Deafened by the blast and covered with plaster dust and other debris from fallen walls and ceilings, most of the survivors staggered out to meet other casualties — passersby hurt by flying glass or by the concussion of the explosion.
Even as the dazed and screaming victims, one of them with an arm torn off, were being carried away, the FALN — Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional Puertoriquena (Armed Forces of Puerto Rican National Liberation) — telephoned The Associated Press and gloated that one of its agents had planted the explosive device.”
Readers can be forgiven for mistaking the above description for coverage of Monday’s bombing outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, UK.
Mark-Viverito seems genuinely perplexed by the explosive reaction by the NYPD, the NYPD Hispanic Society and Parade sponsors like the New York Yankees to Lopez Rivera’s being named grand marshal to a great and proud New York parade. Maybe she can be forgiven for it: All things radical seem to have a place in New York now. When it was revealed in 2013 that then-mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio illegally honeymooned in Cuba and aided Marxist revolutionaries in Nicaragua during the 1980s, his poll numbers actually went up.
But honoring the FALN leader is a step too far. And the speaker’s attempt to distance the FALN leader from the FALN bombings is utterly preposterous.
When President Barack Obama, in his final days in office, commuted Lopez Rivera’s 70-year federal prison sentence after 36 years Mark-Viverito reportedly wept with joy. Here’s what she said to Politico at the time:
“It’s very emotional. It’s been a long road emotionally and personally and I have been very invested in this case, and I visit him, and it’s just personal — it’s overwhelming.”
This matter is emotional, indeed — for those who remember the victims and the fear. It’s overwhelming, too, how profoundly obtuse New York City second-highest-ranking elected official can be.
The City Council speaker must act like a true New York leader now and walk back a very bad idea. It’s never too late to say, “I blew it.”
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.