The city last week honored a late Clinton Hill businessman for investing in the neighborhood when few else would, co-naming a block of Putnam Avenue between Grand Avenue and Downing Street for him .
Cecil Collymore’s family and friends gathered on the corner on Friday evening to unveil Cecil Collymore Way, marking the end of his daughter Renee’s controversial five-year campaign to get the sign installed, and she said it was a great feeling to know her dad’s name is finally a permanent fixture in the community he helped improve.
“It feels fabulous,” said Renee Collymore after Council approved the co-naming in July. “My father put his life on the line trying to help the police and clean up the area.”
Cecil Collymore first bought property along the street in the late ’70s, and eventually opened a laundromat, a 99-cent store, and a coffee shop on the strip. He also used his clout to help save a local high school from closure, and to clean up the neighborhood of crime and drugs by organizing patrols and installing street lights, says his daughter, who was joined at the sign unveiling by her mom Beatrice.
Yet she faced an uphill battle in trying to get her dad recognized with the sign — an idea she first pitched in 2011 to the local community board, which submits recommendations to the Council on proposed co-namings.
When she brought the idea back before the board most recently in October last year, the panel members abstained from voting, saying they didn’t know enough about Cecil Collymore to make a judgment. Some also said they were also suspicious that the bid was “politically motivated” as part of Renee Collymore’s campaign to regain the position of local Democratic district leader — an unpaid, low-level party position that she lost in 2014.
The rejection made headlines a few months later, when the board members nevertheless approved co-naming a Boerum Hill block for Hope Reichbach — an aide to Councilman Steve Levin (D–Brooklyn Heights) who died at age 22.
Collymore and a chorus of local leaders — including Borough President Adams, Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D–Clinton Hill), and Black Institute activist Bertha Lewis — questioned the age and racial disparities in the two decisions and called for the businessman, who was black, to be given the same recognition as the young white staffer.
Community Board 2 didn’t vote again, but Cumbo put the idea before Council anyway, and her fellow legislators unanimously approved it in a vote alongside Reichbach’s dedication, which was unveiled in a ceremony last month.