The Municipal Services Committee voted 4-1 to reject a proposal by the New Haven Peace Commission on Thursday to designate East Rock Park as New Haven’s Peace Park.
The designation was meant to coincide with the recent restoration and rededication of the “Angel of Peace” that sits atop the New Haven Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument at East Rock. While members of the Peace Commission said they hoped the new designation — which they stressed would not require a name change — would embody the city’s vision and commitment to a world without violence, some aldermen said they wanted to keep the park free of any other associations. They also expressed concern that the designation might detract from the memorial’s intended purpose of honoring veterans.
Ward 13 Alderman Alex Rhodeen, who voted against the proposal, said that East Rock Park, as a crossroads and showcase for the city, was better left without any designations, no matter how well intentioned. He explained that there were many equally deserving causes that could be attached to the park and so it was better not to choose one over any of the others.
“There was also a concern it might politicize the memorial,” he said.
Alfred Marder, chairman of the New Haven Peace Commission, told the committee members that the purpose of the designation was to help establish a “culture of peace” in the city. The proposal noted that New Haven is designated by the United Nations as a Peace Messenger City and given that “the past Century has been one of the most ravaged centuries in human history and the new Century seems destined to start out no better,” it is imperative to increase the number of symbols of peace.
The International Association of Peace Messenger Cities designates Peace Messenger Cities — there are currently about 90 — to recognize and encourage the role and responsibility cities have in creating a culture of peace.
“It will help put New Haven on the map, one more time, as committed to arranging our lives around principles of peace rather than principles of war,” said Pat Topitzer, another Peace Commission member.
While both Topitzer and Marder said the New Haven Parks Department had unanimously approved the designation, they acknowledged that there had been some objections.
Ward 28 Alderman Mordechai Sandman said that because the voting age was 21 for so long — the Constitution was amended to give 18-year-olds the right to vote in 1971 — many soldiers between the ages of 18 and 21 had been drafted with no say in the matter. To redesignate the park containing the veterans’ memorial would dishonor them, he said.
“The park is in honor of the young soldiers who had no choice to go and fight and die for their country,” Sandman said.
But Sandman said he would support a peace park in a different location.
Some of the most vocal public objections had came from retired Lt. Col. Edward Giering, who had sparred verbally with Marder at the ceremony for the restored “Angel of Peace” on Nov. 1. He compared the redesignation to changing the name of the Washington Monument.
“I don’t feel that anyone from this time or generation should be going back and changing the name of the park … [containing] the memorial, which was paid for and designated after the Civil War,” he said.
The memorial was erected in 1886 in recognition of 420 New Haven residents killed during the war.