Nazis to clean Rabbi AJ Heschel Highway

This from the NYT.
I don’t know, call me crazy, but I don’t really care if Nazis are cleaning the highway or it it’s named after a rabbi, as long as it is well maintained and kept clean! This really seems to be exactly the reason the state should handle things like cleaning highways, instead of contracting out such a task to the private sector. But this is just kind of silly.

June 21, 2009

In Missouri, a Fight Over a Highway Adoption

When a neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Movement volunteered last year to clean a Missouri highway, and get official recognition for it in the form of an Adopt-a-Highway sign, state officials felt powerless to refuse. So they took a rather clever tack.
Several years before, the Missouri Department of Transportation had lost a long legal battle to try and prevent the Ku Klux Klan from adopting a highway on freedom-of-speech grounds. So the state decided to counter the Nazi group’s speech with more speech, in the form of another roadside sign.
Officials are renaming the stretch of highway near Springfield that the organization cleans after Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who fled Nazi Germany and became a prominent Jewish theologian and civil rights advocate in the United States.
The renaming, which would take effect this summer, was approved by the legislature as part of a large transportation bill. The governor has not yet signed the bill but supports the concept of renaming the road, an aide said. The measure is not popular, though, with some members of the National Socialist Movement, who clean a half-mile stretch four times a year.
“I think it’s childish,” said Cynthia Keene, 38, a sergeant in the group’s Springfield unit. “If they want to have Nazis out there stomping on a Jewish-named highway, that’s their choice.”
The episode highlights some of the complications that can ensue as states increasingly turn to private groups to keep their ever-growing networks of roads clean.
In some Adopt-a-Highway programs, sponsors clean up the roads themselves, while in others they hire contractors. Either way, the programs free up millions of dollars in pinched state transportation budgets for more vital maintenance projects.
The vast majority of highways are adopted by civic groups and businesses. But states have little leeway when it comes to signing off on the adoption papers for their roads, and several have found themselves compelled to put up signs recognizing groups with long histories of racism or anti-Semitism or associations or businesses that have engendered controversy.
Kentucky officials were surprised to learn from reporters this year that the National Alliance, a white separatist group, had adopted a highway. The group’s sign honored its late founder, William Pierce, whose novel “The Turner Diaries” inspired Timothy J. McVeigh to bomb the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995.
Chuck Wolfe, a spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said officials initially hoped they could terminate the contract, but determined that doing so would open them to costly litigation that might fail.
Some states are grappling with how to administer the programs, which have become widespread in the past two decades.
California’s Adopt-a-Highway program stopped accepting new applicants about a year ago to re-evaluate its program. The state has been tangled in litigation over the program since it tried to remove an Adopt-a-Highway sign it had awarded to the San Diego Minutemen, a self-appointed border patrol group, on a stretch of road near an official Border Patrol checkpoint in Southern California.
Latino lawmakers and immigrants’ rights groups had objected to the sign and accused the Minutemen of promoting discrimination. A federal judge later ordered the sign back up.
Earlier this year, several cities allowed the fast-food chain KFC to fill potholes and stencil “Re-Freshed by KFC” in temporary lettering on them. In response, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals offered to pave potholes if they could write “KFC Tortures Animals” on them. The group was refused.
And after Connecticut officials worried aloud about “suggestive” billboard advertisements on one of their highways, a store that sells pornography adopted parts of the highway.
In Missouri, members of the National Socialist Movement spent last Saturday cleaning up their bit of road and last Sunday protesting homosexuality. The group’s Web site calls for a nation where “only those of pure White blood” who are not Jewish or gay can be citizens, and demanding that “all non-Whites currently residing in America be required to leave the nation forthwith and return to their land of origin: peacefully or by force.”
Ms. Keene said members of the group, who sometimes wear swastikas, wanted to do community service. “We decided about a year ago we wanted to get more involved,” she said.
But their Adopt-a-Highway sign, which says “Litter Cleanup 0.5 Miles National Socialist Movement Springfield Unit,” upset people in the area, particularly Jews. The Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee in Kansas City hit on the idea of renaming the road.
“It was not an original thought,” confessed Michael Abrams, the group’s chairman, who recalled how a stretch of road near downtown St. Louis that had been adopted by the Ku Klux Klan was renamed in 2000 for Rosa Parks. The group chose Rabbi Heschel as an appropriate person to honor, noting that he marched in Alabama with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
State Representative Sara Lampe, a Springfield Democrat who introduced the renaming bill, said a memorial sign approved by the legislature sent a stronger signal than an Adopt-a-Highway sign.
“Memorial highways are about people we honor and we value,” she said. “Adopt-a-Highway signs are self-requested. Any business can request a sign.”

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