The newly renamed “Jimmy Breslin Way” is unveiled on 42nd Street on Oct. 17 in honor of the late Daily News columnist. Pulling the cord, from left to right, are Queens City Council Member Daniel Dromm, East Side Member Keith Powers, twin brothers James and Kevin Breslin and East Side state Sen. Brad Hoylman. Photo: New York City Council Photographer John McCarten
Fabled Daily News columnist was always a legend — now, with a street named in his honor, he becomes an immortal
BY DOUGLAS FEIDEN
He was an old-school, street-savvy, door-knocking, pavement-pounding journalist who championed the city’s disenfranchised, railed against its ruling classes and wrote for its masses.
He was also a megalomaniac — he fancied himself as “J.B. No. 1,” the “greatest columnist in the history of the world” — who believed that his words were deathless, his name eternal.
On that last score, he may have been proven right: On the morning of Oct. 17, a stretch of East 42nd Street near the landmark Daily News Building was permanently renamed “Jimmy Breslin Way.”
As family, friends, pols and marquee names in journalism gathered, the new street sign was unveiled at the southeast corner of Third Avenue, a few steps away from another vanished symbol of a lost New York — the site of the last Horn & Hardart Automat, where Breslin would repair to schmooze with sources before it finally closed in 1991.
“His long legacy as a journalist is that he told the stories of those who seldom have their stories told,” said City Council Member Keith Powers, who sponsored legislation this summer at the request of the Breslin family co-naming the street, his first such bill since taking office in January.
The idea was to “celebrate the role of journalism in society,” mark his towering accomplishments in column-writing and educate New Yorkers and tourists as to who he was, what he did, what he meant to the city, and why it mattered, Powers added.
But there was an unmistakable subtext, too. In a climate in which President Donald Trump can excoriate a free press as “fake news” and “the enemy of the people” — the Breslinization of a major city thoroughfare provides a healthy antidote.
“Jimmy would be distraught to know that the press was under fire by the leader of our country,” Powers said.GENUINE AND AUTHENTIC NEWS, NOT FAKE
Born in Queens and educated in its courtrooms, barrooms, poolrooms and anterooms of bookie parlors, bail bondsmen and mob social clubs, Breslin’s brand of two-fisted newspapering enlivened the pages of the long-gone Herald Tribune, as well as Newsday, the New York Post, and most memorably, the Daily News, where he won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1986.
He left his beloved Queens Boulevard in 1982 to become a “reluctant Upper West Sider,” as he once put it, marrying the feminist politician and ex-City Council Member Ronnie Eldridge, his second wife, moving into her spread on Central Park West, and sharing the six children from his first marriage and three from hers.
“The test of a good idea is its ability to last through a hangover,” Breslin liked to say. “Marrying Ronnie was a good idea.”
It was there on CPW that the gritty stylist who could be angelic and profane, poetic and offensive, all at the same time, died of pneumonia on March 19, 2017. He was 88.
“Even when you were mad at him, you still went out and bought the paper,” said former Daily News columnist Denis Hamill at the unveiling ceremony. “You had to get your fix of Breslin in the morning.”
Two of Breslin’s sons stood near their father’s old stomping grounds to memorialize his work. And so acute was the family resemblance that it seemed that the columnist was about to return to his old City Room one more time. Of course, The News had vacated its ancestral home in 1995.
“No one — no one! — ever had a louder voice than my father,” said James Breslin, his namesake son and the sometime driver of a scribe who loved the city’s streets, but never learned how to drive upon them.
“The words he pounded out on his typewriter were flooded with the human spirit,” he added. “And now, the sign ‘Jimmy Breslin Way’ will support that spirit — and help encourage lifetimes of truth and free speech.”
Also paying homage was his twin brother, Kevin Breslin, who said the street sign was a crystalline reminder that the news is “honest and real, and people should never forget that.”
“My father lived every day of his life for that,” he added. “This was a man who was no enemy of the people ... This was a man who was not fake news.”