|In a twist worthy of a “Law & Order” script, the decision on whether to name a Midtown street corner for the late actor Jerry Orbach effectively ended in a hung jury last night. Not even a cameo appearance by his longtime colleague Sam Waterston could change the outcome.|
The members of Community Board 5 were evenly divided, and admittedly conflicted, about whether to relax their standard objections and approve the naming of the 53rd Street and Eighth Avenue intersection the Jerry Orbach Corner.
A few hours after a committee voted 3-2 for the renaming, the full board voted 18-17 for it, with one abstention. But that slim margin was not enough to qualify as an approval because the votes in favor were not a majority of the votes cast. The decision — or lack of one — is merely advisory; the City Council ultimately decides on street renamings.
“Technically, we are on the record as not taking a position,” David Diamond, the chairman, explained to his confused fellow board members. Looking toward Mr. Orbach’s widow, Elaine, Mr. Diamond added, “And now, on to Community Board 4.” He was alluding to the board that has jurisdiction over the other side of the intersection. Mrs. Orbach’s lawyer, James B. Fishman, has already sought approval from Community Board 4, which oversees the area west of Eighth Avenue.
Mr. Orbach, who died in December 2004, was a familiar face in the neighborhood for decades. A leading man in Broadway musicals long before he played the prototypical New York detective, Lennie Briscoe, on “Law & Order,” he lived with his family in a rented apartment on 53rd Street for more than 25 years, his wife said.
His regular-guy appearance and lifestyle made him a sentimental favorite among the board members, who have routinely rejected applications for street renamings in the last few years. They turned down Guy Lombardo, Hal Holbrook and even St. Francis of Assisi. But many found it hard to say no to Jerry Orbach, consummate New Yorker, especially in the face of his widow, his son Tony and a living, breathing star, Mr. Waterston, who plays the prosecutor Jack McCoy on “Law & Order.” He read passages from a letter from the Detectives Endowment Association and from Mr. Orbach’s obituary in The New York Times.
It wasn’t Mr. Waterston’s presence that flustered Vikki Barbero, a board member who voted against the renaming. It was the face of Tony Orbach, 45, who bears a strong resemblance to his father.
“It’s like he’s here,” Ms. Barbero said, referring to Mr. Orbach.
“That’s why I’m here,” Tony Orbach responded.
But in the end, the Orbachs went away unsatisfied. Mrs. Orbach left with a “go figure” shrug and said afterward, “As Jerry would say, onwards and sideways.”