Given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to spend a few minutes with Pope Francis, New York City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito used the opportunity last week to give the pontiff a gift: a portrait of Francis painted by Oscar López Rivera. In addition to being the speaker’s friend and hero, López Rivera is serving a 55-year sentence in federal prison for seditious conspiracy against the United States because of his leadership of the FALN, the violent separatist organization that aimed to turn Puerto Rico into an independent Communist country like Cuba. The FALN’s 1975 bombing of Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan, which killed four people and injured dozens, was just the most well-known of its terrorist activities during the late seventies and early eighties. López Rivera calls himself a “political prisoner.”
Mark-Viverito has long advocated for López Rivera’s release, even though he rejected President Bill Clinton’s offer of executive clemency in 1999 because it was contingent on his renouncing the use of violence for political ends. The speaker posted pictures of herself with López Rivera on her Twitter feed, noting, “I visit Oscar in prison. Have done so 3x this year.” Mark-Viverito presented Pope Francis with López Rivera’s painting, saying, “it was discussed & I agreed that I would attempt to present the painting as a gift to @Pontifex during his visit. Today was that moment.”
It’s remarkable that the speaker has space in her schedule—between her legislative duties and her multiple trips this year to Puerto Rico (three times, once on vacation), Arizona (twice), Israel (for nine days), and Washington D.C.—to fly to Terre Haute, Indiana, to visit Oscar López Rivera in a federal lockup. Yet she managed to make the trip three times. And there are still three months left in the calendar year.
Mark-Viverito is not the only elected progressive in New York City who holds a torch for radical leftist heroes. Monday was the 100th birthday of Ethel Rosenberg. Along with her husband Julius, Rosenberg was convicted of conspiracy to commit treason for being a Soviet spy and was executed in 1953. To commemorate her centennial, Council Member Daniel Dromm and Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer took to the steps of City Hall to award the Rosenbergs’ two grown sons proclamations in their mother’s honor. For decades, true believers on the left held fast to their conviction that the Rosenbergs were innocent, railroaded to their deaths by what Dromm called “Jew-baiting, witch-hunting, anti-Red hysteria.” But then, after the emergence of decoded Soviet cables in 1995, followed by an admission of guilt by coconspirator Morton Sobell in 2008, the Rosenbergs’ defenders had to admit that Julius, at the very least, had significantly aided the Soviet Union with the provision of top secret information about vital military hardware. Julius Rosenberg was also shown to have recruited a number of associates into a spy ring. Among them was Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, who pilfered nuclear secrets from his work on the Manhattan Project.
The new evidence affirms Julius’s guilt but has not directly implicated Ethel. For Dromm and Brewer, that’s good enough for two official city proclamations. One doesn’t have to approve of Ethel Rosenberg’s execution to question her fitness as a civic honoree. As the sister and wife of two blatant traitors, the circumstantial evidence alone indicates that she probably gave “aid and comfort” to spies working against her country.
In these days of progressive ascendancy in New York, the Left is in charge, and thus responsible for the humdrum management of trash pickup and school curricula. But that stuff is boring when you’ve been raised on the mythos of class struggle and the glory of violent martyrdom. Today’s leftist leaders can’t help but be wistful for a time when their side was losing and their fight was noble. They cherish the ideals of their revolutionary forebears because it makes them feel like warriors for the oppressed. Brewer even compared Cold War America with today’s circumstances, stating that “we had anti-Communist hysteria then, and we have anti-Planned Parenthood hysteria now!”