Push for 'Otto Warmbier Way' outside North Korea’s UN Mission picks up steam

Otto Warmbier was set to move to New York City in the summer of 2016 and work in a paid internship with an investment firm. He was going to live in a New York University dorm in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and planned to pursue a career on Wall Street after he graduated from the University of Virginia with a bachelor's degree in economics.

Tragically, he never made it.

Warmbier instead spent that summer locked in a North Korean prison cell only to return home to die at age 22. His death has since become a heartbreaking symbol of the inhumane brutality of the North Korean regime.

Fox News has learned about a dramatic plan to honor his memory.

In a defiant gesture aimed at Kim Jong Un's regime, New York City Councilman Joe Borelli, R-Staten Island, wants the street where the North Korean Mission to the United Nations is located to be renamed "Otto Warmbier Way."

"This will be something that will be engrained in the memory, it will be a slight thumb in the nose of Kim Jong Un," Borelli told Fox News.


"We want people to look up, see that street sign, 'Otto Warmbier Way,' and recall that this was a life given up essentially, in the face of an absolute dictator and authoritative government," Borelli said.

Warmbier went on a foreign study trip to the hermit kingdom and returned home "with severe brain damage and in a non-responsive state" on June 13, 2017.

Warmbier went on a foreign study trip to the hermit kingdom and returned home "with severe brain damage and in a non-responsive state" on June 13, 2017. (Family of Otto Warmbier)

Warmbier went on a foreign study trip to the hermit kingdom and returned home "with severe brain damage and in a non-responsive state" on June 13, 2017. He died six days later. U.S. officials and his family said he was beaten and tortured while in the regime's custody for 17 months after he was charged with tearing down a propaganda poster in his hotel.

"We hope to draw attention to the plight of the people of North Korea, we hope to draw attention to the fate of Otto Warmbier, and we hope it leads to some change. You will have diplomats from every country walking past this, day in and day out. He represented everything that we value in our freedoms," Borelli said.

The North Korean government maintains a small diplomatic office on the 13th floor of 820 Second Avenue, on the East Side of Manhattan, one block from the United Nations. That stretch along 44th and 43rd Streets, right in front of the office building, would be named in Warmbier's honor and a street sign would be erected -- serving as a blunt and lasting reminder to the North Korean diplomats entering and leaving the building.

Fox News has observed North Korean diplomatic staffers commuting to their offices in two vans that they park across the street. North Korean U.N. Ambassador Kim Song, who was appointed last September, previously served as a counselor in the office for four years.

"I am sure that they will be offended," Borelli predicted. "But, if you look back at some of the other streets we've renamed near other embassies and missions, we have improved our relationship."


New York City has a long history of issuing honorary street names for politically provocative causes, a symbolic but meaningful effort aimed at shaming dictatorships and autocratic governments.

The corner of 67th Street and Third Avenue, where the Russian U.N. mission is located, has a street sign declaring it "Sakharov - Bonner Corner," honoring the late Soviet Union dissident activist Andrei Sakharov and his wife, human rights activist Yelena Bonner.

The corner of 42nd Street and Twelfth Avenue, where the Chinese Consulate building is located, was named "Tiananmen Square Corner" in 1989 to honor the victims of the Tiananmen Square protests. When then-Mayor Ed Koch signed the street-naming into law, the move enraged China's Consul General Weng Fupei. Koch wrote him a letter urging him "to defect and seek asylum here in the United States and then to tell the truth" about his government's atrocities. He said New York City would not be "going to war with the People's Republic of China over this matter. Therefore, the only way we can influence the actions of your Government is through public denunciation."

The bill that Borelli proposes, as with all honorary street renamings, must be reviewed by the local community board, pass the 51-member New York City Council and then be signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The North Korean Mission did not respond to Fox News' request for comment. The regime previously denied that Warmbier was beaten, and blamed his condition on a combination of botulism and a sleeping pill, claims the American doctors who examined him disputed.

Otto Warmbier was arrested at the Pyongyang airport in January 2016 as he prepared to return home after a five-day visit with a tour group. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in prison. Just over a year and a half later, he was medically evacuated and died at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

President Trump honored the young man's memory during his 2018 State of the Union address.

“Otto’s parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, are with us tonight — along with Otto’s brother and sister, Austin and Greta. You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all. Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with American resolve,” the president declared.

Warmbier's family received an emotional standing ovation.

Last month, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., awarded his parents, Cindy and Fred, $501 million in a lawsuit they filed against the North Korean government. Federal Judge Beryl A. Howell ruled that Kim Jong Un's regime was “liable in the torture, hostage-taking and extrajudicial killing of Otto Warmbier,” declaring that “a larger award is appropriate to punish and deter North Korea.”


Borelli says the new street sign would send another lasting message, in the city where Warmbier intended to live.

"This renaming will go a long way in reminding people of American values," he told us, "and how awful an authoritarian dictatorship is... We hope people will remember him."

Fox News' Ben Evansky contributed to this report.