Will Chicago rename an airport for President Obama?

Rahm Emanuel now denies it.

The topic came up as the mayor fielded a question on why he quickly proposed, then abandoned efforts to name a new North Side high school after Obama and the South Side’s Stony Island Parkway after the late Arthur Brazier, a revered African-American civic leader who founded the Woodlawn Organization and was pastor of the Apostolic Church of God for 48 years.

…The mayor gave his answer in acknowledging he erred in seeking to name a North Side high school after the president, when Obama got his start in politics on the South Side.

“Look, I made a mistake, and I was quick to change it. I’m not perfect. When I make a mistake, I hear it and change it,” Emanuel said. “And I don’t have a problem saying that. But I won’t make an apology for the fact I think President Obama is a great president. I wanted to honor him. I wanted to be the city to have the first high school named after him. In my rush to do it, I clearly offended people, so I backed off of it. I will never back off of my love and affection for a great president. But I made a mistake.”

But here’s the question: why do we lionize politicians? Grover Norquist gave us Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. You can always tell a tourist or recent DC arrival by how they refer to the airport, ‘Reagan’ versus ‘National’. Mine isn’t an ideological objection per se but I’ve always called it National and that doesn’t change because local politicians tell me it should or because the signs change.

The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center is one of the more bloated federal real estate projects, either fitting or ironic depending on whom you ask.

I suppose I’d rather see a sponsorship deal, then there’d be revenue attached rather than mood affiliation gains for an in-group of supporters. That’s true regardless of President or Party.

Funds could be used to upgrade the decrepit conditions of O’Hare or Midway.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Couldn’t agree more. I’m actually surprised that O’hare wasn’t renamed for the Daleys long, long ago.

  2. Sponsorship deal makes sense especially if it covers the huge cost of changing road signs, etc. Here in NYC, it has been reported it cost taxpayers $4 million when it changed the name of the Triborough Bridge to RFK Bridge. When the word “Liberty” was added to EWR’s official name back in 2002, it, too, cost the taxpayers a lot of money.

  3. “that doesn’t change because local politicians tell me it should or because the signs change.”

    It’s not usually the local politicians that are the source of this meddling- it’s the yokels everyone else elects.

  4. Why would the Daleys settle for an airport? Pretty sure they are angling for renaming the entire city…

  5. +1 on National. I’ve always called it that. Wouldn’t even occur to me to call it “Reagan.”

  6. “Funds could be used to upgrade the decrepit conditions of O’Hare or Midway.”

    You are such a dreamer. Any sponsorship funds would either be put directly into the general fund, where they would be squandered as usual. Or else the funds previously spent on the airport from the general fund would be reduced by that amount.

  7. Wonder why you bring up only Reagan?

    Do you not call JFK (John F Kennedy) airport, JFK?
    It is, or was originally called the New York International Airport before being renamed to honor the president.

    O’Hare airport was originally called Orchard Field Airport as renamed “O’Hare International Airport” to honor Edward O’Hare, the U.S. Navy’s first flying ace and Medal of Honor recipient in World War II.

    Do you have the same objections to the Washington Monument or the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials?

    Or is your selective displeasure just with recent republican presidents?

    This stuff happens all the time, it has and will continue. It even happened in South Dakota a while back, I think it’s called Mount Rushmore.

    I am not a fan of the current president, nor am I saying I am a fan of Reagan or any in between. But you would have to list a lot of schools, buildings, airports and streets if were were going to list your displeasure with government renaming things.

  8. As a lifelong DC area resident, I’ve referred to DCA as Reagan ever since the name change, and I frequently hear others refer to it as such.

  9. Isn’t naming the airport after the guy who fired all the air traffic controllers at least as fitting/ironic as the other one?

  10. as a dc native who has lived in nyc for nearly two decades, i will never forget visiting back home and being at a family dinner. when i inadvertently said “reagan national” in a conversation about flying, my entire family just gave me a blank stare.

  11. We already have the suburban NOVA airport named after a war profiteer, Treaty of Versailles co-author (which led directly to WW II) and Bay of Pigs co-architect, JF Dulles. Also, no pols names should ever be added to an existing name (see Maynard Jackson Atlanta Hartsfield airport, Reagan National, etc).

    How about no more naming anything after politicians or civil servants who use taxpayer money to build their “legacy.” I vote for “People’s Airport” or “US Taxpayer International Airport.”

  12. the homepage of the airport clearly says Reagan National Airport in large print near the top:


    However, as a long-time resident of Little Rock, AR, I can sympathize with your point of view as I resent that the local airport was renamed from “Little Rock National Airport” to “Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field.”

  13. How about Bernoulli International Airport? Can we glorify someone in the sciences for once? (Then go back to the Kardashians of course.)

  14. @Bob

    National Airport was already named after a president, some fellow named George Washington.


    Yes, that is the official name of the airport, because congress strong-armed it so. They also threatened to withhold funding from the DC Metro if they didn’t rename the subway station as well.

  15. Man, what is the obsession with DCA? I usually just call it DCA, or Reagan, or actually I don’t know because I don’t usually give much thought to what I call it because it’s an airport, not my significant other. I don’t have or even understand these strange attachments to regional or legacy terms.

  16. Sponsorship deal? Like the United Center? Staple Center? No way! Just more money in politics in my opinion.

  17. Agree that sponsorship funds would quickly disappear into the quicksand of the “general fund”. And agree that politicians do not need nor deserve to be lionized or remembered. Don’t they steal enough while they linger in office because the US voters don’t vote their lying, cheating butts out?

  18. @RoloT

    Not sure where you read your history. Dulles was only a minor player at Versailles, where he opposed the harsh reparation requirements against Germany which is largely blamed as a factor leading to WWII. And on Bay of Pigs you have him confused with Allen Dulles- JFD was dead before it was even planned.

    I’m a little more sympathetic about naming airports after people when a city already has more than one. There definitely doesn’t seem to be much justification for renaming one with no nearby competitors, like BWI -> Thurgood Marshall

  19. @Bob

    Did any of those presidents fire 11,000 air traffic controllers for demanding fair wages? Also, the Federal Government didn’t bother to fund this name change, so us VA taxpayers footed the bill. Also the airport was already named after George Washington. Can you see how this might irritate some people? There are no shortages of shit named after Reagan in DC.

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