- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

The clock is ticking on the Maryland General Assembly’s 2005 session, but the Free State’s legislators have one very important piece of unfinished business to handle before the final gavel strikes at midnight Monday.

There shouldn’t be any unnecessary or underhanded delays. Legislators need to pass the bill, introduced by Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., Baltimore County Democrat, to rename the state’s thriving skyway as the Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport without amendment.

Maryland legislators would do well to honor their esteemed native son, the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

After a ceremony last week honoring the late justice and his widow, Cecelia, a Senate committee hearing brought out impassioned pleas for the renaming bill by U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, and former Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater.

“I have not come here to ask you to pass this bill,” Mr. Cummings said. “I have come here to beg you to pass this bill. This is that important to me.” Further, he said, “I don’t want to hear this stuff about naming a building after him. Name a gateway after him. He deserves it.”

Indeed, and it should be just that simple.

But the Burns bill seems stalled with last-minute amendments in the Senate Education, Health and Environment Committee that can be viewed as delaying tactics that will kill its chances this late in the session. Any Senate amendments — such as the one proposed by Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, Baltimore County Democrat, to create a commission to oversee further naming of state structures — would have to be reconsidered by the House. With heavyweight work still to be done in the closing days, including passing the budget, the Marshall airport bill may just crash.

The bill faced inexplicable hurdles not only in the Senate but also in the House. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has been able to sidestep the issue so far, taking a wait-and-see-if-it-even-gets-through the General Assembly approach when he should be sending stronger signals of support.

The best argument voiced by the renaming reservationists is that the state fought long and hard to place a regional moniker on the airport, once called Friendship Airport, to increase its usage, and a new name might hurt those marketing efforts.

That excuse is about as thin as my sheer Hanes hosiery. Justice Marshall actually enhances BWI’s prospects of being “an international showcase.”

Maybe some secretly want to reserve the right to have the busy airport renamed after them. Could that explain, in part, why former Gov. Marvin Mandel and others do not want Justice Marshall’s name on signs along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway?

Opponents also argue that BWI, one of the state’s major economic engines, could lose its “foothold” on the lucrative regional airport market because travelers, especially those from foreign countries, might no longer recognize the Baltimore alternative to Washington Dulles International and Ronald Reagan Washington National, both in Northern Virginia.

First of all, the official Federal Aviation Administration code for BWI would not change under the new name. With more people surfing the Internet for low airfares, deals frequently send travelers through BWI. Second, you cannot get a direct international flight into Reagan National. Third, the low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines flies only into BWI in this area.

An airline spokesman told the Baltimore Sun that they would “adapt” and increase marketing if there is a name change. The airport is building a new terminal for the airlines, which plan to add additional flights, and it is set to open later this spring.

So much for losing business. The only reason Dulles got increased business over BWI last year is because it added 600 flights with a new carrier, Independence Air, according to the Sun.

The Burns bill follows a precedent of renaming airports after noted Americans, like the late President Ronald Reagan, and represents the latest trend of finally renaming major airports after noted black Americans such as entertainer Louis Armstrong in New Orleans, murdered civil rights leader Medgar Evers in Jackson, Miss., and former Mayor Maynard Jackson in Atlanta.

Time is running out for Maryland, which is best suited to rectify Justice Marshall’s marginalization, to set a new standard and make amends.

A statue of the esteemed justice now stands outside the federal courthouse in his hometown of Baltimore; another statue stands in Lawyers Mall outside the State House in Annapolis. The University of Maryland Law School as well as the airport should bear Maryland’s pre-eminent native son’s name.

It doesn’t have to be either/or, but both. Simply vote yes now.

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