- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

ATLANTA (AP) — As Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney was preparing to leave office, a state lawmaker proposed striking her name from a major thoroughfare that runs through her district.

“The reason is her track record, the fact that she has done things that are embarrassing,” said state Rep. Len Walker, a Republican whose district borders the Atlanta-area district once represented by Mrs. McKinney, the state’s first black congresswoman.

Mrs. McKinney has long been controversial. She once suggested that the Bush administration had advance knowledge of the September 11 attacks but kept quiet to allow defense contractors to profit from the aftermath. Last March, she scuffled with a U.S. Capitol Police officer. Still, the Cynthia McKinney Parkway in DeKalb County, just east of Atlanta, remains named after her.

Naming public infrastructures and buildings after living politicians, particularly those still in office, can be fraught with embarrassment and a lot of costly changes.

“Their legacy isn’t even established yet,” said Derek Alderman, a cultural geographer at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. “They are more susceptible to the politics of the day.”

In South Carolina, many clamored to have former Lt. Gov. Earle Morris Jr.’s name removed from a stretch of highway after he was convicted on security fraud charges in November 2004. Investors in the firm he led and its parent company lost $275 million when the companies collapsed.

Thirty years after Morris was bestowed with the highway honor, his name was replaced with South Carolina 153. The state’s Transportation Commission approved the change four months after Morris was convicted.

“It was a sad day … but that’s what people wanted,” said Commissioner Marion Carnell, who represents Anderson and Pickens counties, where the highway is located.

Donating big cash — or earmarking it from public budgets — is usually how living people, especially politicians, get their names onto roads, bridges and buildings. For example, about 40 structures have been named after Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, in his home state.

“Almost anybody who drives in West Virginia sees Byrd’s name,” said Josh Hagen, a geographer at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va. “Name recognition is a big plus for a politician. All place-names create a kind of invincibility.”

Few states regulate the naming of public structures, said Kae Warnock, a policy analyst with the National Council of State Legislatures.

In Georgia, a flurry of requests for name changes prompted a legislative committee to rule in 2003 that only people with national or regional recognition who have been out of office for two years or are deceased can be honored in such a way.

The McKinney Parkway was named in 2000, so it’s grandfathered in. Mrs. McKinney lost a Democratic primary runoff election in August, five months after striking a Capitol Police officer who asked her for identification before entering a House building.

It appears her name will stay on the parkway at least for the next year. A resolution to change the name back to its old designation, Memorial Drive, is pending in the Georgia House and doesn’t appear likely to advance before the end of this year’s legislative session.

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