Everything from streets to a parasitic hairworm have been named in honor of President Obama, but the effort to immortalize him is causing a backlash in one New Jersey town, whose elected leaders are reconsidering their vote to place the president’s name on a recreation center.
The Willingboro council has scheduled a second vote on renaming a township building the Barack Obama Center amid complaints that its initial move was premature and unjustified.
Mayor Eddie Campbell Jr. said the council’s first vote this month was rushed and that most residents in the overwhelmingly Democratic town oppose changing the building’s name from the current “John F. Kennedy Center.”
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“He hasn’t finished his job yet,” Mr. Campbell said of Mr. Obama. “If we’re going to name a building, I think we should wait until after the president finishes his tour of duty.”
For someone who hasn’t left office yet, Mr. Obama already has a significant number of schools, streets and other things named after him. There are at least 18 roads and schools named in honor of Mr. Obama in the U.S., with more to come.
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For example, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Mr. Obama’s ex-chief of staff) has announced that a new $60 million high school will be named the Barack Obama College Preparatory High School when it opens in 2017.
Elsewhere in the world, there is a Barack Obama Drive in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; a Mount Obama on the island of Antigua; a Barack Obama petrol station in Ireland; and a parasitic hairworm, “paragordius obamai,” an all-female species that is able to reproduce without a male. It was discovered in Kenya, the land of Mr. Obama’s father.
Efforts to plaster Mr. Obama’s name across the public square aren’t scaring political advocate Grover Norquist, who has led an effort to honor the legacy of President Ronald Reagan by putting the Republican’s name on parks, buildings and roads. There are about 100 places in the U.S. named for Mr. Reagan, and Mr. Norquist said he isn’t concerned about Mr. Obama someday equaling Mr. Reagan’s status.
“I have not lost any sleep on that concept, nor do I intend to,” Mr. Norquist said. “The effort to name things after Obama strengthens the case for naming more things after Reagan, who has accomplishments way beyond anything Obama has done to date. His place in history is secure.”
Mr. Norquist said it’s probably “safer” to name things for a president after he’s left office. But he added, “I think it’s fine for people who are enthusiastic for Obama’s legacy to make their case.”
In Willingboro, town leaders say they weren’t expecting the furor created when the council voted 3-1 on Aug. 5 to rename the recreation center in honor of Mr. Obama as part of the building’s $4.9 million renovation.
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Deputy Mayor Jacqueline Jennings, who proposed the idea, said it was meant to express the “sense of pride” about the country’s first black president in the predominantly black community, including a surge in new voter registration in 2008.
But the council’s move spawned a public outcry against the proposal. One resident told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Mr. Obama “has never done anything for this town.”
The mayor said his phone calls have been running at least 75 to 80 percent in opposition.
“Our council never sat down and discussed it, as councils should do,” Mr. Campbell said. “If the people who voted them into office tell them ‘no,’ I would hope they would sense the feelings out there that the people don’t want it done. We’re in office to do what the people ask us to do. This is one of those times when I think we’re getting more telling than asking.”
Mr. Campbell voted ‘no’ when the proposal first arose and said he thinks there is a chance to rescind the action when the council meets again on Sept. 2.
“We will have a real rowdy affair,” the mayor said. “I think we may be able to correct [the earlier vote]. Everybody else thought it was a done deal, but it wasn’t a done deal because we didn’t do a resolution to start with. It has to be done by resolution.”
Mr. Campbell, 81, reveres Kennedy and said he doesn’t feel the recreation center’s name “should be jerked out from under him.”
Asked whether Mr. Obama has done enough to merit his name on the building, the mayor, who is black, said, “In the sense of the black man, he has. But in the sense of the country, he has not. He hasn’t finished his job yet.”