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Friday, February 06, 2009

On naming public buildings after people [updated]

There was a little outrage on the Capitol Fax Blog today on the news of legislation to name the federal courthouse in Rockford the "Stanley J. Roszkowski United States Courthouse." Mr. Roszkowski was a highly respected judge. He is now retired. And still living. As one commenter who is well known for his diatribes on the Capitol Fax Blog put it:

This idea that living people can name government buildings after themselves smacks more of royalty and dictatorships, than of democracies.
It is time for this practice to end!

The same commenter later clarified:

We don’t name public buildings after living people, regardless of merit. We are a democracy. If citizens wish to name a building after one of their best, there should be a requirement that the citizen honored be dead. We have these requirements regarding coinage and stamps, and take it even further. Citizens honored in this manner have to had been dead for a specific number of years before being nominated. The only exceptions that were made on this was for the Kennedy half-dollar and the Roosevelt dime.
This also removes the possibility of naming a public facility as a means of insult. In November, voters in San Francisco were asked if they wished to name a sewage plant after our 43rd president. We shouldn’t be naming public places after living people. History should determine this honor.
We have a state park named after Jim Edgar. We have a huge state building named after Jim Thompson. We have the FBI building in DC named after J. Edgar Hoover, before history exposed him. There are dozens of public places and things named after Senator Robert Byrd, the ex-Klansman who pork-barrelled these self-named projects in West Virginia with our money for decades.

He continued on after that. Another commenter had this idea:

If there are to be names on public buildings, how about a random drawing that picks the name of an ordinary taxpayers as a true recognition of who really helped pay for the structures in the first place? Perhaps that is too egalitarian. God forbid we don’t damage the philo-skinned egos of our leaders.

This whole discussion reminded me of similar legislation I'd seen earlier this year to name the Cook Street Post Office in Springfield after someone, so I looked it up.

S. 234: A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2105 East Cook Street in Springfield, Illinois, as the "Colonel John H. Wilson, Jr. Post Office Building." (Link.)

Wanting to know more about this person, I did a quick Google search which turned up a snippet of his archived obituary on the SJ-R, and which confirmed that he is deceased. But since I couldn't access the full obit without paying, I looked around a little more and found a short paragraph:

COL John H. Wilson, Jr. Long time Springfield Chapter member, COL John H. Wilson, Jr. passed away unexpectedly at his home August 2008. Those of us who attended Department of Illinois activities over the years will recall seeing COL Wilson, camera in hand, recording the events. He was born 18 December 1918 in the same home where he passed away.. He served in the ETO with GEN Patton where he received the Silver Star for Gallantry in Action. He served 14 years on active duty, then returned to serve 17 years with the 303d ORD group, retiring from command in 1975. (Link - PDF.)

Despite the fact that Col. Wilson was unknown to me, it sounds like he is very well known to a lot of people. Therefore, I can't imagine anyone having a problem with renaming the Cook Street Post Office after him. I don't. However, I wonder if anyone who's been calling it the Cook Street Post Office since Richard Nixon erected it almost 40 years ago will change their ways. But, that's beside the point.

So, the question is, should we name public buildings and places after living people?

Update:: The Col. Wilson bill passed the U.S. Senate.

Update on May 3, 2009:


Both of these bills have become law.

Posted by Marie at February 6, 2009 11:45 PM


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