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Columbus Drive could become Barack Obama Drive under proposed ordinance

I think I'm going to throw up (& I'm not even Italian).


I wonder if they're going to rename Lasalle St, Valerie Jarrett Way?


Columbus Drive could become Barack Obama Drive under proposed ordinance

Ald. Lamont Robinson proposes renaming the road for the ex-president, whose career as a community organizer and legislator began in Chicago. An Italian American leader says though Obama is “worthy” of the honor, it shouldn’t come at the expense of Italian heritage and culture.


By Emmanuel Camarillo, Suntimes

Mar 20, 2024


Split image shows, at right, former President Barack Obama wearing a dark grey suit while gesturing and laughing; and at left, a photo of cars driving on busy Columbus Drive with Chicago skyscrapers in the background.


A City Council member wants to rename Columbus Drive in downtown Chicago after former President Barack Obama, but an Italian American civic leader wants the street to be left alone.


At Wednesday's City Council meeting, Ald. Lamont Robinson (4th) introduced an ordinance to rename Columbus Drive to Barack Obama Drive. The road stretches through the Loop from East Grand Avenue south to DuSable Lake Shore Drive.


Ron Onesti, president of the Chicago branch of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, challenged the idea, saying that though Obama was "truly worthy" of such an honor, the group was against any form of "canceling" parts of their history.


"We see this as a direct attack on our culture more than an honoring of a most worthy president," Onesti said.


In a statement, Robinson said "we need to honor more Black men, and this is one small way we can do that." He added that it was important for children to be able to see that they can become part of Black history.


"Renaming Columbus Drive to Barack Obama Drive is a way to honor the legacy of the first Black president of the United States and a 4th Ward resident, from his beginnings as a community organizer to his historic election night celebration in Grant Park," Robinson said.


It would also cement a new tourist destination, Robinson said. "This is our opportunity as a city to give him his flowers while he's still alive and recognize his journey that has inspired millions, including myself, to believe that anything is possible."


The proposed ordinance must be studied by the council's Transportation Committee before it can be considered by the full City Council.


Columbus Drive was originally known as the Inner Drive. It was renamed for Christopher Columbus in 1933.


The National Italian American Foundation has said Columbus, a 15th-century explorer from Genoa known for his voyage to the New World, "represents the important values of risk and discovery that are at the heart of the American dream."


Onesti said that if a street is to be named after Obama, it should be one with a closer connection to the former president, such as Greenwood Avenue on the South Side, where the Obama family home sits.


"The key here is why must there be an effort to cease the existence of Columbus Drive, rather than finding a way to add the honor for President Obama," Onesti said. "If those wishing to honor president Obama truly wish to do so, we'll be there to honor a great president, but not at a cost affecting one particular ethnic group."


Onesti also said the community should get a say as to a possible name change of Columbus Drive.


"Why don't we come together with the Italian American community of Chicago and come up with a way, because we would be part of that," Onesti said.


The JCCIA has also fought against efforts to rename Balbo Drive, named after Italo Balbo, an Italian Air Force marshal famous for making the first transatlantic airplane crossing from Rome to Chicago and helping to bring Mussolini to power in 1922.

The group is also still fighting to reinstall two Columbus statues that were removed from Arrigo Park and Grant Park in 2020 after activists’ attempts to remove them devolved into clashes with police.


In October, a group of activists gathered in Arrigo Park to celebrate Columbus and support the return of the statues.


In 2017, the Legislature designated a stretch of I-55 from the Tri-State Tollway south to mile marker 202 near Pontiac as the “Barack Obama Presidential Expressway.”

Contributing: Fran Spielman


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