Local officials seek community input on honoring President Obama in Madison

(Madison City Hall/Madison Commons)(Madison City Hall/Madison Commons)

Local officials are looking for a way to honor former President Barack Obama in Madison, but a proposal to name the City-County building after the 44th president is unlikely to proceed.

The proposal, introduced to the Common Council by Ald. Samba Baldeh, 17th district, would have named the City-County building for President Obama. The measure, however, has lost support after opposition from the community, including the Dane County NAACP.

The idea was originally brought to Ald. Baldeh after County Executive Joe Parisi proposed the name change in June. President Obama visited the building during his 2012 presidential campaign, accompanied by Bruce Springsteen during a campaign rally.

“He deserves to be honored and deserves to be recognized,” Parisi said in June at a press conference. “Not only for his accomplishments, but for his commitment to civil discourse and respect, both for those with whom he agreed and for those with whom he disagreed.”

Many community members voiced concern over naming the building, which houses a jail, for the first black president. Others expressed concern over naming a government building after a living president. The Dane County NAACP voted against the proposal in July.

“The building is symbolic of the extreme racial disparities evident in the treatment of African Americans by the criminal justice system of the United States,” the resolution stated.

A poll posted July 11 asked the community whether naming the building for Obama was appropriate. The vast majority of over two hundred responses said ‘no.’ Last month the proposal on the county level was voted down. The City-County Liaison Committee voted to drop the resolution on July 19.  

As support for renaming the building wanes, local officials are seeking input from the community about other ways to honor President Obama in Madison. Ald. For Baldeh, public input is a paramount part of his decision to pursue the legislation.  

“We will see how all of this pan out and hopefully we can engage the community and name something after President Obama or put this issue to rest and move onto more important issues,” said Baldeh.

While the initiative to rename the The City-County Building dies, The County Board of Supervisors are currently conducting a new online poll to receive community input on how to best honor President Obama. The poll asks what constituents think is appropriate to name after a president, with option like government buildings, parks, schools and streets. The City-County Liaison Committee will revisit the issue at their August 17th meeting.