BWI measure on its way to a Senate vote

Bill would rename airport for Thurgood Marshall

Panel hears impassioned pleas

Legislation is said to face an uncertain future

General Assembly

April 06, 2005|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

After impassioned pleas from advocates, legislation that seeks to rename Baltimore-Washington International Airport after the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall is on its way to a vote in the full Senate, although it faces an uncertain future, the chairwoman of the committee reviewing the proposal said yesterday.

Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environment Committee, said the legislation will move out of her committee in some form. But she also plans, she said, to offer at least one amendment that would create a commission to oversee the future naming of state buildings and facilities, which she believes will help avoid the kind of political wrangling that has arisen over the airport proposal.

"Something's going to pass out of here," Hollinger said of the legislation.

Hollinger's committee heard testimony on the proposal for the first time yesterday from political heavyweights that included Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and Rodney E. Slater, a former transportation secretary in the Clinton administration.

"I have not come here and taken up time from the House of Representatives to ask you to pass this bill," an emotional Cummings told Hollinger's committee. "I have come here to beg you. It's just that important."

Added Slater: "There is something that you have that no one else can claim. ... That is Maryland can claim, Baltimore can claim Thurgood Marshall as a native son."

The bill, proposed by Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat, has passed the House of Delegates. Any amendments by the Senate would require reconsideration by the House.

Under the proposal, the airport in Anne Arundel County would be named Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport. It would not lose "BWI," which is used to identify it on Internet sites and other locations.

But some lawmakers and business leaders are warning the General Assembly to carefully consider the impact of a name change. Some political and business leaders, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, worry that the change could hurt competition with the region's two other airports, Ronald Reagan National and Dulles International airports, both in Northern Virginia.

`The fight of its life'

"BWI is in the fight of its life," Lou Zagarino, owner of the Comfort Suites and Sleep Inn & Suites at BWI, told the committee yesterday, urging lawmakers to consider the economic impact on the state and on local businesses. "Any name change at this juncture is critical."

Marshall, the nation's first African-American Supreme Court justice, was a native Baltimorean who died in 1993, after serving on the court for 24 years. He joined the nation's highest court after pioneering strategies that stopped legal discrimination, in particular in the Brown vs. Board of Education case that declared school segregation illegal.

With the legislative session set to end Monday, the Baltimore City Council moved to add pressure on Annapolis to support the name change for the airport that was once operated by Baltimore.

Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said that it is appropriate to honor Marshall, whom he called "a Baltimorean, a gentleman ... a giant, not only in the state of Maryland but in the entire United States."

Harris added, "This will send a strong message to the delegation. It is the right thing to do."

Although Marshall is a towering figure in American history, some lawmakers have been troubled by how Burns introduced the proposal.

No companion bill

He did not line up support in the Senate for the legislation by having a senator sponsor a companion bill. That would have allowed senators to sign on as co-sponsors.

Burns also has long been at odds with Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat who dropped him from her ticket during the 2002 election and ran a candidate against him.

But over the past few weeks, Larry S. Gibson, University of Maryland law professor who was the political strategist for former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, has been campaigning in support of the name change. He organized a media event to tell the story of Marshall's life at which the civil rights leader's wife, Cecilia Marshall, was honored.

Gibson repeated the presentation for the Senate committee yesterday to aid the team testifying in support of the bill.

"I urge you not to delay," Gibson said.

Sun staff writer Jill Rosen contributed to this article.

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