Alderman introduces ordinance to rename Columbus Drive after former President Barack Obama

Some Italian Americans challenging the idea, saying they don't want any form of canceling parts of their history

Michelle Gallardo Image
Thursday, March 21, 2024
Ordinance proposed to rename Columbus Drive after former Pres. Obama
Chicago City Council Alderman Lamont Robinson has proposed renaming Columbus Drive after former President Barack Obama; some are pushing back.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There's a push to name a downtown Chicago street after former President Barack Obama.

Alderman Lamont Robinson introduced an ordinance during Wednesday's City Council meeting to rename Columbus Drive as Barack Obama Drive.

The street stretches through the Loop from East Grand Avenue to DuSable Lake Shore Drive, which was renamed in 2021 amid some controversy.

On Nov. 4, 2008, then-President-elect Obama delivered his now historic victory speech before hundreds of thousands of supporters in Grant Park.

"We made history here, and we need to make history again, by honoring our Black president, first Black president, in President Barack Obama," Robinson said.

But even as setup for this upcoming weekend's Shamrock Shuffle is taking place along Columbus, controversy is already brewing, particularly among the city's Italian American community, in honor of whom Columbus Drive was named during the 1933 World's Fair.

"People have to understand: This is a slap in the face to my parents, my grandparents and those who came before us," said Ron Onesti, with the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans.

The debate comes as Italian American groups continue to litigate the 2020 removal of Christopher Columbus statues from Columbus Drive and two other locations around the city.

In July of 2020, two statues of Christopher Columbus were removed, following protests that grew out of the national outcry over the murder of George Floyd and fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor.

Onesti suggests South Greenwood Avenue, where the Obamas' Chicago home is located, or Stony Island Avenue, where the Obama library is going up, as fitting alternatives for a name change.

"There are other options here, and we're saying, 'hey, let's honor the 44th president together, a favorite son of Chicago, but let's do it where it's all inclusive and not offensive,'" Onesti said.

Robinson said the proposed name change is not meant to exclude Italian American heritage or anyone else's.

"We're not doing it at the expense of another group because President Barack Obama brought all groups together, and this is really about bringing everybody together in the city of Chicago," he said.

Any name changes won't happen overnight, however. The proposed ordinance has several co-sponsors, but it must be reviewed by the Transportation Committee before it goes before the full City Council for a vote.

A committee formed by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot recommended the statues not be returned amid opposition from Italian American groups.