Proposed ordinance seeks to rename Chicago's Balbo Drive to Ida B. Wells Drive

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Battle lines are being drawn over a street in the heart of Chicago.

Two aldermen propose that Balbo Drive -- a short street that slices through Grant Park in the Loop -- be renamed after civil rights icon Ida B. Wells.

"What she did was incredible. She was a women's suffragist, civil rights activist and anti-lynching crusader," said Dan Duster, Ida B. Well's great grandson.

However, members of Chicago's Italian American community said they'll go to great lengths to stop the proposal in its tracks. Balbo is named after Italo Balbo,who served under Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Balbo's claim to fame in Chicago was flying a squad of seaplanes across the Atlantic to Lake Michigan in 1933.

Duster said Wells' contributions to America and Chicago far outweigh the contributions of Balbo.

And a group of alderman agree and support changing the name of Balbo Drive, which runs from Lake Shore Drive to State Street.

"We are taking away an honor from someone who never deserved it, giving it to someone who should have been honored a long time ago," said Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward).

Reilly and Ald. Sophia King (4th Ward) introduced the ordinance on Wednesday.

If Balbo Drive is renamed, Dominic DiFrisco said he and many of his Italian American colleagues plan to chain themselves to the Balbo sign as a silent protest. As the president emeritus of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian-Americans, DiFrisco disputes the characterization of Balbo.

"Italo Balbo was a friend of America, friend of freedom and a friend of the Jewish people," DiFrisco said.

DiFrisco suggests renaming bigger streets like Lake Shore Drive or State Street after Ida B Wells. Aldermen say logistics with the postal service and emergency responders would make that difficult.

If Balbo Drive becomes Ida B. Wells Drive, it would be the first Loop street named after a woman and a person of color. If passed, it will be the first street renaming in Chicago since South Parkway was changed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in 1968.

"To have it downtown where millions of people come to visit every year is incredible," Duster said. "She is well deserving and our city is deserving as well."
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