WASHINGTON – A Republican congressman from Texas has proposed renaming 16th Street Northwest as Ronald Reagan Boulevard, designating the historic north-south road that leads to the White House after the 40th president, who died last year.
Rep. Henry Bonilla, co-chairman of the 2000 and 2004 Republican National Conventions, quietly introduced a 103-word resolution before Congress adjourned for summer recess July 28. As word spread in the nation’s capital, neighborhood Web logs in the overwhelmingly Democratic city crackled with disbelief, and local elected leaders joined in protest.
In a written statement Thursday, Bonilla said Reagan “won the Cold War, returned optimism to America and redefined” national politics.
“Regardless of your political affiliation, most people agree that Ronald Reagan was an American icon,” said Bonilla, a former television news broadcaster elected in 1992. “He was a president of national significance, and for that reason he deserves an honor in the nation’s capital.”
District Mayor Anthony Williams, a Democrat, objected to the plan, saying it would depart from the elegant 1791 street plan laid out by French engineer Pierre L’Enfant, write over the history of one of the city’s most prominent thoroughfares, and cost $1 million to change maps and signs.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve heard of a plan that made so little sense,” Williams said. “Changing the unique and beautifully mapped street system in Washington would mean undoing … a design that has inspired millions of people from around the world.”
Rep. Thomas Davis III, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee with jurisdiction over Bonilla’s legislation, called it “ridiculous” and said he would put it in the “appropriate file,” according to a report on WTOP-AM Radio’s Internet site distributed by Davis’ aides.
Davis noted that Congress renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and dedicated the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest in 1998. “If Congressman Bonilla wants to name anything else, he has to look at his own district in San Antonio,” Davis was quoted as saying.
Spokesmen for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., did not respond to requests for comment.
City Council Member Adrian Fenty, D-Ward 4, who represents residential neighborhoods along upper 16th Street, said e-mails and telephone calls to his office ran overwhelmingly against the plan.
Washington streets are laid out in a traditional grid, with broad diagonal avenues radiating out from circles and squares. Generally, the avenues are named after the states; east-west streets are named after the letters of the alphabet; and all north-south streets are numbered.
Sixteenth Street runs from the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW north to the tip of the District’s distinctive, diamond-shaped border with Maryland. The street was home to many embassies in the District’s early years, and it is nicknamed Church Row for the many houses of worship along its length.
Bonilla’s plan follows numerous efforts to honor Reagan, who served from 1981 to 1989. After Reagan’s death June 5, 2004, Congress briefly entertained proposals to replace other presidents’ pictures on various currency denominations. Nationwide, states have named 10 highways and 12 streets, parkways or turnpikes, said Christopher Butler, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project of Americans for Tax Reform. Butler said that more than 10 times as many dedications have been made to Kennedy and to Martin Luther King Jr.
Butler said the renaming would enable those along the street to change their letterheads to honor the late president. He acknowledged not all may want to do so. Among the most prominent neighbors of the White House on 16th Street is the national headquarters of the AFL-CIO. As president, Reagan clashed frequently with organized labor.