Ald. Sophia King open to options to renaming Balbo Drive for Ida B. Wells

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The City Council champion of a controversial plan to rename Balbo Drive for Ida B. Wells said Wednesday she’s open to a compromise that would name another major street for the civil rights icon.

Ald. Sophia King (4th) said Lake Shore Drive is a distinct possibility. So is Congress Parkway, or any major street that has few business addresses, thereby minimizing inconvenience.

“There’s a conversation that we’re having about that. And I am open to having another street named after Ida B. Wells. [But], it has to be something that celebrates her in the way that she should be,” King said.

“Lake Shore Drive — a lot of it is in my ward, as you know. That is a consideration. We’re looking at a lot of things. … But it has to be a street that’s befitting to somebody like Ida B. Wells. … You have to be pragmatic as well. Streets that don’t have a lot of businesses on `em where it would force them to change and cost a lot of money. We certainly are sensitive to those businesses.”

King said the debate over renaming Balbo or another major street for Ida B. Wells is part of a “national conversation” that has attracted attention from national media, including the Washington Post and the New York Times.

“The whole world is watching. Ida B. Wells is long overdue for being celebrated for all of the accomplishments,” King said.

She noted that the League of Women Voters is among dozens of organizations that have signed on to the crusade.

“The reason they’re leading the charge is because Ida B. Wells led the charge for women. Illinois had the right to vote before any other state in the country for women. That’s in large part due to Ida B. Wells,” King said.

Four years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans to permanently rename Stony Island Avenue for the late Bishop Arthur Brazier.

That ill-conceived renaming of a major thoroughfare that runs through the heart of Chicago’s South Side blindsided black aldermen and was subsequently nixed amid complaints about the cost and inconvenience to local merchants and residents.

That’s apparently why Emanuel has been conspicuously non-committal about the idea of permanently renaming Balbo.

“I understand the spirit or the energy behind Ald. King’s ordinance,” the mayor said last month.

“I want the City Council to work through an issue in a way – whether it’s a statue, whether it’s a street renaming, some way – recognize her contribution not only to the city, but to the country.”

Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian-Americans, has suggested renaming Lake Shore Drive or State Street for Wells and leaving Balbo Drive alone.

He has argued that forging ahead with King’s original plan would only “continue the open wound already inflicted on the Italian-American community with so many assaults on our culture.”

“We’ve already proven that he was in no way connected with anti-Semitism,” Di Frisco said.

“When Mussolini passed anti-Semitic laws in Italy, Balbo objected by taking all of his Jewish friends to dinner at a public restaurant. He also verbally and vocally opposed anti-Semitic laws. As a result, he was sent to Libya. Most people say he was shot down by Mussolini’s forces and killed in order to silence him.”

While King is open to a compromise, she believes the entire debate should have been aired before the City Council’s Transportation Committee on Wednesday.

Instead, Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) took it off the agenda in hopes of hammering out a compromise that would avoid alienating Italian-Americans and inconveniencing businesses.

Italo Balbo was an Italian Air Force Marshal famous for making the first transatlantic crossing from Rome to Chicago and helping to bring Mussolini to power in 1922.

Balbo served as Mussolini’s air comandante. The Balbo monument was Mussolini’s gift to Chicago in 1933.

“I’m disappointed that this conversation, which so many people are interested in, didn’t get a chance to be heard publicly. That does the city a disservice,” King said.

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