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Tawdry rip-off does Douglas airport namesake no honor

By Mark Washburn
mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

With our benevolent overseers in Raleigh beavering away to steal our airport, some changes are in order.

We need to give the airport a new name.

It wouldn’t be right to keep the name of Ben Elbert Douglas Sr. on it. It won’t do at all.

You see, Douglas was the visionary Charlotte mayor who – at the nadir of the Depression – talked the city into issuing bonds to cover construction of a modern airport. Then he nagged the federal Works Progress Administration to come up with the rest.

Douglas believed that an airport was as vital to Charlotte’s future as water. He kept at it, and by the late 1930s Charlotte was an air-mail city with daily passenger and cargo service.

Successive Charlotte mayors have nurtured Douglas’ hatchling. Now, Charlotte Douglas International Airport ranks No. 6 on the planet in takeoffs and landings and No. 25 in passenger traffic.

But because the city has done such a wretched job (see, the airport is still behind No. 1 Atlanta Hartsfield), our lawmakers in Raleigh have decided to snatch the operation away from municipal control and hand it over to an independent authority that the governor, speaker of the House and president pro tem of the Senate can help shape with their political skills.

How about we rename it in the spirit of the moment: “Raleigh-Charlotte Airport.”

That has a nice ring and it pays tribute to our rescuers, who clearly could do a better job running it than the city that founded and fussed over it for eight decades (aside from a spell during World War II when the military borrowed it to train pilots).

If a touch of history would be appropriate, we could name it for one of North Carolina’s most prominent citizens: “Blackbeard Airport.”

Blackbeard, a traveling man who once resided in Bath, would be an excellent namesake. He made his living, and made it well, pilfering the valuables of others. If he were around today, I think the pirate king would lend his name to this burglary with a hearty, “Yarrr!”

“Gov. Mike Easley International” is another idea, serving as a monument to the latest Raleigh chief executive to capture a grand jury’s imagination, and memorialize his family’s enjoyment of travel at taxpayer expense.

Douglas lies in eternal repose in Elmwood Cemetery now, but has never been forgotten.

He is not remembered as the kind of man who used his authority to skulk off with the riches of others, but rather a distinguished mayor who dreamed of a prosperous, vital future for his city and bent his labors on making it so.

He was one in a long line of aspirational leaders who pushed Charlotte to ever-greater heights. It insults his memory to leave his name on a thing borne away by lowly serpents.

Washburn: 704-358-5007.
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