Among his many lasting impacts, Barack Obama substantially changed the nature of the relationship between the presidency and local government for the better. This is a fact that has been written about in the past by others.
On two separate occasions, I had the great fortune to be invited to visit the Obama White House in order to meet with his administration and discuss shared priorities for local and federal government. This allowed me to witness the passion that his administration had for strengthening communities from the bottom up, as well as empowering local leaders to shape the next generation of American progress starting in their own communities.
In addition to President Barack Obama’s established commitment to leading locally, we know that he visited the City-County Building in Madison in 2012. With all this in mind, I can see where some local officials got the idea that it might be an honor to rename that building after him. After all, that is the building where city and county business gets done.
At just 55 years of age, Barack Obama unquestionably has a legacy worth honoring already. And his legacy builds upon generations of honorable struggle and progress within the African-American experience. So, in a way, I’m grateful to hear so many people responding positively to the idea of renaming something significant within our city after Barack Obama.
However, before we worry about naming our City-County building after Barack Obama, I propose that we become desperate to live up to his legacy and vision. Looking to the agenda of his presidency as a guide, I’ve quickly put together a list of 44 better ideas than this renaming plan.
1. Let’s not put President Barack Obama’s name on the City-County Building.
2. Adopt policies and practices that result in a rental housing market that is affordable to the full range of income earners.
3. Specifically, let’s not put Barack Obama’s name on the City-County Building, which houses a jail on its top 2 floors.
4. Substantially reduce racial disparities in arrest and incarceration rates.
5. Indeed, let’s definitely not put the first black president’s name on a building which is a jail facility.
6. Expand our “Ban the Box” policy aimed at providing fair chance hiring to include more employers.
7. Definitely, the first black president’s name shouldn’t be on a building whose jail inside is a reminder of the stark racial inequalities both locally and nationally.
8. Follow up on President Obama’s “Lead on Leave” initiative and begin providing paid family leave to employees.
9. There wouldn’t be anything good about putting Barack Obama’s name on a building whose jail is disproportionately full of young black men.
10. Actually end veterans’ homelessness.
11. Let’s agree to not put Barack Obama’s name on a building with a jail in it … in a city that has a 10:1 arrest ratio of black adults to white adults.
12. Examine the results relative to other communities when President Obama issued the “My Brother’s Keeper” challenge to Mayors and Madison’s Mayor accepted the challenge in 2014.
13. In a county whose incarceration rates are some 20x higher for black adults than white adults, let’s agree to not put Barack Obama’s name on a building with a jail.
14. Reverse the trend of growing income inequality, starting with investing substantially in adult job training programs for future-oriented jobs.
15. Really, putting Barack Obama’s name on a jail will be off the table no matter what.
16. In the spirit of Obama’s Data-Driven Justice Initiative, continue to seek more ways to divert low-level offenders with mental illness out of the criminal justice system and change approaches to pre-trial incarceration, so that low-risk offenders no longer stay in jail simply because they cannot afford a bond.
17. To be sure, in the state of Wisconsin, where the racial disparity of arrest and imprisonment is most severe, putting Barack Obama’s name on a building that houses a jail would be particularly embarrassing.
18. In keeping with President Obama’s Police Data Initiative, incorporate data sharing between local agencies in order to ensure accurate data is being used by law enforcement agencies.
19. Knowing that within Wisconsin, the city of Madison has the highest levels of racial disparity, it would be literally the worst place to rename a local building with a jail in it after Barack Obama.
20. Invest in crisis response and peer mentorship programs to eliminate the cycle of violence.
21. Naming a park after Barack Obama would be a fine idea.
22. Create a mental health restoration center so that individuals suffering from mental health illnesses can receive treatment and support rather than spending time in jail.
23. Naming a street after Barack Obama would be a fine idea.
24. Fund universal municipal internet.
25. Naming a school after Barack Obama would be a fine idea.
26. Invest in summer job opportunities for all of our children.
27. While we’re on the topic of renaming things, maybe the folks behind this renaming effort could reach out to the young women hoping to rename James Madison Memorial High School.
28. Develop a plan to create college savings accounts for every student in the public school system.
29. Launch future renaming efforts by beginning with community feedback.
30. Continue to uphold our commitment for the entire city to get all of its power from clean renewable sources, starting with city operations.
31. Specifically, launch future renaming efforts by beginning with feedback from diverse communities.
32. Ensure that all families have the tools to be involved in the earliest years of a child’s foundational learning from birth to kindergarten.
33. In general, maybe we should reserve naming honors for after someone’s life.
34. Eliminate all food deserts within our city.
35. Hey, let’s not have our community put Barack Obama’s name on the City-County Building, which houses a jail.
36. Radically increase our goals for the amount of affordable housing that needs to be built here.
37. Hey, let’s not see our community put Barack Obama’s name on the City-County Building, which houses a jail.
38. Adopt fiscal transparency practices seen in President Obama’s Open Government National Action Plans such as participatory budgeting.
39. Hey, let’s not let our community put Barack Obama’s name on the City-County Building, which houses a jail.
40. Create robust regional transportation to improve access to employment and healthy food.
41. If we are going to name something major here after Barack Obama, the airport would be a good suggestion.
42. Pursue automatic voter registration options for our residents.
43. If Illinois or Hawaii call dibs on the Barack Obama airport idea, we should concede that name to them.
44. Go call your United States senators about not letting this Congress destroy the Affordable Care Act and take away health care from millions of Americans.