Township Vote to Rename Building After Obama Sparks Controversy

Friday, 22 Aug 2014 11:21 AM

By Jennifer G. Hickey

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A vote earlier this month by the township council in Willingboro, New Jersey, to rename a recreation center after President Barack Obama has stirred controversy, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

"I don't think it's an appropriate thing to do. It's not the proper time," Willingboro Mayor Eddie Campbell, who was the only member of the council to oppose renaming the Kennedy Center after Obama, told the Inquirer.

The Aug. 5 vote inspired a Change.org petition, which more than 850 signatures and was started by Dawn Donnelly, a 1977 graduate of Kennedy High School.

"To me, this has nothing to do with President Obama. I voted for President Obama, and I would vote for him again. This is about taking away the name [that honored] a president who at the time the school was built was a huge deal. It's a change that's disrespectful of history," she told the Inquirer.

The council voted 3-1 on Aug. 5 to approve $4.9 million to renovate and rename the building which was formerly the Kennedy High School, named after John F. Kennedy, and now serves a recreation center and senior citizen center, according to the Burlington County Times.

The proposal's chief sponsor, Deputy Mayor Jacqueline Jennings, was late for the vote but she "happen[s] to idolize Barack Obama," reports Philymag.com.

"It was inserted into the [agenda]. . . . I don't feel it was necessary, and I have no intention of changing my vote," added Mayor Campbell, a retired Marine and is African American.

The council is scheduled to vote Sept. 2 to give final approval to the renovation plans.

The 155,000-square-foot building served as a high school from 1966 to 1991. In 1998, the school district transferred ownership of the building to the municipality for use as a recreation and cultural center, according to the Burlington County Times.

Willingboro, which is located in Burlington County, has a population of about 34,000 and is predominantly African American. It has one high school, one upper elementary school, one middle school, and five elementary schools.

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