Baltimore County Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr. wants to honor former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall by renaming one of Maryland's crown jewels - Baltimore-Washington International Airport - after the civil rights pioneer.
Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he respects Marshall's legacy, but worries that tampering with a name known to millions of passengers around the world could damage a valuable economic asset at a time of growing competition with the region's two other airports.
Though the House of Delegates voted 105-to-24 yesterday in favor of Burns' bill to change the name, its fate rests with Miller and the Senate, where passage appears unlikely.
"I don't think so," Miller said when asked if the measure has a chance in the Senate. "It's an economic-development issue. We're competing with National and Dulles airports."
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has not said whether he will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk, though there is concern about any cost involved in changing the airport's name at a time of fiscal belt-tightening, said Shareese DeLeaver, an Ehrlich spokeswoman.
Still, the governor is "definitely open to the idea," DeLeaver said. "It would be a fitting way to honor one of Maryland's most prominent citizens."
Fiscal analysts estimated that the cost to change BWI's name would be as much as $2.1 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, because the state would assume responsibility for signs at the airport as well as for road signs and other incidentals.
Marshall, the nation's first African-American U.S. Supreme Court Justice, was a native Baltimorean who died in 1993 after serving on the court for 24 years.
A name change would support what some see as a growing trend nationwide for airports.
In 1998 National Airport became Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. In 2001, New Orleans named its airport for jazz musician Louis Armstrong.
Atlanta officials renamed the local airport Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2003 to include the names of two former city mayors. Mississippi renamed its airport that same year, adding the name of civil rights activist Medgar Evers to the Jackson International Airport.
"I think you're going to see this trend continue in major metropolitan cities," said Lanii Thomas, a spokeswoman for Hartsfield-Jackson airport.
In Atlanta, Thomas said, estimates put the cost of the name change at less than $100,000 for signs and other incidentals.
At Reagan National, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which also oversees Dulles International Airport, spent about $29,000 to add the former president's name. Other costs associated with the new name were absorbed by Virginia for road signs and by Metro, the public transit system for metropolitan Washington.
The Maryland Aviation Administration has begun a "thorough analysis to evaluate the impact of the name change" but had no details yesterday, said spokesman Jonathan Dean.
Burns and others said naming an airport after someone of Marshall's stature is a fitting tribute. Burns said he hopes to convince Miller to support the idea and have the Senate pass the legislation.
"This issue is very important to a lot of people," Burns said. "If I were talking about changing the name to Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck, I could see some opposition.
"When you're talking about Thurgood Marshall, you're not talking about a midget," he said. "He's a national hero and even an international hero."
Marshall joined the nation's high court after pioneering legal strategies that ended discrimination, in particular in the Brown vs. Board of Education case that ended legal school segregation.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat whose county is home to BWI, said he sees no reason why the Senate would not support the change.
"I certainly think Thurgood Marshall is as prominent a Marylander as we have had," Busch said.