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Las Vegas leader calls for renaming of local airport, citing namesake's racist legacy

Attempts to change name in 2017, 2018 failed
Posted at 4:53 AM, Jun 19, 2020

LAS VEGAS — A Las Vegas leader wants the city's airport renamed amid a wave of racial unrest and calls for removing brands, tributes and other items with racially-charged origins.

McCarran International Airport, located next to the heart of the Las Vegas Strip, is arguably one of the most prominent places in Southern Nevada.

In 1948 it was named for Sen. Patrick McCarran, a powerhouse in both state and national politics.

McCarran represented Nevada from 1933 until his death in 1954 in Washington, D.C.

During his time in public office, he was considered one of the biggest supporters of aviation, which was still getting off the ground in the 1930s, and sponsored key legislation that helped shape the modern air travel industry.

However, historians have pointed out that McCarran's legacy is marred by racism, xenophobia and antisemitism.

"Pat McCarran was an evil man," Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom said.

Segerblom wants to scrub McCarran's name from the airport and introduced a bill in the Nevada Legislature in 2017 to do just that.

"To have the first thing when you come to Nevada (be) McCarran Airport — when you look at his history, that's just unacceptable," Segerblom said.

Segerblom wanted to rename the airport for longtime Nevada Sen. Harry Reid (D), but the bill ultimately failed.

"First off, I want to get rid of the name, but secondly, I want to honor Sen. Reid, he is really the father of modern Nevada," Segerblom said.

There was push back, and Segerblom says he believes opponents felt using Reid's name as a replacement was too politically partisan.

"Our kids grow up hearing about McCarran airport; they don't know what that its, but they don't realize we are honoring somebody who didn't believe I should even be a citizen or have the right to vote, that's wrong," Segerblom said.

Critics who are opposed to renaming the airport say McCarran was a critical part of history, and attempting to scrub his name from Las Vegas will not change that. But Segerblom argues that continuing to honor McCarran is unacceptable.

"We are a multicultural, multi-ethnic city, and for our airport to be named after a racist anti-Semite and other things is just unacceptable," Segerblom said.

A name change would require a majority four-person vote by the Clark County Commission.

If the name changes in the near future, estimates put the cost around $2 million to replace signs, logos, letterheads, graphics and other items associated with the airport.

Segerblom says he would raise funds privately to make the change happen.

This story was originally published by Joe Bartels on KTNV in Las Vegas.