A building in a central New Jersey town named after President John F. Kennedy is getting a new moniker very soon.
The Willingboro Township Council decided that the structure’s new marquee will be renamed after a different U.S. president.
Stumped? Here’s a hint: He’s still alive.
Here’s another: His last name isn’t Carter or Bush or Clinton.
Yup. Officials voted earlier in the week to rename the Kennedy Center as the President Obama Center, according to the Burlington County Times.
Renaming the center was the brainchild of Deputy Mayor Jacqueline Jennings, Philly.com reported, adding she recalled the excitement in Willingboro, a heavily black municipality, when Obama ran for and was elected president.
“I think that people have a sense of pride about him,” Jennings told the Philly.com. “We had so many new people register to vote, people who had never voted before, people who were disenfranchised…All of a sudden, we had…people wrapping around the buildings when the polls opened. It was a sense of history, everybody wanted to be a part of it.”
The move sparked many online reactions, almost all of them angry.
“What’s next naming malls after terrorists since he negotiates with them!!” Kristina Darlin wrote on the Burlington County Times Facebook page. She also added, “What a disgrace to (A)merica!!”
“The only place his name should appear is in school textbooks stating he was the worst president in our history,” Lindsey Rotteau wrote. “The only CHANGE he made was making people not be proud to be an American!”
A number of those unhappy with the name change are alumni of the former John F. Kennedy High School.
In addition Willingboro has an historical connection Kennedy, who visited the township during a campaign stop in October 1960, the Times said.
“This is an outrage and shouldn’t even be considered! Karen Lydon wrote. “The name should stay the way it is now honoring President Kennedy!”
But by Saturday one responder apparently had enough: “Stop bitchn people,” Ant Rivera wrote. “It’s gonna get changed whether y’all like it or not.”
That approximates how a pair of Willingboro officials see the issue.
“It was an easy decision,” Councilman Darvis Holley told the Times in regard to the renaming, calling Obama a president who’s “breaking many barriers nationally.”
“I think it’s a great privilege to name this community center after him,” Holley noted in the videotaped interview with the paper.
He added that the move “provides hope” and “a positive change for our community.”
Holley also told the Times, “I happen to idolize Barack Obama,” according to NJ.com.
Councilman Chris Walker — who asked that the building rename be added to the agenda of Tuesday’s council meeting, the Times said, and made a motion that was seconded and approved by a 3-1 vote — said it is “time to be about change” as officials focus on upgrading the facility.
“I thought this would be the most opportune time to be about change and paying homage to President Obama,” Walker said.
He added that the move is “not a slight” to President Kennedy, as building’s adjoining street and nearby shopping plaza are still named after JFK. Walker characterized the chance to have the Obama and Kennedy names as a “perfect combination” of two presidents who were “very involved in community.”
Mayor Eddie Campbell Jr. voted against the name change, the Times reported, saying he wasn’t aware the action would be suggested.
“The person who approved this jumped the gun,” Campbell told the paper. “He was premature that’s why I didn’t vote for it.”
Councilman Nathaniel Anderson, who seconded the motion, said he believes the public should have a say as well.
“My phone, you can’t even imagine (how much it is ringing),” Anderson told the Times on Thursday. “The emails and calls are just coming in.”
Residents will have an opportunity to air their thoughts and feelings at the Sept. 2 council meeting, the Times said, when the vote will be memorialized and perhaps even the new name announced.
More from the Times:
The 155,000-square-foot building on John F. Kennedy Way opened in 1966 as a high school to serve a growing community and closed in 1991. In 1998, the school district transferred ownership of the building to the municipality for use as a recreation and cultural center.
In April, the council awarded a $4.9 million contract to convert the center’s cafeteria into a banquet hall and upgrade the lobby and entrance. The center houses the township’s recreation department, programs and its senior citizen center.
Obama has garnered much support in Willingboro during the elections of 2008 and 2012 and the turnout was strong.