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No honor in Bill Daley’s proposal to rename Dan Ryan to honor Obama

The Dan Ryan Expressway looking north from 31st Street, several months before construction was completed in December 1962. | Sun-Times file photo

If Bill Daley wants to use Barack Obama’s good name on his quest to be the third Daley to run Chicago, he should think a lot bigger.

After all, Interstate 55, from Interstate 294 in the Chicago burbs south to near the city of Pontiac, is already named for the nation’s 44th president.

But more than that, how does the 11.5-mile highway that is derided as the “Damn Ryan” reflect the historic nature of the Obama presidency?

I can hear traffic reporters now:

“Whatever you do, avoid the Obama Drama.”

I understand that in such a ridiculously crowded field of mayoral candidates, it is not enough to belong to a political dynasty.

But while Daley’s “Obama Expressway” idea got him a front-page story, it also exposed him as being surprisingly uninformed.

But I’ll let fact-checker Kirkland Burke tell you about that.

“Bill Daley is in error. I would appreciate it if you would inform him of the following,” Burke requested in an email.

“All expressways in Chicago are not named for presidents. Dan Ryan and William G. Edens were not presidents of the United States. He was also in error regarding Dan Ryan Woods and Dan Ryan expressway. They are not named for the same person. Dan Ryan Woods is named for Daniel Ryan Sr. and Dan Ryan expressway is named for his son, Daniel Ryan Jr.,” he said.

For all his “I’m not my brother talk,” Bill Daley appears to be taking a page from former mayor Richard M. Daley.

Daley pushed for the renaming of the Calumet Expressway when Bishop Louis Henry Ford — an influential player in Chicago politics — died in 1995.

Ford, an African-American, was an international leader of a Pentecostal denomination and an unapologetic supporter of Mayor Richard J. Daley at a time when Daley was under fire in the black community.

A year after his death, Ford became the first African-American to have an Illinois expressway named after him.

In 2008, Richard M. Daley joined religious leaders at an opening of an exhibit at DuSable Museum of African American History to highlight Ford’s contributions to the city.

Obama will have the Obama Presidential Center on the South Side to memorialize his legacy as the first African-American president of the United States.

So really, Daley is going to have to go after something much bigger.

For instance, how about changing the names of O’Hare or Midway International Airports?

O’Hare is named for a war hero — Lt. Cmdr. Edward “Butch” O’Hare — who was shot down in 1943.

Midway was known as “Chicago Municipal Airport” until 1949, when it was renamed to honor veterans of the Battle of Midway, a naval battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation website.

But even if Daley ups his game, he won’t be the first mayoral candidate to use the Obama name in an effort to attract black voters.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel floated the idea of renaming one of the city’s airports in 2015 for Obama during his fierce run-off campaign.

Then Emanuel noted that rather than “transformative” figures, Chicago’s airports were named after “battleships.”

Unfortunately, naming things in Chicago to honor the city’s most famous son has proven to be rather difficult.

Emanuel was forced to back off naming a new elite high school slated for the North Side after people in the neighborhood complained about losing part of a park and parking in the area.

But the Dan Ryan? Please.

If Daley thinks renaming this particular expressway would make African-Americans flock to his campaign, well, he has another thing coming.

Never mind that you feel like you are on a suicide mission when trying to merge on or off the Dan Ryan, but the expressway has a dubious history.

While urban planners dismiss the notion that the Dan Ryan was built to reinforce the division between the predominantly white neighborhoods on the west and the massive CHA public housing high-rises that were built on the east, I grew up in that area and I’m not convinced.

Additionally, many people who lived near the Dan Ryan believed it was built to help white people zip past the projects to get to neighborhoods that were predominantly white.

Either way, Daley ought to know that the Dan Ryan’s link to the city’s segregation makes renaming it for Obama an unfitting tribute.

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