Two university presidents have endorsed changing the name of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas for former Gaming Commission Chairman and US Sen. Harry Reid.
Keith Whitfield and Brian Sandoval released a letter this week, saying they “jointly support” the name change. Whitfield is president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Sandoval, a former Nevada Republican governor, is president of the University of Nevada, Reno.
“We are committed to equity and inclusion, and we stand together against the late Pat McCarran’s legacy of racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia,” the letter states.
Reid, 81, is a Democrat, as was the late US Sen. Pat McCarran.
The Clark County Commission is set to address the name-change issue at Tuesday’s meeting, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom (D) said he expects the seven-member panel to approve the name change. However, the change could take years to complete, he told the newspaper
It’s all going to be paid for by donated funds, so we’re going to have to raise the money and we’ll do it methodically,” he said. “But it’s going to happen, I think.”
The airport is in Clark County, outside Las Vegas city limits. It is at the southeast end of the Strip, near the Tropicana and other hotel-casinos.
The county’s Department of Aviation manages the airport.
Segerblom told the newspaper it is important to name the airport after a prominent Nevadan instead of calling it Las Vegas International Airport, as some have suggested. Segerblom said Reid is well-known outside the state and represents progress.
“I think taking McCarran’s name off of there is really significant because he represents a Nevada that no longer exists,” Segerblom said. “From my perspective, if you put Harry Reid’s name on there it shows the world that we are a different Nevada.”
McCarran was born in Reno 11 years after the Civil War. He died in 1954.
A letter last summer from Nevada’s Democratic congressional delegation states that McCarran had a “dark legacy of virulent racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia.”
“McCarran sought to exploit the rhetoric and fear of the McCarthy era by restricting immigration, including Jewish immigration after the Holocaust,” the letter states.
Reid has had a long career as a Nevada public official. He served in the state Legislature and was lieutenant governor. Reid also served in the US House of Representatives and US Senate. In the Senate, he became the majority leader.
In 1977, Gov. Mike O’Callaghan (D) named Reid chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. As journalist Dennis Myers and other have noted, Reid had run-ins with organized crime figures while on the commission.
“Hoods threatened him and tried to bribe him,” Myers wrote. “A bomb was planted in his car.”
A high-profile confrontation at one commission meeting between Reid and Mob associate Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal was dramatized in the 1995 Las Vegas Mafia movie Casino.
In the 1970s, Rosenthal oversaw four casinos, including the Stardust, for Midwestern Mafia families. The Stardust has been demolished. Resorts World Las Vegas has gone up at that site on the west side of the Strip near Circus Circus.
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