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Posted at 01:01 PM ET, 07/20/2009

Graham Says Council Can Override Code to Rename Park

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) says the city law prohibiting a public space from being named after a living person won't hinder his proposal to rename Girard Park in Columbia Heights "Barack Hussein Obama" park.

Graham offered up his proposal for the name change at Tuesday's council meeting. If the Council agrees, the recently renovated park at the corner of 14th Street and Girard Street NW will become the first city facility named after Obama.

The city code states "No public space in the District shall be named in honor of any living person." But after D.C. Wire cited that section of the code last week, Graham fired off an email to his constituents informing them the Council has the authority to override the law without having to amend the code.

"For years, the council has been naming public spaces after living persons," Graham wrote.

Graham cited a 2007 opinion from the council's chief legal counsel that he says clears the way for the Council to ignore the law, which dates to 1983.

"Although the council adopted a statue, prohibiting a public space from being named in honor of a living person, I am constrained to conclude that because nothing in the Home Rule Act or federal law prohibits the council from amending, repealing or superseding that statute, that the council is not legally bound by that prohibition, so long as the Council's approval is in the form of an act," Brian K. Flowers, the general counsel wrote.

Graham said the Council renamed roadways last year in honor of radio mogul Kathy Hughes and musician Chuck Brown, both of whom are living. Graham also noted that an alley next to Ben's Chili Bown on U Street is named "Ben Ali Way" in honor of the restaurant owner, who is also living.

"What I propose will create an exception," Graham said in an interview. "Every legislature passes laws that change earlier laws."

But the fact that the city code says anything at all about naming a public space in honor of a living person will surely give ammunition to critics of the proposal.

Can they, however, stop a public tribute to a president who received an astounding 92 percent of the vote in the District of Columbia, including a 93 percent showing in Ward 1?

Update: The D.C. Republican Committee, not surprisingly, has come out against Graham's proposal to rename the park after Obama.

Robert Kabel, the chairman of the GOP committee, sent Graham a letter this afternoon suggesting the Council instead rename the park in honor of former U.S. senator Edward Brooke, a District native who was the first African-American elected to the Senate after Reconstruction.

Brooke, a Republican, represented Massachusetts from 1967 to 1979. Brooke is also still alive; he lives in the Watergate.

But the real focus of Kabel's letter is an attempt to mock Graham for spending time on Girard Park's future name.

"The District of Columbia Republican Committee encourages you to find ways to attract jobs to the District," Kabel said. "Now more than ever, District residents need their council members to stay focused on the financial problems that face our city."

By  |  01:01 PM ET, 07/20/2009

Categories:  Tim Craig

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