O'HARE — Mayor Rahm Emanuel left the door open Thursday for a renewed campaign to remove the Balbo monument from its Downtown perch, but he rejected similar efforts aimed at renaming Washington Park and Jackson Park on the city's South Side.
The nation's first and seventh presidents both "fought for a more perfect union" through efforts to keep the country unified, the mayor said.
Activists have redoubled their efforts at renaming city landmarks since last weekend's violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday morning that statues of Confederate leaders should be left standing across the South.
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) and 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke are leading an effort to remove the Balbo Monument and possibly rename Balbo Drive, which pay tribute to a fascist Italian general. Others have called for parks — including Washington and Jackson — to be renamed because the names honor slave owners.
The Balbo monument, a column and pedestal sitting near Soldier Field, was gifted to the city by fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in the early 1930s. Mussolini — who passed anti-Semitic laws, committed war crimes and was an ally of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler during World War II — gave the monument to Chicago in honor of Gen. Italo Balbo's flight from Rome to Chicago.
Emanuel acknowledged the aldermen's proposal on Thursday, saying "We have time to work on that together."
But the mayor didn't budge on efforts to rename the two South Side parks, which both sit in predominantly black neighborhoods and are named after owners of slave-operated plantations.
James Dukes, pastor of the Liberation Christian Center church, has called for the removal of a statue of Washington near Washington Park, according to CBS2. He's also asking city leaders to rename that park and Jackson Park.
Washington "established the standard of what it means to bring the country together around our common values and principles," and Jackson's 1832 proclamation against nullification stifled South Carolina's effort to "divide the country and break up the union," Emanuel said.
Some historians don't look as kindly on Jackson's two terms.
The seventh president defied a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in overseeing the Indian Removal Act, which forced nearly 125,000 Cherokee Indians from their homes and sent them on the "Trail of Tears" to Western reservations. And his veto against rechartering the Second Bank of the United States is widely blamed for sparking a deep economic depression in 1837.
But Emanuel emphasized Jackson's role in the nullification crisis and pointed to his opening of the electoral process to citizens who didn't own property.
"So that park will stay that way," the mayor said.
Emanuel was speaking at O'Hare Airport during a ribbon-cutting for the second phase of a $220 million cargo facility, which is expected to create 1,200 permanent jobs and handle 1.8 million metric tons of shipments by the end of 2017.
The 240,000 square-foot warehouse will help cement the city's reputation as the "inland port of America," Emanuel said, adding that nearly a third of China's air cargo imports already fly through Chicago.