Who is the Face of Las Vegas?
There’s an abomination of a proposal circulating right now that aims to rename the Las Vegas International Airport after (now retired) Senator Harry Reid, a.k.a. “Dirty Harry.” What a horrible idea.
Given his blatant corruption, ineptitude, hypocrisy, numerous betrayals, and utter failure for much of his political career in Washington, this would be a gross mistake. Sure, the current official name “McCarran” should be changed to something far more reflective of the current times and our values, but slapping Harry Reid’s name on the signs is trading one bad idea for another.
So, this raises an important question. Who’s a better choice?
Admittedly, I’m having difficulty coming up with the perfect nominee.
Other cities mostly got this right. LaGuardia (New York), John Wayne (Orange County), Louis Armstrong (New Orleans), Ronald Reagan (Washington National), John F. Kennedy (New York), George H.W. Bush (Houston), and others named their major airports after political leaders and in some cases entertainers who were undisputed pioneers of the local and national culture.
Given Las Vegas’ relatively short past and brief history (the city was founded in 1905), the names worthy of consideration are all from the 20th Century. No surprise, they all happen to be white men, which only serves to reinforce old ideas about who wields all the power.
That aside, strictly from the casino and business sector, the face of Las Vegas could be Benny Binion, Bugsy Siegel, Howard Hughes, or Steve Wynn. However, all of these possible nominees were either gangsters, convicted criminals, or embroiled in other controversies. So, none of them turn out to be good choices.
How about entertainers? Wayne Newton is probably the name most associated with Las Vegas. He’s even referred to as “Mr. Las Vegas.” No doubt, the master showman who dominated the Strip for nearly 50 years is worthy of consideration. However, Newton’s time as come and gone and he’s not exactly the name or facelift for the 21st Century, and beyond.
Two other entertainers in the renaming mix are among the biggest icons in music and show business. “Elvis Presley International Airport” sounds good. The problem is that many travelers might think they’re flying to Memphis instead, which has been debating a name change for several years. Elvis is far more associated with Memphis, the music-rich city he lived and called home most of his life, than Las Vegas.
The other popular proposal is “Frank Sinatra International Airport” (I’ve also seen “Rat Pack International Airport” pitched). Again, Sinatra left his mark here. But he could just as easily be on the approach signs at Newark (in northern New Jersey) or Palm Springs, California. Those seem like better choices for the iconic Sinatra name.
So, each throw of the dice on renaming the local airport makes a point or two, and then sevens out upon closer scrutiny.
Here’s an idea: Maybe we should just strip “McCarran” from the name and simply leave it as Las Vegas International Airport. Las Vegas was built by many names with many different faces. Bestowing the honor to a single divisive ex-Senator who accomplished little for our state or community is an insult to all those who have worked to make Las Vegas a world-class city and mecca for leisure and entertainment.