JFK Center name change sparks petition

More than 800 people have signed an online petition against changing the name of a Willingboro, NJ municipal complex from the Kennedy Center to the Obama Center.

The Change.org petition  was started by Dawn Donnelly, a Burlington Township grandmother who grew up in Willingboro, graduated in 1977 from what was then Kennedy High School, and still works in the township.

"To me, this has nothing to do with President Obama," Donnelly, 55, says. "I  voted for President Obama, and I would vote for him again. This is about taking away the name [that honored] a president who at the time the school was built was a huge deal. It's a change that's disrespectful of history."

As I wrote in my Sunday column,  four of the five township council members favor the name change, which was approved August 5. Supporters of the renaming point out that Kennedy High closed in 1989, and that Kennedy Way would remain the Obama Center's address. They also note that the former high school, which houses a senior center and other programs, is undergoing a $4.9 million renovation.

But Mayor Eddie Campbell opposes the change, as do others in the predominantly African American, heavily Democratic, Burlington County township. They question what they say is a rush to honor a president who is still in office, and suggest naming the township library or another public building for Obama.

People from both sides of the issue say they plan to attend the next township council meeting, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2 at the municipal building, 1 Rev. Dr. M.L. King Jr. Drive.