LAS VEGAS >> A county board voted unanimously today to rename busy McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas after former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada.
The all-Democratic Clark County Commission approved a measure directing the county’s airport staff to file a change with the Federal Aviation Administration renaming the facility Harry Reid International Airport.
The county commission oversees the airport and is the final authority on a name change.
There have been longstanding calls to rename the airport. Its current namesake, former Nevada Sen. Patrick McCarran, served as one of Nevada’s two U.S. senators from 1933 until his death in 1954. He was known for his contributions to aviation along with his anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic views.
Reid, a Democrat and the former Senate majority leader, retired from the Senate in 2016 after serving 30 years. He said ahead of the name change that he was “deeply humbled and grateful” for the commission’s proposal.
The Federal Aviation Administration says it must take steps to process a name change before officially recognizing it. That’s expected to take a few months.
“I love Nevada, and I love the airport, and that will remain true for me regardless of what it’s named,” Reid said in a statement ahead of today’s vote. “I am deeply humbled and grateful for the Clark County Commission’s consideration and thoughtfulness.”
The proposal drew public support from longtime Reid aides and supporters, including Dan Hamilton, dean of the law school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Stephen J. Cloobeck, founder of Diamond Resorts International, Inc. and a major Democratic donor; and MGM Resorts, which has Reid co-chairing its public policy institute.
MGM Resorts Director of Government Affairs Jason Gray read a statement from the company’s CEO and President Bill Hornbuckle in which he said that with McCarran’s history of support for racist and anti-Semitic policies, his name should not be the first one visitors see when they reach Nevada.
McCarran, a Democrat, was the author of the 1938 Civil Aeronautics Act, which established the federal government’s role in overseeing aviation by regulating airline fares and investigating accidents.
“Las Vegas’s main airport should be named for a champion of values important to Nevada, a champion of Nevada: Sen. Harry Reid,” Gray said.
Other people spoke about Reid’s support for Nevada’s diverse communities and his legacy, including his work to make Nevada an early presidential nominating state starting in 2008 for both the Democratic and Republican parties. The move gave the small state an outsized voice on the presidential field.
Some members of the public questioned why officials would rename the airport after a politician, especially one who was polarizing and did not enjoy the same popularity outside his own political party.
“You don’t name a car or new computer with a name that 50% of the possible consumers dislike,” said Daniel Braisted of Las Vegas.
One woman who didn’t give her name suggested renaming the airport as Siegfried and Roy International Airport, paying tribute to “two immigrants who brought beauty and joy” to Las Vegas visitors. Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn, the late German entertainment duo. were known for their magic show featuring white tigers.
Others suggested picking something more neutral such as Las Vegas International Airport and said that amid the pandemic, the county should not spend several million dollars rebranding the airport. Commissioner Tick Segerblom, who pushed for the name change, said it will be paid for entirely by private contributions, not taxpayer money.