ATLANTA, Ga. – Former Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney has pulled up stakes and moved to California, where she is considering a Green Party run for president. Now some Georgians want to erase a constant reminder that she ever lived in the Peach State.
A 20 mile stretch of I-285 — a main thoroughfare that connects downtown Atlanta to the suburb of Stone Mountain — was renamed the Cynthia McKinney Parkway in 2000 after the congresswoman secured $14 million in federal funding for DeKalb County to upgrade what was then called Memorial Drive.
Georgia House Rep. Mike Jacobs is supporting a state resolution proposed last year that calls for the parkway to revert to its original name.
“If had I had to pick any road in the state of Georgia to strip the name from, this would be it,” said Jacobs, who represents part of DeKalb County. “The original name of the road is Memorial Drive, which is named for the men and women who died protecting our freedom.
"Who’s more deserving? I think the question answers itself.… [And] in light of the fact that her commitment to the state of Georgia is nil, we should re-double our efforts to remove her name from a state road.”
McKinney, Georgia’s first black congresswoman, has long been known as an outspoken and controversial politician. In 2002, she lost her primary bid for re-election after she suggested that members of the Bush administration had advance notice of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She won back her old seat in 2004, but she was defeated again in the Democratic primary in 2006.
That last defeat came five months after McKinney struck a Capitol police officer who asked to see her identification before she was allowed to enter a House building. McKinney said the officer, who was white, did it because she was “a female black congresswoman.”
For some, simply driving past the sign is a bitter reminder of all the controversy that surrounded McKinney's terms in Congress.
“Every time I look at it, I think, what are we honoring her for?” said Ed Allen, a resident of Decatur in DeKalb County, who passes by the sign several times a month.
“If they wanted to honor her for being the first black congresswoman in the state, that’s fine. But did she distinguish herself while she was there, representing Georgia? I don’t think she necessarily did.
"And with her leaving, I can’t believe the sign is still there.”
Many residents say they still refer to the road as Memorial Drive. “We have enough problems in Atlanta with the same street and two different names,” said Cre Seachrist, a Pine Lake resident who works in downtown Atlanta. “I don’t know anybody who calls it Cynthia McKinney Parkway, anyway.”
Over the past several years the retail shops in the area, which are pawn shops, fast credit bureaus and extended-stay hotels, have struggled along the stretch of the parkway.
Candace Howland, a resident of the nearby Pine Lake community and whose husband Philip is the city administrator, said, “For the part of Memorial Drive that does have her name on it now, it seems that businesses have stayed open for a short amount of time and then shut down.
"There have been at least five. It doesn’t seem to be doing her name any honor at all.”
But McKinney's supporters remain firm. “I’m looking at any move to take her name off the road with a wary eye,” said Kathie deNobriga, a Pine Lake resident and city council member.
“I was proud to have her in Congress representing us, because I felt she was an important voice and spoke to things that many were afraid to.”
In California, the state she now calls home, McKinney is getting a warm welcome from some of her new neighbors.
A group called Run! Cynthia! is trying to draft her as the Green Party’s presidential candidate for the state, and in October she was listed on the Green Party ballot.
John Morton, a California Green Party delegate, said McKinney has until Nov. 30 to remove her name from the ballot, which includes Ralph Nader and five other potential candidates.
“We think she’d be a wonderful candidate,” Morton said. “Her politics are almost entirely in line with Green policy. She’s one of the only ones in Congress who’s like that.”
There is no telling, meanwhile, exactly what will happen to the parkway that bears McKinney's name more than 2,000 miles east of her new home. A resolution to change it back to its old designation is still pending in the Georgia House.