Under the Dome

Naming Raleigh federal building after Helms would have its ironies

If the Federal Building on Fayetteville Street is named for the late Sen. Jesse Helms, there will be a touch of irony.

The man most responsible for the renovation of the 1878 building, U.S. Federal Bankruptcy Judge J. Rich Leonard, was twice blocked by Helms for higher federal judgeships.

Leonard spent four years starting in 2005 immersing himself in the 19th century architecture and design, helping to bring back to life the building that now serves as both a court house and a U.S. Post office.

There is now a move afoot to name the building after Helms, the Republican senator, who retired in 2003.

Leonard was nominated by Democratic President Bill Clinton to be on the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1995 and to be a U.S. District Court Judge in 1999. Although Leonard received high ratings from the American Bar Association and bi-partisan support, in both cases his nomination was torpedoed by Helms.

Leonard's main problem, it seems, is that he was nominated by Clinton, a man who Helms strongly disliked. The point man for Helms on the issue was his aide, George Holding, who is now Congressman-elect for the 13th district.

When asked about what he thought about the possibility of Helms' name on the door, Leonard declined comment, saying all that was in the past.

But the move may not be politically popular. Only 31 percent of North Carolina voters think the building should be named after Helms, while 48 percent are opposed, according to a survey by Public Policy Polling, which quizzed 578 voters from Dec. 6-9.

Both African Americans(14/61) and white voters(36/44)were against the renaming. Even among Republicans, only 44 percent favored it.


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I'm reminded by a quote from the great, late Senator he used often.  "I never won a poll but never lost an election."

Polls should never sway legislators from doing the right thing!

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