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Airport renaming ceremony criticized for not being ‘inclusive’

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Monroe County Executive Adam Bello
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New signage unveiled in Monroe County on Sunday for the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport.

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello unveiled a new sign for the Frederick Douglass International Airport in a small ceremony Sunday, but some say last weekend’s ceremony intentionally kept the community out.

“It was deliberate,” said Monroe County Democratic Minority Leader Vince Felder.“There’s no other way to look at it even if you want to. There’s no other way to look at it because if you wanted people to know you would have told them.”

He also called the celebration of the name change “a farce.”

“It was not a celebration,” said Felder. “A celebration includes folks. This was a limited event designed to boost certain people and exclude others.”

The community driven effort to rename Rochester’s airport after Frederick Douglass started with a petition last summer. Felder and Republican Karla Boyce co-sponsored legislation to make it happen. It became official in August, but needed Federal Aviation Administration approval in order to finalize. Felder said things went largely quiet since. 

“It should have been done differently,” continued Felder. “It could have been done differently. He (Bello) didn’t invite the mayor (Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren). How do you not invite the mayor?”

Felder, who has had clashes with Bello and other Democratic legislators over the last year, said his outrage isn’t politically driven. He said he heard from more than a dozen community members about people who were not invited, including Nazareth College Visiting Scholar David Anderson. Anderson was a member of the national Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission. 

County Spokesperson Steve Barz said, in a statement, that no slight or insult was intended by keeping the ceremony small. He said the county limited attendance largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Attendance, which was limited to comply with COVID-19 guidelines included Mr. Douglass’ family, a representative from the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, the Re-energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass project, and other members of the grassroots movement leading the call to rename the airport,” wrote Barz.

Barz also said a county legislature committee was formed on the matter but did nothing for months.

Felder, who was part of the committee, says that they didn’t meet because no one told them that the federal government approved the name change. He also said that members of the committee reached out to airport executives to find out and still were not told. 

Bishop Jeffrey Melvin of the Power House Church of God In Christ said the pandemic is not an excuse for not inviting the public. 

“First of all, let everybody know when it's happening,” said Melvin. “Let it go live. I haven’t had an open church service since March, but we have Zoom, we have live streaming on Sundays, so you can have a large event, it can be inclusive, you have it outside so you can spread out.”

Melvin, Felder and Barz agree on one thing, a larger celebration should be held after the COVID-19 pandemic resides. 

“A larger community event will be planned to celebrate this historic renaming and the placement of a bronze Frederick Douglass statue at the airport later this year when we are in a post-COVID environment,” wrote Barz.