Sunday, July 18, 1999

Can city keep good name if we lose Sabin?




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        This is tough. A real dilemma. On the one hand, a lot of people are still mad at Delta Air Lines for giving them peanuts instead of a meal on their last (shamefully expensive) flight out of Cincinnati. So, it is tempting to make Delta the villain.

        On the other hand, taxpayers are weary of projects promised as essential to our future that come with immediate bills. And wary of private enterprises demanding public money.

        To make matters worse, there is the delicate complication of respect for Dr. Albert B. Sabin, who was gracious enough to give his name to Cincinnati. Free of charge.

Can we do better?
        Delta has pledged $30 million for the privilege of putting its name on an expanded Albert B. Sabin Convention Center. In addition to Dr. Sabin's name? Instead of Dr. Sabin's name? No one is saying for certain.

        “I thought this would be forever, that Albert's name and Cincinnati would be forever linked,” his widow Heloisa Sabin said, adding graciously that “I understand I am very emotional about my husband.”

        She is not alone. Many people in Cincinnati are outraged that Dr. Sabin's name might be removed from the center. Or given less prominence. Others see a chance to honor Dr. Sabin in a more significant way. Even a more fitting way.

        He was not, after all, the Patron Saint of Tourists. He was the man who rescued a billion children from polio, a murderous, crippling disease.

        James Salinger of Amberley Village suggested naming Eden Park for him. “Many more children and parents would learn and be exposed to the story there than at the Convention Center.”

        Or what about Children's Hospital? Or something at Cinergy Children's Museum. An exhibit there not only would remind natives and visitors that he belongs to us, but children could learn why his name is so important. Show them the iron lung and the braces. Tell them about the man who made these things obsolete.

        In a letter to Mrs. Sabin, Delta's Dave Anderson said, “It will be our intention and commitment to do everything possible to continue to memorialize the name of Dr. Sabin and to continue to treat the name with utmost respect and dignity.”

This isn't peanuts
        Then he got on one of his own planes and flew to Washington, D.C., to talk to Mrs. Sabin in person. He said he wanted to “have some personal time with her so that she can see the face of Delta.” As I said, it would be hard to make Delta the villain here.

        And it also must be said: Delta's $30 million is not peanuts.

        However, the final decision for the convention center's name is up to — how can I say this politely? — Cincinnati's contentious city council. There, that was civil, wasn't it? With no mention of bickering and hot-dogging and broken promises.

        Councilman Todd Portune, whose Public Works Committee will make a recommendation to the full council for action, says he has some “alternative ideas.”

        “Mr. Portune and Mr. Anderson are treating me very kindly,” Mrs. Sabin said. “I know that this is not in my hands, but I am trying to act as I believe Albert would have.” She plans to come here the week of July 26 for further discussions.

        “I try always to keep in mind that Albert would have wanted what is good for the people of Cincinnati. But he would not like for his name to be commercialized. This is a very big decision, and I want to listen carefully to what your city has to say.”

        Mr. Anderson says “her thoughts and feelings are very important.”

        So, it appears that we have several reasonable parties, a lot of money at stake and the character of our community in play. This is our chance to do something right. If we foul this one up, Delta shouldn't trust us with its $30 million and Heloisa Sabin shouldn't trust us with her husband's name.

        We wouldn't deserve either one.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears regularly on WVXU radio, NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.

PULFER ARCHIVE