Las Vegas Sun

July 25, 2021

Currently: 85° — Complete forecast

Welcome to Harry Reid International Airport: Commission OKs name change

Planes at McCarran

Steve Marcus

An Allegiant Air passenger jet taxis to a runway for take off at McCarran International Airport Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021.

Updated Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021 | 3:39 p.m.

Click to enlarge photo

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid responds to a question during an interview at his office in the Bellagio Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019.

Visitors who fly to Las Vegas will soon be landing at Harry Reid International Airport.

The Clark County Commission unanimously voted today to rename McCarran International Airport for the retired U.S Senate majority leader and Searchlight native.

"It is with humility that I express my appreciation for the recognition today,” Reid said in a statement, thanking everybody involved. 

Commissioner Ross Miller said he was receptive to renaming the airport Las Vegas International Airport, one common suggestion from people who questioned removing the longstanding name of late Nevadan and U.S. Sen. Pat McCarran — an aviation proponent but also a known racist and anti-Semite — from the airport.

“But that's not enough, in my opinion. This matters as to what we name our airport when we greet visitors to our community,” Miller said. “All throughout the history of the world, in different cultures, different places, you name things in your community after people that represent your community. And to me, Sen. Reid embodies the American Dream. He came from nothing and became one of the most powerful people in the entire world.”

County Aviation Director Rosemary Vassiliadis will notify the Federal Aviation Administration of the change.

The FAA said in a statement that although it doesn’t approve name changes, the agency must complete some administrative tasks — including revising air traffic control maps — before officially recognizing any changes.

The airport’s three-letter code, LAS, a key FAA identifier, will remain the same.

Commissioner Tick Segerblom, who led the renaming charge, said rebranding costs will be covered by private contributions. He has estimated the price tag at $2 million.

In a brief history of Pat McCarran, UNLV history professor Michael Green said the Democratic senator blocked Jewish judicial appointees and reduced immigration quotas. He resisted allowing displaced, persecuted European Jews to settle in the U.S. after World War II.

McCarran represented Nevada in the Senate from 1933 until his death in 1954. The Las Vegas airport has borne his name since 1968.

“I want to make clear that Pat McCarran did a lot for his state and for aviation, and some aspects of his life and career are admirable. No one should say otherwise,” Green said. “He was as entitled as any of us to his personal views. But he was an anti-Semite and racist and he acted to put his anti-Semitism into law and government, and that is a significant difference.”

Commissioner William McCurdy said the name change rights past wrongs and honors someone who stood up for the working class and marginalized communities.

“The time is always right to do what is right,” McCurdy said, quoting Martin Luther King. “It may not be comfortable, but it is right. It is right to support someone who has supported the community.”

Commissioner Justin Jones noted Reid’s prominence as a champion of the environment.

During his time in Washington, Reid was instrumental in establishing and protecting Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Great Basin National Park and other reserves.

He kept nuclear waste out of Yucca Mountain and was the architect of the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. The act allows federal lands in Southern Nevada to be sold for development with the proceeds going toward conservation projects. 

“Together we have come a long way in our work to ensure we protect our state, but let us never forget that it didn't start with us,” Jones said. “It started with Harry Reid.”

Commissioner Jim Gibson said some constituents have accused the Democratic-controlled commission of changing the name just because Reid is revered liberal. He said that doesn’t do justice to Reid’s service.

Gibson said he would have liked more community dialogue. He also saw some value in a generic Las Vegas International name.

“We have learned enough about Sen. McCarran at this point that his name can come down,” Gibson said.

Reid, 81, was born into a hardscrabble life in Searchlight. He hitchhiked 40 miles to attend school in Henderson, where he met teacher and future Gov. Mike O'Callaghan, a political mentor.

Reid later graduated from law school and ascended in state politics before heading to Washington in 1983, first as a representative.

Reid then served in the Senate from 1987 to 2017 and was the Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015.

The renaming push drew endorsements from much of Nevada’s Democratic congressional delegation, Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and UNR President and former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Segerblom held up supportive letters he said he wanted entered into the record from prominent businessman Sig Rogich and Miriam Adelson, the widow of conservative casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. 

“These aren’t liberal Democrats,” Segerblom said.

Miriam Adelson said she supported the renaming “with a happy heart.”

“Sen. Reid and my family have forged a warm and strong friendship over the years,” she said in her letter. “Although hailing from different political parties, my late and beloved husband, Sheldon G. Adelson, and Sen. Reid found common ground on many issues important to our state and country, like United States-Israel relations and the fight against anti-Semitism.”

Rogich, who worked as a White House staffer and ambassador under former President George H.W. Bush, called Reid’s track record “immeasurable” and “incalculable.”

While Rogich said he and Reid didn't agree on much politically, "we never let it get in the way of our love and friendship for one another." They even worked together to solve water rights and public land issues for the betterment of Nevada, he said.

"In those days we called it common sense, and today they like to call it bipartisanship. But with us, it was just something that needed to be done for our state," Rogich said.

McCurdy said if the pandemic over the past year has taught anything, it is to give people you admire “their flowers while they are living.”

Miller said putting Reid’s name on the airport conveys “the story we want to tell.”

“Even if you come from nothing, if you have to hitchhike to high school, hard work and a dream is all it takes in order to make it. That's true in this community,” Miller said.