Jim Oberstar was one of a kind. But there are two airports that would love to see his name on their new terminals.
Both the Duluth and Hibbing airport authorities have offered to name their terminals in the late congressman's honor. Oberstar, an Iron Range legend who served in Congress longer than any other Minnesota politician, represented both communities and supported the expansion of both airports. He died in May at age 79.
Two Oberstar terminals within 70 miles of each other might get confusing. And the Duluth International Airport and the Range Regional Airport in Hibbing aren't looking for a fight over naming rights.
"There's not a competition here," said Natalie Peterson, director of communications and marketing for the Duluth Airport Authority.
"There is just such an interest in naming, from both communities," said former Oberstar aide Peter Makowski.
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Makowski said the family is hoping that the two airport authorities will work that out between themselves. Airport officials think the family should have the final say.
The main worry now, Peterson said, is that the dual offers meant to honor Oberstar accidentally created a new source of stress for his grieving family.
"That's exactly what we didn't want to happen," Peterson said. "This is not a rush. In due time, we'll approach them and let them know that both [airports] are willing and interested to have a conversation about what the best fit is, going forward, to serve his memory."
Airports aren't the only place Minnesotans might see the Oberstar name someday. Communities around the Eighth Congressional District have plans to rename some landmarks, from the Chisholm Post Office to stretches of Interstate Hwy. 35 and Hwy. 61. There's also an effort underway to rename the U.S. Department of Transportation complex in Washington, D.C. after the Democrat from Chisholm, who served 18 terms in Congress, from 1975 until he was unseated in 2011.
In May, the entire Minnesota congressional delegation co-sponsored legislation that would rename the sprawling Transportation Department headquarters in Washington. Like the airport authorities, the delegation saw Oberstar's name on an iconic transportation building as a fitting way to commemorate a man who had his hands on almost every major piece of transportation legislation since the Nixon administration.
"Representative Oberstar's fingerprints can be found on just about every major federally funded transportation project during the last five decades — roads, bridges, tunnels, rails, locks and dams, bike paths," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in a statement when the bill was introduced in May. "Every American who flies in an airplane or drives our federal highways can thank Jim Oberstar. Every American who bikes their bike trails, who hikes places like the beautiful Lake Superior trail in northern Minnesota, or drives on our national highways and bridges should remember him.
"It is only fitting that the Department of Transportation building would honor his legacy."