The embattled Eisenhower Memorial Commission, charged with building a monument to the nation’s 34th president, is likely to get a new, hard-charging chairman next month: Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas.
The current chairman, Rocco Siciliano, said Wednesday he would be stepping down as chairman but staying on the commission and wanted Roberts, who is a commission member, to succeed him.
“It has always been my goal to ensure there is a lasting and fitting tribute on the National Mall to Kansas’ favorite son, Dwight D. Eisenhower,” Roberts said in a statement. “I would be humbled and honored to serve as the chair of the committee.”
Eisenhower was born in Texas but grew up in Kansas. He was the supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II and later won the presidency on the Republican ticket. The memorial is intended to recognize his contributions as both a military hero and as president.
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The commission will meet April 29 to select the new chairman. Roberts, a popular member of Congress from Eisenhower’s home state, is all but certain to be chosen.
“With his roots in Kansas and his passion for Ike,” wrote Siciliano in a letter to commission members, “I hope he will consider succeeding me as chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. We need a tough Marine like him to bring this project to conclusion.”
Roberts would have a challenging task to push for construction and completion of the memorial, which has been mired in controversy over the proposed design by famed architect Frank Gehry.
After nearly 15 years of planning, the memorial construction has not yet begun.
Siciliano, 93, is a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based former aide to President Eisenhower who is close to the Pritzker Architecture Award-winning Gehry. Siciliano stood up to the Eisenhower family in 2013 when members objected to the famed architect’s design as too grandiose.
Roberts at the time tried unsuccessfully to broker a compromise. But after objections to the design from critics and one of the approving agencies in Washington that control the size and look of all memorials, Gehry modified the design.
Last year, both the National Capital Planning Commission and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts gave preliminary approval to the revised design. Gehry removed two large metal tapestries at each end of the four-acre tract across the street from the National Air and Space Museum, leaving only one of the controversial tapestries.
The commission is asking Congress for $70 million to start construction of the project. Last year lawmakers refused to grant construction funding and cut administrative funding to the commission in half.
Roberts, a senior member of Congress who is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, could be poised to smooth the process.
But critics are determined to try and block the funding and start the process over.
“The hope is not only that Congress will deny construction funds again, but they will call for a new design,” said Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society, a Washington-based group opposed to the Gehry design.