"I don't see what the purpose is," says Thomas, 43. "I don't know if [Obama] even knows that Willingboro exists."
"I don't think it's an appropriate thing to do. It's not the proper time," says Mayor Eddie Campbell, 81, who cast the lone "no" vote. Deputy Mayor Jacqueline Jennings, who backs the measure, was not present.
"It had never been discussed by the full council," says Campbell, a retired Marine. "It was inserted into the [agenda]. . . . I don't feel it was necessary, and I have no intention of changing my vote."
The council's desire to honor the nation's first black president has struck a chord - and a nerve - inside and outside Willingboro.
"Barack Obama has never done anything for this town," says resident Keith Tum Suden Jr., 28, a mechanic who was "born and raised" in Willingboro.
"This town needs to do something about taxes, which are outrageous, and vacant houses," he adds. "Forget about renaming buildings."
Knowing that Willingboro voters overwhelmingly supported Obama - twice - for president, council members are disheartened by the controversy and dismayed by a tsunami of vitriolic e-mails.
Conservative websites have aggregated reams of high-decibel tweets by opponents. One online comment suggests naming a "latrine" for the president of the United States.
Some township residents strongly support replacing the Kennedy name with Obama's. "I'm 100 percent for it," says Dorothy Harmon, a retired automobile assembly-line worker who has lived in Willingboro since 1976. "Obama deserves it."
On his Facebook page Aug. 5, Councilman Nathaniel Anderson called the renaming "historic." His post gathered a dozen affirmations, including "wow" and "fantastic!" And Councilman Chris Walker, who introduced the resolution, described it as "a unique way of honoring two presidents, both presidents, by having a building named for one on a street honoring another."
Much of the opposition within the township has arisen from alumni who fondly remember the Kennedy Center when it was John F. Kennedy High School, back when "the Boro" was booming. "Earlier this summer, I attended a JFK-vs.-Willingboro High alumni soccer game. People came from across the country," says former reporter Josh Bernstein, whose Legendary Locals of Willingboro is his second book about the township.
"There was much greater pride among the Kennedy grads than those representing Willingboro High," adds Bernstein, of Moorestown.
"What is my Kennedy jacket supposed to mean now?" asks Oscar McCoy, 44, a member of Kennedy's final graduating class, in 1989. "With all due respect to President Obama, renaming the center is a travesty."
A businessman and father of three, McCoy says the public didn't get a chance to weigh in on the renaming. He plans to speak out at the Sept. 2 township council meeting.
"I am definitely against it," says Marilouise James, a retired Philadelphia public schoolteacher who has lived in Willingboro since 1969. "As much as I care about Barack Obama, there are plenty of other things that could be named for him. Why are they in such a hurry?"
Adds former Mayor Lavonne Bebeler Johnson, who cochaired Obama's 2012 campaign in Burlington County: "I fully hope we will name something after President Obama. But you don't kick out one president to honor another."
At the NBA ("Nicest Barbers Around") shop in Kennedy Plaza, longtime stylist Mike Thomas, 57, says many customers have little interest in the issue. "The kids don't care," he says.
But among older residents, it's a different story.
"They should hold a referendum on it, or something like that," Addie Hatten, 81, says. "I believe in going to the people."
Ms. Hatten is right that more Willingboro residents should have a say.
A resolution to rename a beloved community institution ought to be embraced by the community it serves.
And not just by the Township Council.