Kadner: Jesse Jackson Jr.’s woes could lift airport near Peotone
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org November 12, 2012 5:36PM
A sign marks land acquired by the State of Illinois along Rt. 50 and Eagle Lake Road near Peotone for the proposed third airport Thursday, September 27, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 14, 2012 6:18AM
U.S. Rep Jesse Jackson Jr.’s legal and personal problems actually might be a boon to his dream of a south suburban airport.
Although Jackson (D-2nd) has been the chief cheerleader for the airport for 17 years, he also had become perhaps the biggest stumbling block to regional unity.
“We have always been willing to reach out to the Cook County suburbs, the state Legislature, anyone who was willing to help us get this airport built,” said John Grueling, president and chief executive of the Will County Center for Economic Development. “We would certainly be willing to talk to anyone about a compromise that could lead to regional cooperation.”
Jackson, 47, won re-election last week without campaigning. He has been away from Congress since early June, getting treatment for depression related to bipolar disorder.
He was behind the formation of the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission (ALNAC), mostly a group of Cook County suburbs that had designs on becoming the governing authority for an airport near Peotone.
But some in Will County, where the property for the airport is located, resented what they viewed as Jackson’s interloping. His family history — his father is civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson — also carried baggage with some in Will County.
County officials and many of the mayors whose towns surround the airport site want the Legislature to create a governing authority to give them control of any airport.
But with House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) now having veto-proof majorities in the General Assembly, the chances of any third airport legislation passing are unrealistic.
“(Former) Mayor (Richard M.) Daley indicated that he wouldn’t stand in the way if the airport didn’t interfere with O’Hare Airport expansion,” Grueling said. “But (Mayor) Rahm Emanuel has been clear, ‘No way. No how.’ ”
Daley was accused of using his influence in the Clinton administration to remove the south suburban airport from the Federal Aviation Administration’s list of priority projects. Emanuel, the former chief of staff for President Barack Obama, has much stronger ties to the White House than Daley ever had.
It seems clear to me that if the south suburban airport is going to get built, it will take a united effort by South Cook and Will counties. And even with that there are no guarantees.
While the FAA is studying the state’s plans to build the airport, its position has been that it would not give final approval to the project unless a governing authority was in place.
The state of Illinois has continued acquiring land for the airport that would have to be transferred to any airport authority, but Gov. Pat Quinn has given no indication that he’s willing to act as Solomon in the dispute between Will and Cook counties.
But members of ALNAC — Park Forest, University Park, South Holland, Calumet Park and Elk Grove Village — have to realize that without Jackson backing them, the commission has lost its opportunity to be that governing authority.
North suburban Elk Grove Village, which initially put up the financing that launched ALNAC, has been another stumbling block. Will County officials don’t believe that a community near O’Hare should have a voice in a south suburban airport.
Sources tell me that Elk Grove Village could be persuaded to bow out if a new governing body were committed to constructing the airport.
Another factor that could lead to renewed urgency to get something done is the 2014 gubernatorial election. While Quinn has said the airport remains a priority of his, there’s a good chance that a Republican challenger, or another Democrat, would hold a dimmer view of the project.
With Illinois financially struggling, a gubernatorial candidate might well contend that the state would be better off if the land acquired for the airport were sold.
American and United airlines, which have a virtual monopoly at O’Hare, and Southwest Airlines, which is in a similar position at Midway Airport, also oppose competition from a third airport and would exert their political influence.
Finally, Jackson’s presence has been something of a unifying force for Will County governments. Once he’s removed from the picture, the county government might find itself battling with municipalities for control of the airport.
“I’ve always been a little skeptical about the ability of a governing body representing 10 or 11 different suburbs to reach decisions,” Grueling said. “It has all the makings of a possible nightmare trying to get everyone to agree.”
If they don’t agree now to join forces to support the south suburban airport, the window of opportunity may soon close for good.
Jackson’s sense of ownership of the airport ultimately became an impediment to its construction.
But I’ve publicly questioned the desire of Will County officials to see this thing through to completion.
If Southland government, business and community leaders really want the airport to happen, now is the time for them to extend their hands in friendship. An intergovernmental agreement is more of a possibility today than it was a few weeks ago.
I believe this project could eventually create thousands of jobs, result in new commercial ventures and generate millions in revenue for Southland governments.
It’s not going to happen unless bold leaders with vision step forward. Congressman Jackson is no longer an excuse for inaction and obstruction.
There are people depending on leaders in Cook and Will counties to put aside their differences to create jobs and new economic opportunities.
This is too big a project to be stymied by personal agendas or shortsighted parochialism.