Kadner: New name won’t help south suburban airport
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org December 3, 2012 4:58PM
Al McCowan, president of the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 5, 2013 6:17AM
Jesse Jackson Jr. no longer is a congressman and his Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission may soon disappear as well, at least in name.
Commission members on Monday said they plan to vote on changing the organization’s name to Chicago Southland Airport Commission at their next meeting, Jan. 7.
There’s already an Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield, and private developers interested in financing the airfield near Peotone prefer a name linking it to Chicago, commission members said.
With Jackson gone, the airport project has lost its most visible, vocal and public voice, and there was a sense of urgency at Monday’s ALNAC meeting, which was never officially called to order.
Rick Bryant, executive director of the commission and Jackson’s former chief of staff, said numerous political factors have made it imperative for south suburban communities to band together now.
Bryant said if all the local governments that would benefit from airport construction can’t agree on an airport governance authority, “than maybe we really don’t deserve an airport.”
ALNAC chairman Al McCowan, the former University Park mayor, and fellow member Don DeGraff, the South Holland mayor, indicated a heightened interest in negotiating a compromise with so-called Iron Ring communities in Will County to create a regional consensus behind an airport governing authority.
Those Iron Ring communities in Will County (Crete, Beecher, Monee and Peotone) have refused to join the commission, which includes suburbs from south Cook County as well as Elk Grove Village.
University Park also is a Will County Iron Ring community but is a founding member of ALNAC.
Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson urged a more aggressive approach to moving the airport forward by forcing candidates in the upcoming 2nd Congressional District special election to take a public stand in support of the airport.
“This is a project that won’t cost taxpayers a penny,” Johnson stressed. “Hold a meeting down there, invite all the candidates, drop the Canadian flag, tell the public that the Canadians are willing to pay for this thing, it will benefit all the people down there and then force the candidates to take a stand.
“What are they going to say? ‘No?’ They would be run out on a rail.”
Johnson warned that without a clear statement of support, the candidates could end up paying lip service to the third airport, but after the election it would not be a priority and “ultimately disappear.”
McCowan expressed displeasure that state Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields), one of the congressional candidates, had filed third airport legislation in Springfield without “running the bill by us.”
“She hasn’t even returned my messages,” McCowan said. “So what does that tell you? It tells me everything I need to know.”
Hutchinson told me she filed the legislation as a “starting point” toward creating a governing agency for the airport.
“I asked Will County communities and ALNAC members to read it and respond with suggestions, and the Will County communities already have responded and I have heard nothing from ALNAC,” she said.
Hutchinson said her intent is to start new discussions between all the various groups to forge a compromise.
“It make take some time,” Hutchinson said. “You have to be patient.”
She said due to her efforts Crete, Monee, Beecher and Peotone have approved resolutions supporting the third airport.
“That’s a beginning,” she said. “Now we have to work on an agreement regarding a governing commission.”
McCowan and DeGraff said the ALNAC had meetings with the Iron Ring communities several months ago that seemed productive but never moved forward.
They agreed to pursue further meetings with the Will County groups and indicated a willingness to be more flexible than in the past.
If Gov. Pat Quinn doesn’t run for re-election or is defeated when he runs in two years, the next governor might oppose airport construction.
Quinn has said he supports the airport and has bought land for the project but has not recognized any governing authority, a key step before the FAA approves the airport.
State Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago), another candidate in the 2nd District, indicated on a Sunday morning TV show that he thought the state had wasted $67 million buying land for the airport.
ALNAC members voiced fears that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has opposed the airport, would influence both the congressional race and future governor’s race in order to block airport construction.
If south suburban political leaders don’t see that coming, they’re blind.
If they want an airport, they must hammer out an agreement on governance.
Will County officials have indicated to me they believe there might be some federal funding available to construct the airport.
There is none. O’Hare Airport expansion has sucked up every dollar available for airport construction in the United States.
ALNAC has the only private developers who have expressed an interest in building this airport, and they’re backed by the Canadian government.
If the area can’t come together on this project, it will die.
Correction: Registered voters can sign more than one petition for a congressional candidate in the upcoming 2nd Congressional District race, provided those candidates are running in the same party primary (all Democrats or all Republicans).
Also, according to officials with the state board of elections, Democratic candidates will need to collect a minimum of 1,265 signatures on petitions, Republicans 288 and any independent or new party 15,000.