Kadner: Wrest control of airport from Jackson, politician urges
Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-6787 July 3, 2012 6:00AM
Updated: July 3, 2012 6:05AM
A Will County politician sees an opportunity in U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s misfortune.
And if there’s anything likely to bring Jackson (D-Chicago) out of his medical leave, it’s news that a Will County Board member is using his absence to grab control of the third airport project.
Board member Cory Singer (R-Frankfort), who is running for Will County executive this fall, issued a news release calling on Republican and Democratic leaders in the area to “assemble a bipartisan negotiation team” to “finalize an airport agreement with Gov. Quinn.”
“... Congressman Jackson is absent and the opportunity for job creation in Will County can’t be delayed any longer,” Singer says in the release. “For the residents of eastern Will who remain in limbo, and for thousands in labor who will benefit from new construction jobs, now is the time to finalize an agreement that serves Will County residents.”
Singer called on county board chairman Jim Moustis (a Republican) and County Executive Larry Walsh (a Democrat) to assemble the negotiating team, which would include business and labor representatives.
Jackson’s staff announced a week ago that he had been on medical leave for “exhaustion” for two weeks earlier. His wife and staff have refused to say where he is recovering.
For 16 years, Jackson has been on a mission to get an airport built near Peotone, even creating the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission (ALNAC) to oversee the project and find private developers to construct it.
The location of the airport is in a part of Will County that had not been in Jackson’s congressional district, but a remap that goes into effect with the Nov. 6 election extended his territory far into Will County and beyond.
For years, Will County officials openly opposed the state’s plan to purchase farmland to build the airfield. Over time, after former governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich indicated support for the airport, Will County officials began to alter their approach.
They said they supported the airport but wanted Will County to control its destiny, not Jackson’s commission.
Although ALNAC is composed primarily of Cook County suburbs, Jackson left enough openings on the board to eventually give Will County a majority of the seats. However, the only suburb entirely in Will County that has chosen to join ALNAC is University Park.
Jackson and Will County officials have been at each other’s throats over control of the airport. Jackson has compared county officials to a spectator watching a team move a football downfield to the one-yard line, jumping out of the stands and demanding the right to carry the ball across the finish line.
County officials have responded that Jackson’s commission has too many members from Cook County, gives too much power to Elk Grove Village (a suburb near O’Hare International Airport that was allowed to join the group) and that ALNAC is not legally constituted.
Jackson has said that he fears Will County officials still secretly want to scuttle the airport and, failing in that, milk it for political patronage and sweetheart deals with contractors.
The scandal tying Jackson’s name to the attempted purchase of a U.S. Senate seat in the Blagojevich administration and a congressional ethics investigation have damaged Jackson’s credibility.
Even if Quinn thought ALNAC was in the best position to get the airport built, it’s doubtful he could choose ALNAC due to the political fallout.
Singer’s call for Will County to more aggressively pursue airport construction to create jobs and boost the economy echoes remarks Jackson has been making since he was first elected to Congress in 1995.
When no other Southland elected official was willing to actively support the airport, Jackson lobbied governors, battled with former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (who feared that the airport would take business away from O’Hare and Midway) and eventually recruited private developers willing to finance construction.
Jackson predicted that the airport would become an economic engine for South Cook County, as well as Will and Kankakee counties, and was baffled by the apathy of other Southland public officials.
Now Singer is using many of the same arguments and Jackson’s personal problems to try to light a fire under Will County officials.
“For Will County’s future and the sake of thousands of job opportunities, action must be taken,” Singer says.
If Jackson doesn’t respond to that, he must be in a cave under restraint.