Junior’s Fall from Grace: More Bad News for Peotone

You’d think that Jessie Jackson Jr.’s stunning fall from political grace last week would have opponents of the Great Imaginary Airport in Peotone doing cartwheels of joy out in the cold autumnal winds of eastern Will County.

Jesse Jackson Jr., former US Rep (IL-2nd)

After all, the last significant public appearance by Jackson was way back on April 21st, when as a progressive-minded environmentalist he promoted Earth Day by sanctimoniously spading up soil in a Peotone-area cornfield while surrounded by media and bussed-in supporters from his 2nd Congressional District. His purported “people’s groundbreaking” was for what Jackson insisted on calling the Abraham Lincoln National Airport.

That grandiose name is telling, for it expresses Jr.’s once-vaulting political ambition even as it inappropriately cloaks a misguided boondoggle of an airport project in the image of one of America’s most revered presidents. It also signifies the longstanding logjam between Jackson’s Cook County-based Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission (ALNAC) and the various governmental bodies of Will County, which understandably want to retain control over the airport’s construction and administration.

That’s why the folks of S.T.A.N.D. (Shut This Airport Nightmare Down) and other grassroots opponents of the Great Imaginary Airport should mourn rather than celebrate Jackson’s departure and ALNAC’s inevitable dissolution. Without the gridlock-producing squabbles over the airport’s construction funding, name, or design that Jackson’s commission helped create, airport proponents now have before them a slightly less congested path toward the project’s FAA approval — which hinges upon, among many other things, a unified governing authority for the airport.

STAND members hold up a sign at Rob Ogalla’s farm near Peotone, April 2012
(M. Bryson)

Note that I said “slightly.” That’s because building a functional political alliance in Illinois these days is about as likely as finding a Republican candidate with a chance to win Jackson’s empty seat in the forthcoming special election his resignation necessitates. Consequently, the fate of the Great Imaginary Airport will continue to be determined by a long war of retrenchment among various factions, some high profile and others little known.

On one side are Governor Pat Quinn and his army of IDOT technocrats, who have spent $29.8 million of taxpayer money thus far buying up 2,317 acres of land in the as-yet-unapproved airport’s footprint, and are now expanding their holdings through eminent domain proceedings against unwilling sellers.

Aligned with Quinn are various Will County leaders eager for a big fat construction project to provide local jobs, no matter how temporary those might be or whether the long-term prospects of the airport are viable.

On the other side are Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who strenuously opposes the project as antithetical to an expanded O’Hare; and United CEO Jeff Smisek, who is on record opposing a third airport for the Chicago region (a view shared by other major airline execs, as well).

Bult Field near Monee, IL (photo: FlightAware)

Joining their ranks are the politically weak but morally righteous grassroots opponents in eastern Will County, who correctly view the airport as a naked land grab by the state; and a guy named Jim Bult, who in a supreme example of irony already owns and runs a small private airport within the footprint of the GIA (Bult Field) and who to my knowledge has no desire to shut down his operation or take his neighbors’ land.

Sure, we’ll miss you, Junior, and all the free theater you provided us over the years. But as for the Great Imaginary Airport controversy in Peotone, the war grinds on.

A version of this article was published as my monthly op-ed column in the 4 December 2012 edition of the Joliet Herald-News. For more information from IDOT’s perspective, consult the official South Suburban Airport website. For past news and critical analysis, see the commentary and news reports on this blog.

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