Arriving by bus loads from Chicago’s South Side to a farm field in Will County Saturday morning, a couple hundred people and several ministers voiced support and participated in U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s “people’s groundbreaking” for a third major airport near Peotone.
Jackson isn’t letting recent comments by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a United Airlines executive that a major third airport south of the city isn’t needed or wanted to stop him in his longtime mission.
“This is the ministers’ groundbreaking. We are fighting for jobs for everybody and not just for ourselves,” an impassioned Jackson said on top of a flatbed truck for his mostly symbolic event.
Jackson, who last month won his primary fight for his congressional seat against Debbie Halvorson, used heavy rhetoric to drive his message for his Abraham Lincoln National Airport to his supporters while a dozen or so opponents with signs stood and chanted nearby.
“Along the way, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said we must convert our enemies into our friends. They are not really our enemies. Dr. King said they just don’t know. So, we’re going to help them over time know,” Jackson said. “Not only those who don’t know but we’re going to help Rahm Emanuel, who just became mayor of the City of Chicago, we’re going to help him know that the North Side of Chicago doesn’t get to get everything. The South Side and South suburbs deserve to be just like the North Side and Northwest suburbs.”
Jackson implored Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to release more than 2,000 acres of land that the state has purchased so far to the possible development of an airport for the south suburbs to bring thousands of jobs and prosperity.
Jackson said a developer from Canada wants to use private funds to develop the first phase of the airport: a runway with five gates. He said the backers want to start construction to start by June 1st.
In the end, Jackson said, opposition by Emanuel and others don’t much matter, but that Quinn holds the key.
“We must win Quinn. We don’t need to win anyone else. The person who controls the lease to this land is Governor Pat Quinn. The governor and the governor alone controls our future and with the stroke of his pin he can eliminate poverty in the south land,” Jackson said. “We will not be deterred by the heavy-handed politics of Chicago or the minions whose monopolistic behavior at O’Hare have worked to undermine opportunity to have jobs, new business opportunities, economic development and a better quality of life for here for far too long. Today we come to begin to build together: Black and white together; Urban, suburban, exurban and rural together; a common destiny.”
Jackson’s plans are in direct conflict with many Will County officials, who say any airport that is built should be controlled by Will County. Jackson’s plan includes those from Cook and Kankakee counties.
“The State of Illinois is going to decide whether the airport is built or not. If it is built, Will County needs to control it,” said Will County board member Cory Singer.
Will County Executive Larry Walsh told WBEZ recently that he viewed Jackson’s groundbreaking as “an insult” to the people of Will County. Walsh also supports an airport controlled by Will County residents.
Quinn, who did not attend the groundbreaking, has said that he supports an airport in Will County, but wants everyone to work together on the project.
Some disagree that an airport is even needed. If it’s built, not only would it destroy thousands of acres of farm land, but thousands of upscale, single family homes and other well-kept residential units, including large farm houses to make way for terminals, runways and parking lots.
“The airlines have said they are not going to use it. Mayor Rahm Emanuel just said Peotone is not needed. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to do smart thing with our money. We can’t afford it,” said airport opponent Judy Ogalla, vice president of S.T.A.N.D. (Shut This Airport Nightmare Down).
Ogalla said the officials should focus on developing existing and underutilized airports in Rockford or in Gary, Indiana, about 20 miles southeast of downtown Chicago. Ogalla also took shots at Jackson’s other problems, primarily a congressional ethics investigation into whether he sought to buy from imprisoned ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich the open U.S. Senate seat level vacant when Barack Obama left to become president.
“Jesse Jackson, Jr. is corrupt. He’s under investigation. The State of Illinois is broke and they are filing eminent domain against land owners to take away their family farms. This has been going on for so long it’s insane they continue to do this,” Ogalla said. “I’ll continue to fight this.”
Ogalla said about a hundred or so opponents of any airport held a parade about a mile south of where the groundbreaking too place.
This past week, Jeff Smisek, CEO of United Airlines parent company, United Continental Holdings Inc., said a third airport in Chicago would bring the city more harm than good and that there’s no demand for a new airport. Meanwhile, Emanuel has proposed expanding O'Hare International airport, saying it would be like adding a third airport without actually building a new one.