Rep. Jackson uses House speech to pressure Quinn on airport

2011-11-04T22:50:00Z 2011-11-04T23:05:48Z Rep. Jackson uses House speech to pressure Quinn on airportBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., spoke Thursday evening on the House floor knowing perfectly well his audience wasn't fellow members of the House. He used his C-SPAN appearance (zip forward to 8:17:22) to promote the Abraham Lincoln National Airport to the public.

Jackson's plan for the airport is for it to be built as a public-private partnership, "without using taxpayer dollars, faster than any single thing that Congress can do."

The big competition for the proposed airport, of course, has long been the Gary/Chicago International Airport, which is poised to expand its main runway to accommodate pretty much any kind of commercial aircraft that might want to land there.

Landing commercial aircraft is easier than landing a commercial airline, though. Even though the Federal Aviation Administration has said Chicago needs a third major airport to relieve O'Hare and Midway airports, the airlines so far don't want to budge.

Jackson's pitch for the new airport in the south suburbs includes not just a new model for financing -- other people's money, as in private developers and operators -- but also common gates. Airports wouldn't have to own the gates, they could rent them by the hour. That might make it easier to attract airlines, because the costs would presumably be less than under the older model.

Jackson stressed the jobs aspect of the proposed airport in his televised speech Thursday.

"As for the airport I'm proposing for Chicago, it would create 1,000 construction jobs immediately over the next two years," Jackson said. "Once Phase I construction is done, which can be done as early as June of next year, and the airport opens for business, it would create an additional 15,000 new permanent jobs for the local economy -- again, just on the first day of operation."

He's talking about jobs not just at the airport, but also near it -- restaurant jobs, hotel jobs, car rental jobs, etc. Corporate headquarters tend to flock to airports, too, because executives like to travel.

So what legislation is he proposing to the House to accomplish this? None.

"This Republican-led Congress hasn't been very helpful to President Obama," Jackson, a Democrat, said. "In fact, this Congress is determined not to pass a single piece of legislation that will help him put the American people back to work.

"And since the president is issuing executive orders and looking for other ways to go around and circumvent this Republican-led dysfunctional Congress, the beauty of the Jackson plan to build a third airport in the Chicago metro area is we don't need Congress or the Illinois Legislature to vote on or approve anything. We just need the signature of the governor of Illinois on a land lease."

Which brings us to the real point of Jackson's speech: To press the public to pressure Quinn to lease the land to the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission.

"So what I need you to do is call Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn at (312) 814-2121 -- that's (312) 814-2121 -- and tell him to lease the land to the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission so we can give President [Barack] Obama a victory and begin to put the American people back to work," Jackson said.

Sounds a bit like an infomercial, doesn't it? Well, he is trying to sell something, after all, and he needs to sell it to the public so they can sell it to Quinn.

I guess we'll find out soon enough whether anyone's buying that idea.

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Robert Blaszkiewicz

Robert Blaszkiewicz

Robert Blaszkiewicz is a Northwest Indiana native and joined The Times in 1994. He has filled a variety of roles, including night editor, Porter County editor, features editor and new media coordinator. His current position is assistant managing editor for operations.

Doug Ross

Doug Ross

Doug Ross has been covering Northwest Indiana for 30 years, including two decades at The Times of Northwest Indiana.

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