SOUTH HOLLAND | The Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission held its first meeting since the resignation of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. on Monday at the South Holland Village Hall.
The committee, formed to support the development of the proposed airport in Will County, took no action Monday. Rather, members discussed strategy in the post-Jackson era. Jackson was a primary supporter of the Peotone airport proposal, but he also had a divisive influence on the project as he sparred with Will County leaders over control of the facility.
"(Rep. Jackson's replacement) needs to be a person who makes this a priority," Craig Johnson, village president of Elk Grove Village, said via conference call. "We need to make this the number one issue or risk losing this golden opportunity."
"We're still in the cat bird's seat but it could be gone if we're not careful."
ALNAC Chairman Al McGowan said the commission has the support of the people and should be putting pressure on leaders to move the airport project forward. Johnson said the issue is jobs and economic benefits the airport could bring.
"We need to set deadlines. We need to set the agenda," Johnson said. "That's how David slew Goliath."
Several candidates have announced a run for Jackson's vacant seat in the Feb. 26 primary. The general election will be April 9.
State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, who officially announced her candidacy at a news conference Monday, has written a proposal to create a South Suburban Airport Authority to oversee construction. McGowan said he would've liked to have had the chance to review the bill. The makeup of such a committee has been a point of discussion.
Don De Graff, South Holland village president and ALNAC treasurer, said the commission needs a leader in government to bring all parties together.
"People need to understand that the airport is the most important issue not just for the south suburbs but for Kankakee and Will counties," De Graff said. "This is not rocket science. It's simply a matter of good people wanting to sit down and compromise."
The list of those who will oppose Hutchinson in the Democratic primary continues to grow. So far it includes former U.S. Reps. Debbie Halvorson, of Crete, and Mel Reynolds, of Chicago; Chicago 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale; state Sen. Donnie Trotter, D-Chicago, state Sen.-elect Napoleon Harris, D-Flossmoor, and former state Rep. Robin Kelly.
A name change from Abraham Lincoln National Airport to the Chicago Southland Airport, or something similar, may be discussed at the next meeting on Jan. 7.
"We just want to make sure it happens," Johnson said.