Dogfight over O'Hare expansion plans begins; area towns unite inopposition

CHICAGO: Several Chicago suburbs are trying to turn up the public

affairs heat to oppose an expansion plan for busy O'Hare Airport.

The Suburban O'Hare Commission - comprised of 13 towns, townships, and

counties that oppose expansion of Chicago's major airport - has taken on

a local lobbying firm and hired a freelance PR person to keep its

viewpoint in the headlines.

Several member municipalities also have pulled funds from major Chicago

banks that support airport expansion, a move that has elicited extensive

media coverage.

Given the amount of negative coverage airline travel has received as of

late, expanding O'Hare has become a national issue. Several Washington

lawmakers have threatened to impose an expansion plan if Illinois

politicians can't agree on one themselves. That prompted Chicago Mayor

Richard Daley to propose adding a new runway at O'Hare, but Illinois

Gov. George Ryan, on the other hand, is backing his own proposal for

building a new airport south of Chicago. Illinois will hold its

gubernatorial election next year.

The suburban commission has been trying a variety of media tactics to

drum up support for its anti-expansion position, said Craig Johnson,

mayor of suburb Elk Grove Village. Johnson is vice chairman of the

commission, and has become its primary spokesperson, appearing on a

variety of Chicago news programs.

Several commission members also have pulled $14 million in

municipal funds from four banks that publicly support airport expansion.

"We have to use whatever means we can to sway public opinion," said


Tom Wolf, a VP with Chicago PA shop Jasculca/Terman, said the commission

could have some impact on the debate. "I don't think anyone should take

it lightly," he warned.

But Gene Reineke, head of the Chicago Hill & Knowlton office and a

veteran of Illinois politics, said the commission "can make noise, but

when all is said and done, the issue is bigger than an opposition that

doesn't want to work towards a solution." Reineke said he wouldn't

accept any PA assignment from a group trying to prevent a solution to

the capacity issues O'Hare faces.

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