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
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.