Saturday, December 24, 2011

House Ethics Committee needs to dig deep into Jackson dealings

, member of the United States House of Represe...
Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.

 Headlines indicated recently that Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. is still being investigated by the House Ethics Committee for his alleged role in trying to leverage a seat in the U.S. Senate by offering funds to ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Jackson claims that neither he nor his emissaries ever offered money to ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich for the appointment.
Can we believe Jesse Jackson, Jr. and his less than monogamous relationship with the truth?
If the House members believe that Jackson’s role in allegedly trying to buy a U.S. Senate seat is an isolated incident, I certainly hope they probe just a little deeper.
Jackson not only tried to coerce Blagojevich into handing over a seat in the United States Senate, but Jackson also tried to get Blagojevich to hand over land to his self-established airport authority for his pet project, the Peotone Airport.
Jackson has devoted his entire congressional career toward the State of Illinois’ ill-fated effort to build a new airport outside the 2nd congressional district. The latest redistricting, would finally place the Peotone area into Jackson’s grasp. That is, if he wins re-election, which only time and ultimately an election can determine.
Jackson’s campaign website once blatantly included Peotone in a list of communities in the second congressional district. After much criticism, he later corrected it.
In 2007, I was tuned-in to C-Span to watch Jackson’s performance as he sought an earmark of $231,000 in the Financial Services Appropriations bill for “minority and small business development and procurement opportunities.” Jackson painted his usual rosy picture of the proposed airport, which Jackson has dubbed the Abraham Lincoln National Airport. He began talking about how beneficial the project would be to the poorest people of Illinois.
I was angered when I heard Jackson tell his colleagues the airport would abut Ford Heights, one of the poorest community in Illinois. Ford Heights is in Jackson’s district. It is a poor, urban, predominantly black community. It has long been a high crime, blighted area, with high unemployment. In stark contrast, the area where the airport is proposed, is a relatively affluent, predominantly white farming community with low crime and virtually no unemployment. Its economy centers on agriculture. Not only are the two regions geographically far apart, but they might as well be worlds apart politically, socially, and economically. The people who live in the Peotone area are adamantly opposed to the airport Jackson touts. I know. I helped organize an opposition group against the project in 1988.
One of the critics of Jackson’s request earmark was, Congressman John Campbell, R-CA who introduced an amendment to the bill to ban Jackson’s earmark, calling Jackson’s request “federal funding for a phantom airport.”
Campbell’s bill would have stripped taxpayer funding for the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission because, as he stated the Abraham Lincoln National Airport doesn’t exist.
He pointed out that in a Jackson press release in Nov. 2006, Jackson said he would not seek federal funds for the airport.
Campbell also questioned the potential conflict in the dual role of Jackson’s Deputy District Administrator Richard Bryant, who is now Jackson’s Chief of Staff. Bryant is also the Executive Director for the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission (ALNAC) that Jackson established.
Back in Illinois, ex-Congressman Jerry Weller, R-Morris, in whose district the proposed project would be located, called ALNAC into question when it raised $267,000 to lobby Blagojevich. Weller called the campaign “self-promotion,” because Jackson was eyeing a possible run for the Chicago Mayor’s office. Weller suggested the money be returned “to the impoverished communities.”
Jackson had envisioned that state-owned land, about half of what the state needs for the airport, could be simply turned over to Jackson’s airport commission. An opinion by Attorney General Lisa Madigan, however, issued an opinion that under Illinois law, the state cannot convey property at no cost or for less than fair market value.
These issues are likely just the tip of the iceberg, which is why an intense investigation is warranted.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gary Airport to get commercial service; Peotone still a field of dreams

Landing in Smyrna to take the MTSU Blue Raider...
Soon to be flying over the skies at Gary/Chicago Airport
The Gary/Chicago International Airport has once again made an announcement that commercial air service will begin at Gary. This time, the announcement was made by Keith Hanson, who represents the airline. He announced that two flights per week, destined to Orlando, FL will fly out of the Gary airport, starting in February 2012.
Last September, it was rumored that Allegiant would begin service at Gary, but apparently the announcement was premature. The day before a press conference was scheduled, several news sources reported that a big announcement by an unnamed airline would be forthcoming. The marketing firm—Diversified Marketing Strategies of Crown Point, IN, identified the airline as Allegiant. The announcement was cancelled by the airlines .
That isn’t the case presently, as the latest proclamation that Allegiant Air will begin service at Gary, this time, comes from the airline itself. Hanson added that service to Florida may be just the beginning. He added that If it proves to be successful, additional destinations can be added.
While commercial airline service at the Gary airport has been on-again-off-again proposition, it is not for a lack of trying. Indiana officials have long committed to the success of the northwest Indiana airport.
The last commercial airline to utilize the Gary/Chicago airport was Skybus which ceased operation just one week after it began in the spring of 2008. A year prior, SkyValue ceased operation at Gary due to financial difficulties. Other airlines have come and gone over the years, but a subscription for success has yet to be achieved. That certainly isn’t for a lack of trying. The Gary/Chicago airport has had financial help from the federal, state, and local agencies, including the City of Chicago, in an attempt to land long term commercial service there.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, Illinois officials continue to: 1) ignore the ready aviation facility at Gary, which is just miles from the south suburbs they claim to be trying to help; 2) try every way possible to coerce support for a new airport in the farm fields near Peotone, IL, almost 50 miles south of Chicago.
The project has been talked about for almost a half-century with little forward progress except to shrink it to about the size of Gary’s airport.
The only real step toward fruition came when the incarcerated ex-Illinois Gov. George Ryan, made a deal with a campaign contributor to buy the first piece of land outside the airport footprint. Since that first parcel in an under-developed upscale subdivision became state-owned, Illinois officials have used scare tactics and threats of eminent domain to scare landowners into selling their property to the state. They have taken full advantage of artificially reduced land prices due to the threat of an airport nearby, and most recently the country’s economy and housing bubble to entice willing sellers who feel they have no other options but to sell to the state. Even still, the state has now obtained only about half of the land it would need for a new airport. Landowners that remain are unwilling sellers who vow to fight the state from taking their property, especially for a project that hasn’t even been approved.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

South Suburban Airport is all about 'spin'

 What a wonderful world this would be if all things could be viewed through the rose-colored glasses of the proponents of the Peotone Airport.
News continues to be manufactured by the Illinois Department of Transportation in its push for Peotone, or South Suburban Airport, (SSA). Funny, it is always positive. Imagine that! Since I began studying this proposal in 1988, ‘spinning’ the news has been IDOT’s long held practice.
Take IDOT’s latest press release, dated Nov. 10, touting the approval of its Facility Requirements Report of the SSA Master Plan.
“Approval of the Facility Requirements Report is a critical step in the SSA Master Plan process,” says Susan Shea, director of the Illinois Division of Aeronautics. Shea continued, “FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has now agreed to what should be built at SSA and this further demonstrates FAA’s continued support of the South Suburban Airport.”
That is like saying finding your car keys is a critical step in driving your car. But to hear IDOT tell the story, it would be as if this one document was the precursor to a Record of Decision on Peotone. Nothing could be farther from the truth. IDOT never tells the whole story, but rather their hand-picked version to showcase their project in the best possible light. 
For example the Facilities Requirements Report, which outlines the basics of the facility is just one of so many documents needed to develop a master plan. I recall the talk about a master plan in 1987 when the first airport study was approved. It is all a part of a process that must occur before the FAA can determine whether or not Peotone is worth doing or not. The latest submission doesn’t even include the airport’s official layout.
The reality is that IDOT is playing catch-up in readying for its new and improved airport layout plan, which is yet to be submitted. I wonder how many different plans IDOT has submitted to the FAA over all these years.
In this instance, it seems they finally hit on something the FAA can agree with. Honestly, this is like an annoying kid who accompanies his mother to the grocery store. You know that kid. He kicks his hands and feet from his perch in the grocery cart. He screams, causes a real ruckus and embarrasses his mother. He wants candy. She finally gives in just to shut him up.
Mundane or not, this submission results in another glowing press release by IDOT. It was apparently enough to inspire yet another over-zealous editorial by the Southtown Star, Tuesday, Nov. 29, a long time advocate for a new airport at Peotone. The paper quoted IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell, a former editorial writer for the Southtown Star before he was recruited by IDOT, who called the FAA approval “a huge step.”
The latest approval by IDOT is not really that big of a deal, since it is required to be submitted before the airport layout plan, which has yet to be submitted, let alone approved. 
Remember the last time IDOT submitted an airport layout plan in 2008—well actually two plans. IDOT officials thought they were being clever trying to entice the FAA into doing its dirty work. IDOT expected the agency to solve the bickering between Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Will County officials in their dueling airport plans. Each had a different idea about how the airport should be designed and run. So, IDOT submitted both plans to the agency.
Apparently the FAA’s purview doesn’t include solving petty political squabbles, so they returned the documents to IDOT telling them to submit just one preferred plan.
But that isn’t all. Another example of IDOT’s ‘spin’ came earlier this year with the FAA’s approval of airport activity forecasts. In March, IDOT issued a press release stating the FAA approved its aeronautical forecasts. Using the same crystal ball that IDOT has been carrying around since the late 1980’s IDOT’s numbers finally fit the margin of acceptance for the FAA.
“This is truly a significant accomplishment,” says Susan Shea…”FAA’s approval of our forecasts validates the need to develop airport facilities that will serve the south suburban greater Chicagoland area.”
Oh please, the reality of the FAA’s position was outlined in a letter to Susan Shea, dated March 23, 2011.
In the letter signed by James G. Keefer, Manager of the Chicago Airports District Office, Keefer wrote, “We believe these levels project passenger, cargo and general aviation demand and aviation activity at reasonable levels and outline the risk associated with a proposed new airport such as SSA.”
Keefer referred to the following levels of operations:
--Low-case for passenger operations
--Low-case for cargo operations
--High-case for general aviation operations.
It has been stated, but is worth reiterating that Bult Field, a privately operated general aviation facility which IDOT initially tried to prevent from becoming operational, must be incorporated into SSA to make it viable.
If passenger and cargo operations at SSA are projected to be low, general aviation operations are projected to be high, and Bult Field already handles general aviation—isn’t that further evidence that another new airport is simply not needed?
It seems to me that Bult Field is not for sale, and if it were, could IDOT afford it?
I guess that too would depend on IDOT’s ‘spin.’