The Chicago media have been curiously uninterested in an issue hanging like a scimitar over the head of the city's next mayor.
Will or should the next mayor carry on the fight with United and American airlines over the expansion of O'Hare Airport? Will or should the new administration cave into the airlines and give up fighting for the completion of the multi-billion-dollar project?
One must assume, that in the absence of any candidate saying "nay" to further expansion that the city, no matter who is elected, will continue to battle the airlines in the courts to make them pay for additional runways that they don't want--at least not now.
Daley obviously is trying to nail in the final expansion phase before he leaves office in May. The mayor has invested so much energy, money and raw political clout in the project that this--more than anything else he has built--will become his legacy. At least that's my guess. So, how can he leave office with his dream hanging in doubt?
But this is far more than a personal matter for the incoming administration.
Billions of dollars--ultimately provided by airline passengers and taxpayers--are involved. If the airlines are forced to finance what they view as unnecessary runways--raising the fees they must pay the city to use the airport to uncompetitive levels--will they take their hubs and go elsewhere, depriving Chicago of one of its biggest economic engines? How long would the new administration be willing to carry on an expensive and perhaps futile court fight, especially against one of its strongest economic partners? Is this a wise investment of the city's time and money, especially when a virtually no-cost new airport was available in the southern suburbs?
Billions of dollars are at stake. Whether Chicago will be saddled with a white elephant of an airport that its opponents and some aviation experts agree is a costly, ineffective and unsafe extravagance certainly seems, at least to me, a more substantive issue than many of the other issues (e.g. is that labor union guy anti-Semitic?) that have occupied the media.
When I was a consultant to expansion opponents some years ago, I was baffled by the media's inattention and indifference to what was designed to become the Machine's largest source of patronage, jobs and contracts. How could the Chicago media, which relishes its reputation for its hard-hitting investigative journalism, so easily accept the argument that a 1950s, 7,000-acre airport could be magically transformed into a 21st Century behemoth that would solve all its built-in problems.
Apparently, the media's indifference will continue right up to election day next Tuesday.
So, as it stands today (Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011), "intense" negotiations between the airlines that went into the early morning hours, has produced nothing. The airlines' suit against the city, seeking to halt the second phase will proceed.
And Daley, on Thursday blasted his one-time airline allies for having the audacity to suggest that rushing to complete the mayor's self-defined "vision" is not a good idea. In a telling remark, Daley said: "If you live in China, this airport would've been built today." Someone remind Daley that America isn't China and he's not Chinese President Hu Jintao.