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3/16/05 Jackson backs Meigs

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Jackson Jr. supporting new Meigs

Congressman again at odds with Daley over former airport

Hal Dardick, Tribune staff reporter.
Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Ill.: Mar 16, 2005. pg. 3

In another challenge to Mayor Richard Daley, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) has added his name to an effort to rebuild an airport on Chicago's Northerly Island, once the home of Meigs Field.

On Tuesday Meigs Action Coalition officials released a letter from Jackson supporting their plan for a combination airport and nature park. Tuesday evening marked the last in a series of Chicago Park District meetings to gather public views on how to convert Northerly Island, a 78-acre peninsula, into a nature park--as Daley long has wanted.

Jackson wrote the letter in October, before his latest dust-up with Daley over the city's set-aside program. But he said Tuesday his position has not changed.

"As you know, I am for more runways in the region, not fewer," Jackson said in an interview. "The letter speaks for itself."

The effort to get the city to rebuild the airport that Daley bulldozed in 2003 is a long shot at best.

But Jackson's interest in the issue may have more to do with his long-standing disagreement with the mayor over another proposed airport, near Peotone.

Jackson, who represents parts of the city and a swath of south suburbs, long has been an advocate of building an airport near Peotone. That, he says, would boost the south suburban economy and help address insufficient aviation capacity in the region.

Daley, by contrast, has been cool to the Peotone concept, which Gov. Rod Blagojevich recently endorsed. Instead, Daley repeatedly has said, the solution to the region's aviation woes is the $14 billion expansion of O'Hare International Airport his administration is pursuing with the Federal Aviation Administration.

That set the stage for future disagreements between the two powerful Democrats. Jackson was critical of Daley when the mayor ordered destruction of the airport's lone runway about midnight March 31, 2003, citing safety concerns in a terrorist age.

And when Jackson in January first criticized the set-aside program, many speculated he was starting to position himself as an alternative to Daley, who after 16 years as mayor is facing scandals in the city's Hired Truck and set-aside programs.

Jackson on Tuesday again said he has no plans to run for mayor in 2007.

Meanwhile, Meigs Action Coalition organizers presented their plans to Jackson last fall, and Jackson agreed to support them, said Rick Bryant, his spokesman.

"I write to commend and offer my support for the Meigs Action Coalition's proposed 'Parks and Planes: A Vision for Meigs Field and Northerly Island,'" Jackson wrote in his letter, which also was sent to Park District officials. "Your plan offers a compromise that preserves an important aviation asset while also creating a new lakefront park space."

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