May 23, 2001 Daily Herald

Ryan might be feeling O'Hare heat, but he's not sweating

By Eric Krol Daily Herald Political Writer

SPRINGFIELD - The July 1 deadline Sen. Dick Durbin threw out this week to solve the delay crunch at O'Hare International Airport would seem to offer Gov. George Ryan political cover to trade new runways for a third airport in Peotone.

After all, Ryan, who has pledged not to add more O'Hare runways, simply could tell suburban residents opposed to them that federal pressure forced him to cut a deal with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who wants them.

So far, however, it's a political refuge that the governor has not considered, key Ryan aides say, which is welcome news to suburban residents who fear the added noise and exhaust fumes added runways would bring.

"If Congress decides to take it upon themselves and usurp local control, there isn't a whole lot he can do about it. But we are never ones to duck a local issue, even if it's a contentious one," Ryan spokesman Dennis Culloton said.

State lawmakers are ignoring the threats from Washington and say the deadline is artificial.

"Are you kidding me?" said Senate President James "Pate" Philip, a Wood Dale Republican opposed to O'Hare expansion when asked about the July 1 deadline. "They ought to go back to Iowa."

Philip's Iowa jibe refers to Iowa Sens. Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, who have threatened to push for federal legislation to add runways to O'Hare if the state doesn't resolve the airport delays. Earlier this week, Durbin added the July 1 deadline, turning up the pressure.

Daley said Tuesday that the city would meet the July 1 deadline by submitting a plan to reconfigure O'Hare runways to ease flight delays. But Daley stopped short of saying whether the plan would contain a call for new runways.

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (news - bio - voting record), an Inverness Republican, questioned whether there is enough space to add any runways at O'Hare. Fitzgerald also said he is concerned that any plan to rip up and rebuild runways at O'Hare would "drain resources away from a third airport at Peotone."

If Durbin and other senators push to add runways to O'Hare, Fitzgerald would be in a position to stop the measure in the Senate. Fitzgerald could stage a filibuster to delay a vote on such legislation, or he could ask Senate leadership to squash it. But Fitzgerald would not say Tuesday whether he would use either of those techniques if push comes to shove.

If the federal call for new runways made it to the House, Speaker Dennis Hastert would be in a position to block it. But Hastert hasn't taken a position on new runways, opting instead to sit on the fence to be in a better position to secure federal money for whatever air capacity solution Ryan and Daley come up with. A Hastert spokesman did say, however, that a July 1 deadline is artificial and could hamper efforts to find a compromise.

Former Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson said it's unlikely U.S. senators, many of whom are former governors, would approve legislation to take away power from the states.

Thompson also said he doesn't think pressure from Iowa senators would provide Ryan with much political cover.

"I don't think you're going to sell Senator Harkin in DuPage County," he said.

Suburban lawmakers opposed to O'Hare expansion say they remain hopeful Ryan will stay firm against making any deals with Daley.

"If O'Hare ever got new runways, it's the end of Peotone," said Rep. Carolyn Krause, a Mount Prospect Republican, who thinks a third airport would not be built if O'Hare expands.

Daily Herald State Government writer John Patterson contributed to this report.

[Chicago ATC News]