Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chair of the Senate committee that determines how much federal money will be designated for various public works projects in Illinois, came out swinging against Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley yesterday.
"I'm a little ashamed of Chicago right now," Inhofe told a public hearing in the Windy City. He called Mayor Daley's midnight raid on Meigs Field "an act of arrogant recklessness reminiscent of the 1920s, not the twenty-first century."
And Inhofe intimated that Daley's destruction might have an impact on federal funding for other Chicago projects. "Tearing up a runway is destroying infrastructure," Inhofe said during the hearing. "If you willfully go out and destroy infrastructure, the way that the mayor did, then it is a little inconsistent to came back and have a hearing to see what kind of infrastructure needs there are in Illinois."
Later, in an exclusive interview with AOPA, Inhofe reemphasized the point. "How can Mayor Daley expect me to be sensitive to Chicago's infrastructure needs when he goes out in the middle of the night and tears up millions of dollars of infrastructure?"
"I hope this isn't over yet," Inhofe continued. "I think it's still worthwhile to replace the runway, and that will be taken into consideration as we consider other funding requests for Chicago."
Inhofe, a CFI and AOPA member, was in Chicago to conduct a field hearing for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which he chairs. Inhofe will have a huge say in what federal money Chicago gets for highways and other public works. But Daley's actions so enraged the senator that he was tempted not to come to the hearing in protest. "Sen. Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) convinced me to come," Inhofe told AOPA.
"Anything done in the middle of the night has to be suspect," Inhofe said. Referring to the previous agreement between Mayor Daley and former Illinois Governor George Ryan that would have expanded O'Hare airport and preserved Meigs, Inhofe called Daley's actions a "total disregard for ethical and courteous behavior. I was a mayor of a major city for three terms, and I would not have done that no matter what my personal feelings were."
Sen. Inhofe said that Chicago officials tried to convince him there was a security reason for closing Meigs. "I don't believe there is any substance to that rationale," Inhofe said. "Meigs was examined very careful by the Department of Homeland Security, and they determined it wasn't a threat."
Inhofe said that he would be looking at ways to restore Meigs and to protect other airports from similar destruction.
And he promised he would try to block federal funds from being used to replace the airport with a park. "I will use my influence to deter federal funds from being spent on something that is not as good a use of the land as an airport is," Inhofe told AOPA.