Thursday, November 20, 2008

Who will put Bensenville back together again?

The east side of Bensenville, a working class suburb, has been virtually destroyed for an expansion of O’Hare Airport that looks now like it will never happen.

So, will Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and his city pay to restore what was once the largest and most successful community of affordable housing in DuPage County? They should, but don’t count on it.

What Daley and his greedy cronies did to Bensenville, a community that had minded its own business for more than 100 years, borders on the criminal. Daley and airport planners knew that they did not need to destroy hundreds of Bensenville homes for years, until later phases of O’Hare expansion were scheduled. Yet, they launched an unprecedented political, economic and government attack that exceeded bounds of decency.

To review: Bensenville, with DuPage County, state and federal assistance, had successfully nurtured this neighborhood of hundreds of homes and businesses. It was modest neighborhood, yes, but it was a viable, clean and healthy neighborhood, exactly what affordable housing advocates (Daley counts himself among them) say that is needed in the job-rich northwest suburbs. But Bensenville sits southwest of O’Hare Airport, in the path of one of the unprecedented, unworkable and dangerous six parallel runways that Daley wanted to install. Daley wanted it at all costs.

The costs, of course, were paid by us taxpayers.

Standing in the way of Daley’s blind hunger to take control of east Bensenville, years before necessary, was long-time Bensenville President John Geils, and his Elk Grove Village ally, Mayor Craig Johnson. When all around them—once proud expansion opponents in neighboring suburbs in the Suburban O’Hare Commission—were being picked off one-by-one by Daley, the two stood firm, together.

Among the obstacles to Daley’s covetedness, was a serious legal one. To obtain the Bensenville properties, Chicago—as O’Hare’s owner—had to threaten condemnation. Trouble was, Bensenville was a separate municipality, in another county at that, and one municipality didn’t have the legal power to condemn property in another one. Long story short: Daley and his allies (in what Tribune columnist John Kass calls the state’s bi-partisan combine of greedy and corrupt politicians and special interests) simply passed a law, no problem. Now Chicago could cross borders and raid another town’s homes. And, by the way, any challenges to that authority would have to be heard in a Cook County court, where the Chicago Machine pretty much control who gets appointed to the bench.

Daley could have held off the acquisition, but in what only can be a fit of spite brought on by a small-town mayor challenging his power, he proceeded. One by one, Chicago picked off the homeowners and renters, many who had become resigned to their fate by the constant barrage of negativity in the media and elsewhere about the future of their neighborhood. Chicago’s intent was to create momentum, by buying and tearing down enough homes to create near-panic selling. In Chicago, that’s called blockbusting, and it is illegal when real estate agents use it to flip a racially changing neighborhood. But apparently it’s okay when Daley wants to use it for his “greater good.”

Bensenville has refused to issue demolition permits to Chicago to tear down the homes it owns and turn the area into something akin to a bombed-out city. Chicago has sued the village to permit the teardowns and the question is now in the courts.

That might have been the most egregious attack on Bensenville and Geils, but it certainly wasn’t the only one. Geils faced a multitude of personal attacks and once in a re-election campaign, he was ruled off the ballot for the most minor of technical errors. Still, he won by a write-in vote. In Springfield, the Legislature and others have targeted various Geils programs, such as combining the police and fire departments (among the handful of Illinois communities that have combined departments, only Bensenville was targeted). Daley’s strategy was to isolate Geils and Johnson, to make them appear to be small-town quacks that were standing in the way of progress. Much of the media and the public bought this slander.

Geils and Johnson now have a taste of justification. The communities hired some of the most knowledgeable and independent aviation experts in the nation, including a former acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, to analyze Daley’s expansion plans. Their criticisms of the plan now have been echoed by the airlines, which want out of future expansion plans, portions of what they called “ill-conceived.” United, in a letter to the FAA last summer, said, “Unfortunately, the city did not accept the more modest and financially prudent approach.”

Could that have been the approach that Geils and Johnson have long proposed: a “modest” O’Hare expansion that made more sense without the huge disruptions caused by Daley’s plan, along with a south suburban airport? That’s what anyone who’s interested in the welfare of the region would advocate. Daley won’t.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In speaking with two different Bensenville police officers, I was told that crime in Bensenville has dropped in the mid double digits since the neighborhood in question has been bought out by the OMP program. They are all for it although they certainly can't say that aloud. There is apparently no slowdown by OMP either. The 10C runway project is still steaming along. The winter slowdown of the program is already planned for and the spring rolll out of the East and West 10C project is being staged now. Apparently, OMP is not quite as dead as is being reported.