The Obama Gift to the Chicago Political Machine and Mayor Daley: Ray LaHood

Mayor Daley, like his father, has the right idea.

By + More

By Michael Barone, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Rick Moran spotlights one of the under-covered stories of the incoming Obama administration: O'Hare Airport. I don't take as dim a view as Moran does of Mayor Richard M. Daley's project of expanding O'Hare from four to eight runways and building a new terminal on the west side of the airport. It seems to me that Daley is acting in the spirit of his father. 

Transportation has been the key to Chicago's growth as a world city. In the middle 19th century the railroads did more than anything else to make Chicago what it became. In the middle 20th century the building of O'Hare, superintended in significant part by the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, did the same. The current Mayor Daley's project of expanding O'Hare is intended to do the same for the 21st century. Currently Britain is debating whether to build a third runway at Heathrow.

November saw the opening of the fifth runway at O'Hare. Unlike Moran, I like this kind of grand vision, and I don't think it's hugely tragic that a neighborhood of several dozen houses in Bensenville will have to be torn down (don't these people have to live with runway noise anyway?).

In any case, O'Hare expansion is going forward. It's significant that so far the only member of Barack Obama's cabinet ever elected to office as a Republican is Ray LaHood at Transportation. LaHood was former Minority Leader Robert Michel's successor in the 18th District of Illinois, a completely honest but also get-along-go-along Republican who served on the Appropriations Committee. The chances that he will not facilitate O'Hare expansion are, I think, precisely zero. His appointment was a gift not so much to House Republicans as to Mayor Daley.

By the way, O'Hare is named after Edward "Butch" O'Hare, who received the Medal of Honor for his service as a naval aviator in World War II. He was a genuine hero. In 1942 he single-handedly shot down five Japanese bombers and damaged another as they were heading toward the carrier Lexington. He died in combat in 1943. O'Hare's father was a mob lawyer who represented Al Capone and, as an informant, helped the government amass the evidence that sent Capone to jail for tax evasion; he was murdered in 1939. The airport, formerly Orchard Depot (hence the three-letter code ORD) was named for Butch O'Hare in 1949. I think it is marvelously Chicago that this world-class airport is named after the son of a mob lawyer. Between the United terminal and the rest of the airport, there is a plane similar to the one Butch O'Hare flew and a memorial plaque recounting his heroism. I stop and read it every time I pass by.

  • Read more by Michael Barone.
  • Read more from the Thomas Jefferson Street blog.
  • Read more about Chicago.