Top Illinois Democrats on Thursday used the completion of two major transportation projects to contrast what they say is Chicago's progress against the partisan gridlock of Washington that left the federal government partially shut down for 16 days.
Despite the disdain for D.C., much of the $1.3 billion to complete a new runway at O'Hare International Airport and some of the money to renovate the CTA Red Line South and its key 95th Street station came courtesy of the federal government.
But that credit, the Democratic politicians contended, should go to President Barack Obama and former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — not the Republicans they blamed for the shutdown. Among those heaping the praise were Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.
"It is great to be home in Chicago. It's great to be anywhere other than Washington, D.C.," said Durbin to loud applause at an opening event under a tent on O'Hare's tarmac. "To my eyes, it is a glorious day, because what we are saying here is the future of America is not in shutting things down, but opening things up."
Emanuel took the rare step of crediting by name his predecessor, former Mayor Richard Daley, for the O'Hare project as well as LaHood, who also is a former Republican congressman from Peoria. Completion of the Red Line renovation and runway expansion, Emanuel said, stood as a "stark reminder and contrast to what happened in Washington the last two weeks."
Duckworth, a freshman lawmaker from Hoffman Estates hit the same theme at O'Hare: "After all that happened in Washington, it's great to be home where stuff is actually getting done."
Before the O'Hare ribbon cutting, Emanuel, Durbin, Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Reps. Danny Davis and Bobby Rush took an "L" ride on the new Red Line South.
The mayor, like Quinn who spoke before him, noted the project would better connect South Siders with jobs and other neighborhoods. They also said the project provided jobs and contract work for minorities. But it was Durbin who didn't mince words noting the political benefits.
"Let me tell you what Politics 101 is if you are running in the city of Chicago and Cook County," said Durbin, who is seeking re-election next year. "You better find yourself at the 95th Street station passing out literature if you are running for office. And you know why? Two hundred and fifty thousand people a week ride this Red Line."
About 130 workers on the $425 million Red Line South project received federally funded training, and additional federal funds are being used to plan the $240 million rehabilitation of the 95th Street station, which starts next year and is expected to receive further federal funding to cover most of the cost of that project. Other Red Line work on the North Side also was paid for with federal funds.
Quinn, who also is running for re-election, played to the audience, invoking the memory of Harold Washington, the city's first black mayor.
"I think if Harold Washington was here today, he would say, 'We knocked the damn door down,'" Quinn said, "Public transit means jobs. It means getting to work, but it also means doing the work, and we have lots more to do. You ain't seen nothing yet."
It was the first joint public appearance for the mayor and governor since Quinn invoked his populist credentials Tuesday night at a rally staged by unions and neighborhood activists that had strong anti-Emanuel overtones, with the theme of "Take Back Chicago."
Emanuel praised the governor for helping fund the Red Line project, but did not mention him by name, as he did when praising Durbin for pushing transportation funding at the federal level. Quinn introduced the mayor, but otherwise did not mention his name.
Twitter @BillRuthhart Twitter @ReporterHal