By Fran Eaton, first published on IllinoisLeader.com on November 25, 2003
Via Wayback Machine, permission granted for re-publication
IN THE SPOTLIGHT — In Part 3 of a 3-part interview, U.S. Senate candidate John Coxsays, “We’ve had our cyanide in a capsule that was George Ryan and cronies Scott Fawell and the clout list and the Larry Warners and Ron Swansons that could do what ever they want and not get caught. . .
We are going to take a stand and say something about it and here’s how we are going to take that stand, we’re not just going to say we don’t like it. We are going to say that any guy that is a lobbyist, [GOP national committeeman] Bob Kjellander, or anybody else, anyone that wants to do lobbying, God love them, that’s the American way, do it. You are perfectly free to do lobbying, but you ought not be an official in a Republican party when you are doing it. . . “
We’ll back up just a few sentences into where we left off in Part I, as Cox was beginning to talk about O’Hare/Peotone and political corruption. . .
Cox continues: [Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate] Blair Hull brings out this fist of index cards with all his positions on all these different issues. I tried to engage him in this in-depth discussion on the O’Hare project, and it was very interesting. Well, his answer on his index card is “It will create jobs.”
I tried to engage him on what kind of jobs, and what the other alternatives out there to explore to create better jobs or more jobs, or more appropriate jobs, or in fact, lead to more economic growth in general.
The answer is, he didn’t have any answers. He kept coming back with the fact that it will create 200,000 construction jobs. Well, that’s all well and good, but down in Peotone there is a possibility you will create waves of economic growth, waves of new jobs, new hotels, motels, restaurants, and then the people who supply those.
Then you would create jobs for the people who clean, the people that fix the roofs, the people who fix the electric wiring of all those hotels and restaurants. You would also create jobs for the freight forwarders, and all the other services created by a world-class airport.
A wave of growth comes over an area when an airport gets built. It already exists at O’Hare. You are not going to create any new jobs at O’Hare. You are going to create those kinds of waves and wonderful new jobs at Peotone.
IL: There’s an effort to increase the size of the city itself, some say. [Chicago’s Mayor] Daley wants more allegiance from people.
COX: I think he thinks that having an airport in Peotone airport control gets away from him. He knows that he would have to share with other counties. He likes to have all the power to himself, like at O’Hare. It is not short-sighted for him or the city of Chicago. I don’t blame him, per se, I blame the people that allow him to have this done. He’s doing what’s best for Richard Daley.
IL: And the bi-partisan combine continues . . .
COX: You can’t fight city hall and then go along to get along. That’s exactly what’s happening to the bi-partisan combine. It is saying, ‘Well it’s better to go along with this guy than it is to argue with him. He’s got a lot of power and a lot of clout. So many people have voted for him because they feel that he has done so much in the city.’
That’s not misplaced, the city looks rather nice next to other cities around the country. But you can’t convince me that someone else couldn’t have done as good a job.
He probably thinks that he is the only one who could have done this job, but we will never know what the city would be like with some other person as mayor. The point is, what is the best policy for the whole state of Illinois?
I blame [U.S. Senator] Dick Durbin (D) and I blame [Governor] Rod Blagojevich (D) and other people like that who — in the search for political power — don’t want to rock the boat or don’t want to go against a powerful mayor who controls lots of money, jobs and a lot of influence.
IL: There is valuable land at stake with these owners . . .
Cox: And they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to sound proof homes around O’Hare, when it’s the safety and it’s the environmental pollution they should be concerned about.
Left to it’s own devices, the FAA and the EPA may decide that the political forces are too strong to buck and it is a judgment call as to whether someone thinks there is a safety issue or environmental issue, right?
At base level, there will be some bureaucrat somewhere that will say whether he thinks it is safe or not safe or if he thinks there are concerns about it being too polluting.
IL: What about Peotone cost estimates?
Cox: Estimates that I’ve seen say it will be two or three billion dollars for a nice airport. Growth in the area would be tremendous. For the land purchased, you are looking at a few thousands of dollars for 20,000 acres. That’s 600 million dollars. That’s about what they are spending to soundproof O’Hare.
IL: Andy McKenna says economic development depends on infrastructure.
Cox: What about the south side having infrastructure? Did you ask him about that? Did you challenge him on that?
It was all about north side infrastructure. That’s my answer. It’s so obvious, as obvious as the nose on your face that O’Hare is economic job engine for this area but it isn’t the only one, and actually shouldn’t be the only one. If you were smart, you would spread the growth out in a lot of different areas. The big issue here and in O’Hare is open space. People don’t want the congestion up there.
Let me see now, we have a choice. We can spend three billion down on the south side where there is a lot of open space and a lot of potential for more development or try to shoehorn and spend 3, 4 or 5 times as much in an area that is already way too congested.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that it would be a lot better to do it when you have room to expand. It’s morally and intellectually bankrupt — and I’m sorry if that’s too strong a word — but that’s exactly how I feel. To think that O’Hare is the best or the only place that you could build an infrastructure and add to our air capacity is simply wrong.
IL: It has been suggested that you are protecting your own interests by promoting Peotone. Do you have property in the Peotone area?
Cox: I will be very open. I have two apartment buildings in Merrillville, Indiana, which frankly benefit more from the casinos than anything else, but that’s not why I bought them.
I own two separate complexes there and am a partial investor. I own no land in Peotone and never have. I have never heard that criticism.
IL: The questions I am asking are out there . . .
Cox: It is very effective and very unfair when whisper campaigns are launched because people don’t know anything about it and they just spread it. No one ever calls to ask. They don’t know the gossip, but they should say, “Show me the proof of what you’re saying.”
I have had lawsuits and issues that people don’t agree with me in business matters. It happens to businesses all the time.
I have one with the property that I had. I had a lawsuit with a general contractor owing about $200,000 and he will probably end of getting about $7,000. He would not say good things about me because he thinks he’s still owed $200,000. He will end up with $7,000 when all is said and done.
IL: Would you change federal tort reform laws?
Cox: People ought to have the right to sue and you ought to have the right to have a lawyer. Lawyers serve a good purpose in terms of making a lot of products safer because people now know that there are penalties if they do not make the products safe. Where we have gone overboard is where there is no downside to bringing settlement, no matter how crazy it is.
It’s like a lot of things that the pendulum just seems to go too far and that’s a real problem. We’ve got to get back to reality and really inject some market discipline. There is no market discipline for lawyers or juries these days. There’s no downside. Loser pays, that’s a small thing they would add if there were some market discipline. Somehow, we need to put market discipline on juries, but I don’t know how to do that.
IL: What can be done to correct this?
Cox: Education of juries is certainly helpful. Juries will understand that awarding hundreds of millions of dollars in these lawsuits is not without a cost coming back to them. Maybe that’s alternately going to happen and we will get some juries back to reality.
IL: There will need to be some direction to get out of this dilemma. This leads us to the discussion of the corruption in our Republican party. What can we do to get the leadership to make a change?
Cox: There’s got to be some leadership, you are absolutely right. One of the things that I have been telling people is when Tylenol had problems with cyanide? They didn’t just issue a statement saying we condemn the cyanide pill. What did they do? They put plastic over the bottle caps, they hired armed guards to guard the manufacturing facilities, then they brought in news crews to demonstrate to the people that they could trust and count on them. That’s what the Illinois Republican Party needs to do.
We’ve had our cyanide in a capsule that was George Ryan and cronies Scott Fawell and the clout list and the Larry Warners and Ron Swansons that could do what ever they want and not get caught.
The appearance of impropriety is lost on them. They’re just out there to get influence, no matter which way they go.
Mr. Oberweis tried to adopt this idea into his campaign. We need to go after corruption. Okay, how? I wrote a book and put the code of ethics in it and I said that we need to adopt this code of ethics. I printed it on coffee mugs.
I’m planning to put it on a palm card and get it out to the public. Eight ideas, no magic to them, frankly maybe some of them should be tweaked a little bit and worked on, maybe some should be stronger and some should be made weaker and more common sense. I don’t know.
IL: Where did these eight ethical suggestions come from, God?
Cox: No, not handed down from God. As a matter of fact, many of them are already codified somewhere and in some form or other. Frankly, Rod Blagojevich is going to do some with his ethics program.
The point is the party ought to be adopting these things, the party ought to be saying, “We don’t like what’s happened with these guys in the past, we don’t like this corruption, we don’t like the 65 convictions or indictments that we have seen so far”.
We are going to take a stand and say something about it and here’s how we are going to take that stand, we’re not just going to say we don’t like it. We are going to say that any guy that is a lobbyist, [GOP national committeeman] Bob Kjellander, or anybody else, anyone that wants to do lobbying, God love them, that’s the American way, do it.
You are perfectly free to do lobbying, but you ought not be an official in a Republican party when you are doing it.
IL: Should a Republican be involved in increasing Illinois’ taxpayers’ debts?
Cox: I think it’s wrong. I would tell Bob to his face. You have every right to make money, you have every right to make money but not making money off political influence or a member of the Republican party hierarchy.
IL: Could this recent revelation about Kjellander getting money from the state’s bond investments make a difference to people?
Cox: You should be a good person if you are running Bush’s campaign. That’s an honorable position and it is dishonorable to appear to be making money. The appearance of impropriety is as much a problem as the actual problem because it hurts every other politician that comes behind you.
The biggest thing about Bill Clinton, about his lying, it wasn’t about sex, it was about the fact that we couldn’t believe him. If Bill Clinton gets on TV and says to the people, we’ve got to take action against this country, we’vee got to send your children to war. We’ve got to know that we believe him. I would say this about this President.
I say about this President, I think there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I absolutely do believe that. They are either hidden or in Syria somewhere.
If I were the President of the USA, I would get up and tell the people that I am as concerned about those things as you are and I am going to find them.
I absolutely believe that they are there because the intelligence reports that he used them on his own people.
Bush should get on national TV and tell the people straight out, “I did this to Iraq because I believed it was the right thing and I understood that there were weapons and there were weapons. The UN inspectors found them, he used them on his own people, many members of the Senate had talked about them being there in 1998 when Bill Clinton was President.”
He should say, “It wasn’t done, so, I am going to do something about it.”
I don’t think this President talks to the people of the USA enough. I know that Reagan did.
IL: Could it be the counsel he’s getting from his advisors?
Cox: I think the advisors are a little reticent. Maybe he doesn’t feel comfortable doing the same as Reagan, but I remember Ronald Reagan talking to the people an awful lot. I think this President needs to do more of that. I would tell him that people need to hear from you. Silence is not golden in this case.
IL: There has been criticism waged against Senator Fitzgerald and how he handled his office. What are your thoughts?
Cox: Peter is going to be gone. I will not criticize somebody leaving, but I would say that I would be far different. Peter moved his whole family there and I am not planning to do that. I am planning on being an Illinois person. I love the media and talking to the media, and sharing my ideas, I am not afraid to share my ideas with the media. I feel like I can hold my own with any political person or media person going.
IL: What should he have done differently?
Cox: He ought to get out and speak more, frankly, and clear the record. He needs to keep talking and get out there. I am going to be a forceful advocate for these issues and I’m not going to the U.S. Senate to be a backbencher. I’m going there to try to get people energized about certain ideas and changes that need to be made and that’s my whole reason for doing this.
IL: Any person who goes to the U.S. Senate will need to work with U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York). . .
Cox: Yes. Which candidate do you think will stand up to Hillary the best? I think I would do the best job. . . Andy [McKenna]’s a nice guy, but quiet.
We don’t want people to be yelling or nasty, but I will ask you to justify your opinion, I’ll debate it till the day I die. If I think you are saying something that’s totally wrong or contrary to what I believe or contrary to facts, then I will debate it with you.
IL: So you are willing to fight corruption and you don’t give up easily, is that what you’re saying?
Cox: Jack Ryan and Jim Oberweis, Andy McKenna and Steve Rauschenberger — you ask them, they all will say they are fiscal conservatives and they are against corruption.
Why are they for that? I can say all I want that an elephant is a zebra but if it’s an elephant, it’s an elephant. I can say all I want that I’m a fiscal conservative, but what I do supports something that’s a huge wasteful project like O’Hare, it’s only going to cause corruption, then I am no better than the other guy.
IL: What will be the key for you to win?
Cox: This is what’s enabling me to win this time. Just imagine Danny Hynes up there or Blair Hull or [Gary] Chico or whoever might win the primary. They are going to use class warfare tactics.
Imagine the nominee is Jim Oberweis, born to a wealthy family in the same county, a family ice cream company. Mention Andy McKenna, who inherited his dad’s business in Glenview. Jack Ryan, born to a wealthy family, who made a bundle on Wall Street that was a big, big firm.
Class warfare just wreaks. With me at the podium from the south side, I speak to the average person. I will win by running against Mayor Richard Daley, who is very popular in most of Chicago, but if you step outside of the city limits, I’m even talking about Evergreen Park, I’m talking about Niles which is just outside the city limits, and they think that Richard Daley has overstepped his bounds. They don’t want too much power consolidated with Richard Daley. I tested this. I really have. They like him personally, but do not like the grab for power that he has made.
IL: What are your parting thoughts?
Cox: I’m hoping that conservatives are going to see this. I am interested in building the party, that’s why I got involved with ICRC. I think this is a great opportunity to serve the people.