July 1, 2003
BY SCOTT FORNEK Political Reporter
Touting his opposition to abortion, support for allowing people to carry concealed weapons and willingness to take on Mayor Daley over O'Hare Airport expansion, Republican businessman John H. Cox formally kicked off his Senate campaign Monday, proclaiming himself the only "true conservative" in the contest.
"Ronald Reagan proved that a true conservative could be successful in Illinois," Cox said. "He won this state twice. I'm a Ronald Reagan Republican and proud of it."
But Cox isn't the typical GOP conservative. He opposes the death penalty, argues the South Side and south suburbs are shortchanged by government and once ran for office as a Democrat.
THE COX FILE
Favorite childhood TV show: "Flash Gordon"
A Gold Coast resident, Cox, 47, is the third Republican to formally enter the race to succeed Republican Peter G. Fitzgerald. It's Cox's third run for office in four years. He lost a 2000 bid for Congress and came in third in last year's GOP primary for the Senate.
"I'm becoming more of a regular name," Cox said of his string of defeats.
So far, Cox is the Republican who seems to be trying hardest to emulate Fitzgerald.
"I'm the only candidate that's going to be independent enough, I think, to come out against the O'Hare expansion," he said.
Cox said he would support providing drivers access to O'Hare from the west and reconfiguring the airport's runways for safety, but would oppose any new runways for increased flights. He argues the answer to the state's transportation problems lies in high-speed rail and expanding Rockford's airport. But the centerpiece of his campaign is a third airport in the south suburbs, which he contends would foster prosperity on the South Side and in the south suburbs.
"The people of the South Side deserve jobs," Cox said. "They deserve quality schools. And they deserve the economic growth that has been present on the North Side of Chicago."
If that sounds unusual for a conservative Republican candidate, Cox argues he isn't a typical Republican. He was born on the South Side--near 30th and Cottage Grove. His mother was a schoolteacher who walked picket lines in the 1960s, and his stepfather was a postal worker. Like his parents, Cox was a Democrat--even running as a delegate to the 1976 Democratic National Convention--but switched to the Republican Party when Ronald Reagan came along.
Cox is opposed to abortion in all cases except when the mother's life is in danger. He calls himself a supporter of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, including allowing people to carry concealed weapons.
"It's not just about being pro-life or being pro-gun," Cox said. "It's about being against crime. Please print that. It's being against crime and doing something against crime. And it's protecting women. . . . Abortion is a horrible thing for women to have to go through."
He opposes the death penalty on religious grounds.
Cox now owns five businesses--including a law firm, accounting practice and investment management company. Cox said he won't fund his campaign out of pocket, only saying he will put in "a lot less" than the $1,022,507 he pumped into his failed 2002 Senate campaign.
Four other wealthy Republicans are running or considering entering the race--former investment banker Jack Ryan, businessman Andy McKenna, dairy and investment magnate James Oberweis and Chirinjeev Kathuria, a physician-turned businessman.
But Cox argues he is different from the others.
"They had privileged backgrounds," Cox said. "I started out with zero."
McKenna, who opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest and when the mother's life is in danger, defended his conservative credentials and rejected Cox's suggestion that he didn't play a role in developing his family's business.
"I worked at the company for 22 years," McKenna said. "We have been fortunate to add hundreds of jobs during that period of time. And I think that a successful business is no one person. It's a team, and I have been fortunate to be part of a successful team."