By Maureen O'Donnell
Sun-Times Staff Reporter
CHICAGO--In a fly-around the state Sunday, Gov. Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) accused GOP political rivals of spreading panic over efforts to house some Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainees at the state's little used Thomson Correctional Center in northwestern Illinois.
Republicans, including Rep. Mark Kirk (R-10th), the Republican Senate front-runner, are lining up against the proposal and raising security concerns.
But Quinn called it a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" for Illinois to attract a billion dollars in economic development money and as many as 3,000 jobs to the area around Thomson, 150 west of Chicago.
Durbin responded to the GOP opposition by saying, "There's not been a single escape from a super-max prison in the history of the United States."
Durbin's office has been quarterbacking the potential sale of the prison through meetings between the White House and Quinn.
"There are over 340 convicted terrorists currently in the prison system in America [who have been] held without incident," Durbin said during the team's stop Sunday near Midway Airport. "Members of Colombian drug gangs and Mexican drug cartels . . . some of the meanest prisoners" have been held safely.
"There are those who will try to exploit fear if they have a chance," Durbin said. "It's totally wrong."
Guantanamo detainees would number fewer than 100 of a total prison population of 1,600 or more, they said.
Their fly-around, which included stops in the Quad Cities and Rockford, comes on the eve of a visit by federal prison officials planned for Monday to investigate the Thomson site.
Durbin and Quinn said they found strong support for the proposal from Thomson Village President Jerry Hebeler when they visited the Quad Cities area today.